SD-WAN for smart grid

Brian Lynas

04 Oct 2020

Tilix are delighted to repost articles (with permission) from our associates. This is a remix of this post on LinkedIn from 30th September 2020) by Brian Lynas.

SD-WAN (Software Defined Wide Area Network) is a new generation network solution that underpins business and application models. It allows for network hardware resources to be managed through software at an abstract less complex level. This avoids dependence on manual configuration and intervention by expensive engineers at the granular level. It allows centralised control to be executed remotely through an abstract and increasingly automated control system facilitated by Artificial Intelligence.

The new normal

SD-WAN can help businesses of all shapes and sizes cope with a world of increasing corporate network connectivity pressures and costs.

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating existing demand trends on corporate networks, such as 24x7 operations, 100% availability requirements, global working, escalating support costs, support for mobile telephony (4G/5G) and a work force increasingly being asked or demanding to work from anywhere, including home. Particular challenges include:

  • Managing globally distributed connectivity of company premises, production assets, staff, customers and suppliers and the application infrastructure that supports them. These demands make WAN designs more complex, put pressure on lead times for making changes and lead to higher costs for executing network support and changes.
  • Supporting enterprise applications migrated to external cloud services. Coping with associated needs for management of access and security.
  • Ensuring network design and operations deliver consistent user experience, based on a range of connections including legacy technologies (including MPLS) and domestic broadband or commercial mobile networks.
  • Adapting to increased enterprise WAN scale/traffic with the resultant difficulties in operations and maintenance management.
  • Coping with the diversity and complexity of WAN solutions and associated security requirements.

SD-WAN will be essential infrastructure for remote working at scale

A well implemented SD-WAN solution can deliver the functionality required to meet the increasing demands placed on networks. These solutions are both frugal and nimble. Specific benefits are listed below and summarised in the graphic.

  • Significant reduction in operational network costs.
  • Flexible deployments.
    • A branch office network connection can be configured in only 8 to 48 hours, whilst legacy MPLS can take weeks or months to complete.
    • Business and application infrastructure can be optimised in tandem with network management.
    • Can work alongside existing MPLS infrastructure.
  • Accelerated transformation to cloud based eco-systems (SaaS, PaaS etc).
  • Global reach with high performance and continuous user experience possible in remote regions.
  • Excellent cybersecurity and network availability. Many SD-WAN solutions include automated maintenance patches, route optimisation, traffic monitoring and optimisation, automated fall back, remote and automated configuration of new nodes on the network.
  • Future proofing around remote working, Industry 4.0 internet, IoT and 5G/6G powered mobility.

Such are the known benefits of the best in class SD-WAN solutions, that industry analysts forecast that by 2023, the global SD-WAN market size will reach $5.7billion based on compound annual growth rate (CAGR) 76.1%.

SD-WAN’s strength in integrating mature software technology and traditional wide area network resources in an agile and controllable manner is an invaluable technology to address the ever-changing demands on corporate networks. If deployed strategically it is a key to improved network efficiency and reliability, optimized performance, reduced costs and enhanced user experience.

SD-WAN & Smart Energy

Cyber Physical Systems (CPS) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is radically transforming how renewable generation, electricity networks and demand side management is done. These changes put ever-increasing demands on connectivity and this makes SD-WAN solutions attractive for stakeholders right across the energy value chain.

For renewables, an asset-based approach is taken to build, optimise and operate e.g. a best in class wind turbine. To support operations a ‘digital twin’ is created and maintained in parallel to the physical asset. Actual performance data from the wind farm is collected and compared against the target virtual performance of the ‘digital twin’ for any particular turbine –this opens up huge performance improvement potential and allows a pro-active approach to maintenance. It requires sensor technology and IIoT connectivity, big data / analytics for this to happen. These aspirations can be underpinned by a well-engineered SD-WAN.

Additionally, SD-WAN helps provide nimble, global and optimised datacomms required by modern wind turbine manufacturing activities with their dependence on data, connectivity, automation and robotics. Data relevant to populating the digital twin for the operator is created and passed on by the fabricators and their supply chain and then used for installation and operation throughout the process. Data from operations can also be fed back into the manufacturing phase to deliver future improvements. All of this is helped by the flexibility and cost benefits of SD-WAN in supporting the fast changing global supply chain with its ever increasing hunger for bandwidth.

Utilisation of emerging battery technologies which allow surplus generated electricity to be stored and fed back into the grid when needed also have a thirst for cheap, secure and flexible datacomms and edge computing capabilities. Again, these need to be connected to IIoT solutions through cost effective and easy to deploy datacomms structures that only advanced SD-WAN offerings can easily provide at an affordable price.