Architecture Matters – With SD-WAN the outcome of the Net Neutrality debate ceases to matter

By Michael Wood
Vice President of Marketing, VeloCloud
June 28, 2016

The debate over Net Neutrality has been raging for years. There are many facets to it. To recap the essence of the debate, Wikipedia defines Net Neutrality as “the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.” One of the fundamental issues being debated is that of giving preferential—or discriminatory, depending on your viewpoint—treatment of traffic with certain attributes, such as protocol, content, application. The fear is that non-neutrality will discriminate against the average Joe and favor behemoth companies with deep pockets and long arms.

This is all vaguely disingenuous, because traffic in the Internet, or any other communications network, has never been equal. Quality of Service (QoS) practices have been in place in networks for as long as applications requiring different response characteristics—the ubiquitous real-time or voice-and-video vs. non-real-time or store-and-forward applications—have been around. To be true, QoS methods are primarily deployed in private networks and less so in “public networks,” but the boundaries between these have become increasingly blurred in recent times. In its most essential definition, QoS comprises tools (amongst others classification, packet marking, policing, traffic shaping, admission control) with the singular goal of implementing preferential, or discriminatory, treatment to traffic.

The viewpoint obscured in the fray is that it is not so much the equal, or unequal, treatment of traffic that’s at stake. But instead, who controls the preferential treatment of traffic: control exerted via setting policies to govern the characteristics of how traffic is treated and forwarded in a network.

In a traditional WAN with an MPLS uplink the business owner gets an SLA (service level agreement) contract from the Service Provider (SP). An SLA is a QoS policy in different clothing. It works remarkably well, but it is expensive and not always available in all the geographic localities where the business owner wishes to be present. This is especially vexing for international business reach.

With an SD-WAN, the technology of the “pipes” does not matter, nor whether or not an SLA is present on it. In the eBook Software-Define WAN For Dummies the authors write that an “SD‐WAN provides a secure overlay that is independent of the underlying transport components.” Transport components being any, or all of, Internet broadband (DSL, cable), wireless (3G, 4G LTE), or MPLS. This transport independence affords the business owner the control of the QoS policies that govern the traffic. The QoS (or preferential treatment if you will) is enacted in the overlay network—software-defined, and therefore in a plane above the level of any specific hardware implementation by any specific network equipment.

This SD-WAN architecture puts you in the driver seat to set the “discriminatory” policies that govern your traffic, not a provider with whom you do not have an SLA contract, not a government, and not some body of regulators. So, what the FCC and the world eventually decide about Net Neutrality, and the playout of passions about various aspects of it, an SD-WAN architecture puts your business at a level above that. You now have tools to monitor and measure the actual quality of the network, the delays, the outages, the performance measurements, and your business policies actively adjust the traffic steering around trouble spots or links with insufficient performance to deliver the requirements of your end users and the applications they access.

Yes, Architecture Matters

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