Connectivity is critical for modern businesses, but the many variables of wide area networks can make setting up new connections a hit-and-miss affair.
For the fast-growing self-storage provider National Storage, connectivity is critical for its site operators and its customers. The company has grown quickly in the last three and a half years, from 123 sites across Australia and New Zealand to over 200 now, with no signs of slowing down.
It is Marcus Barron’s job as National Storage’s General Manager of Technology to ensure each new location gets the connectivity it needs. On joining the business nearly four years ago, he was struck by the less than optimal internet performance at many sites.
“Employees can sit in some National Storage centres for two or three weeks without seeing a co-worker, Barron said. “If your internet isn’t running smoothly and you can’t easily watch training videos and access essential online business documents, it has a serious impact on the employee’s engagement with the business.”
With the cost of running fibre to every location prohibitive, Barron sought an alternative solution.
Speaking at a recent webinar held by iTnews, Barron described how he found the perfect solution in the form of managed SD-WAN from the telecommunications service provider Over The Wire, and how he immediately deployed 25 SD-WAN devices from VMware SD-WAN to his lowest performing sites.
“That was a game changer for this business,” Barron said. “We used to have people waiting three to four months to get a WAN link into the sites.”
SD-WAN enables National Storage to use whatever connections are available at each site, including consumer-grade NBN services and 4G or 5G networks. Connections can be combined to maximise bandwidth, and connections can be switched should one fail. Specific applications and URLs can be blocked to ensure staff are not visiting unauthorised sites.
According to Over The Wire’s solutions architect Dominic Morrow, another benefit of SD-WAN was that it enabled specific traffic to be broken out and sent straight to the internet.
“As a service provider of VMware’s SD-WAN product we have corporate gateways in QLD, NSW, VIC, WA, San H, Singapore and New Zealand, and we can actually tie in corporate-based traffic from a tunnel from the edge directly into corporate VRF (virtual routing and forwarding) and deliver that traffic on net,” Morrow said.
Over The Wire also has a low-latency national MPLS network that enables customers to backhaul traffic much faster than a standard internet service. Furthermore, built-in quality-of-service controls meant it was easy to troubleshoot poorly performing connections.
“That is where you start seeing true benefit,” Morrow said. “The end user is happier because everything is snappier.”
Barron said this ability to easily troubleshoot network performance had been a game-changer for National Storage.
“My internal team on a normal WAN link had little to no visibility,” Barron said. “Now anyone can go in, have a look at the quality of the experience, and see what is happening to cause the degradation. There is a lot of quick troubleshooting that our engineers have access to.”
He was also grateful for the speed at which he could connect new sites.
“Approximately 24 hours after new sites are purchased, I have to have them running as a National Storage centre, and sometimes I’m only getting two weeks’ notice,” Barron said. “That just wouldn’t be possible without SD-WAN. Every new National Storage centre comes in straight onto an SD-WAN device on network day one, as long as we can get a decent mobile connection.”
Barron said he also appreciated the light touch model for installing the service. While his preference was to send out a technician to oversee installation, he had activated one site using an untrained staff member due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
And knowing that each site had strong connections also meant the business was able to use that bandwidth to improve the employees’ experience.
“We have all-state video conferences, and that just wouldn’t have been possible before,” Barron said. “We would have had certain employees out there who wouldn’t have been able to collaborate in the same ways. We are going to look into a whole lot of different offerings for our business, and SD-WAN is key to supporting that.”
According to Over The Wire’s general manager for direct sales, John Procopis, the twin drivers of cloud and security are fuelling significant interest in SD-WAN, and especially in newer concepts such as secure access service edge (SASE) technologies to protect end points.
“Organisations are procuring more applications and more SaaS products, and due to the flexibility and speed to deploy, this is pushing the conversation from legacy products and old technology like MPLS,” Procopis said. “Businesses are wanting the control and being able to manage their own environment rather than the carrier being in control. Security has definitely been elevated through COVID, and that is driving these conversations that lead into SD-WAN.”