Can your infrastructure keep up with your digital transformation ambitions?

How can you squeeze the last drop of value from your existing data centre and network investments as your business moves rapidly to the cloud?

These are two of the burning questions that CIOs must confront every day as they prepare their organisation for the digital future in the face of flat budgets, skill shortages and ever-growing demand.

Social, mobile, analytics and cloud, the core technologies of digital are already putting a massive strain on corporate networks, and most organisations’ digital transformation programmes have barely begun.

Current, typical static WAN infrastructures are already struggling to deliver acceptable performance from the existing mix of on-premises and Software as a Service (SaaS) applications. The result is poor application performance, lower productivity and a workforce cynical about, rather than inspired by, the prospect of digital transformation.

The strain on networks is only going to intensify. Analyst group IDC, for example, is predicting that by the end of 2017 more than 80 percent of new applications to be distributed via the cloud.

As CIOs seek to overcome legacy network issues and plan for an explosion of data volumes from new data sources and new cloud-based applications, they need new WAN technologies such as Software-defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN), according to Jan Hein Bakkers, senior research manager at IDC.

SD-WAN will become one of the key enablers of digital, “driving the flexibility, manageability, scalability, and cost effectiveness that organisations require in their balancing act between rapidly growing requirements and much flatter budgets," he says.

The technology aims to deliver enhanced networking manageability, flexibility and performance to improve user experience, enterprise security and improve overall cost effectiveness, with leading providers doing so through a single interface.

The approach builds on traditional WAN optimisation technology that compresses and optimises data flows for applications across the WAN and marries it to Application Performance Management technology to look deeper into how applications behave on the network and then shape applications flows within the enterprise, often across multiple networks, in real time.

“We call this process Application Performance Orchestration”, says Philippe Ozanian, CEO of leading SD-WAN company InfoVista. “The aim is to define performance criteria for every application on the network, to give the IT organisation the ability to align the network with true business objectives rather than arbitrary technical metrics.”

Once defined, InfoVista technology applies traffic shaping and prioritization at Layer 7, the application layer, of the network, to optimise performance of the most critical applications.

UK high street retailer Dixons Carphone Group (DCG) has seen significant benefits from this approach. The company developed Pin Point, a new tablet-based application set, to support its sales staff, only to find that the new setup needed more bandwidth than was available to many stores.

With no time for a network upgrade before its peak Christmas sales season and the prospect of hefty upgrade bill, DCG worked with BT Connect Optimisation, using InfoVista technology. The result was a saving of £1.5 million in network upgrade costs and a Pin Point product that was optimised for the Christmas peak period, according to Qasim Ali, director of group IT services at Dixons Carphone Group.

By optimising Pin Point DCG have seen a 40 percent increase in sales conversions, says Julian Diment, chief marketing officer at Dixons Carphone. “We’ve also seen a 30 per cent increase in customer satisfaction. … (It) is now the highest in our industry,” he adds.

By using SD-WAN technology, in the same way as DCG, organisations can take control of their networks and manage their digital transformation. They can better manage critical applications on the network, control bandwidth, improve the user experience, drive operational savings and create a platform for future growth.

If data is the life blood of digital, then a software defined-WAN is the central nervous system of an organisation’s drive to become a real-time digital business powered by the cloud.