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SD-WAN is a cloud-based service that virtually connects a company’s network, including branch offices and data centres.

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In a high-tech world filled with newcomers shaking up how work gets done, many business leaders see a grim future for those who can't – or won't – adapt.

A recent survey by PwC found that 62 per cent of CEOs expect their business will be digitally disrupted within the next five years. Innovation consulting firm Innosight predicts that, at the present rate of digital disruptors entering the market, about 50 per cent of the S&P 500 will be replaced over the next 10 years.

The stakes have never been higher for Canada's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) when it comes to adopting new technology. Yet, investing in new technology can be costly, cumbersome and time-consuming. Market intelligence firm IDC Canada reports that, in 2015, IT organizations spent 75 per cent of their budgets and 72 per cent of their time providing essential IT services and support. That doesn't leave a lot of room for innovation or strategic planning.

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The solution lies within a tech trend dubbed "digital transformation," says Evan Frith, director of business products and services at Telus.

Digital transformation is the adoption of next-generation technologies – such as cloud, big data, social/collaboration tools and the Internet of Things – to reimagine business processes, or in some cases reinvent business models and disrupt industries.

The business benefits are many: increased efficiency, improved customer service, optimized costs, enhanced cybersecurity and accelerated innovation. But in the race to keep up, many businesses may overlook a fundamental foundational element: their network.

"The network is crucial to digital transformation," says Mr. Frith. "Organizations need extra bandwidth, reliability, security and self-serve flexibility to support real-time applications and meet the demand for anytime, anywhere service. To fully realize the benefits of digital transformation, you need a network transformation as well."

Traditional networks can be complex infrastructures. They may use a variety of on-site equipment to connect central and branch offices, making them complicated and expensive to maintain and manage. However, a new technology is emerging to change the network game.

SD-WAN (which stands for Software-Defined Wide Area Network), is a cloud-based service that virtually connects a company's network – including branch offices and data centres. It replaces physical devices such as routers with cloud-based software, allowing organizations to quickly and automatically deploy or adjust network capabilities without hands-on intervention. With the intelligence in the software, organizations can dynamically set up, change and manage their networks with the push of a button.

An SD-WAN solution is analogous to the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) technology that has revolutionized computing and data use in recent years, explains Mr. Frith. For example, the same way that software such as Salesforce or Office 365 can be purchased on an as-needed basis and accessed via the cloud, SD-WAN allows for network resources to similarly purchased and provisioned.

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The end result is a faster, more agile and more secure network, says Mr. Frith. It can be cheaper to deploy and manage, too: IDC Canada reports an average cost savings of 20 per cent from SD-WAN through significant reductions in both network capital and operating expenses.

In July 2017, Telus joined forces with Nuage Networks, a Nokia venture, to launch TELUS Network as a Service (NaaS) – a new SD-WAN solution that enables businesses to virtually build, manage and optimize their networks through a flexible self-serve platform.

Moving networking away from bulky on-site servers and into the cloud is critical on the path to digital transformation, says Charles Ferland, vice-president of business development for Nuage Networks.

"It's important to keep Canadian businesses competitive, particularly those in sectors such as energy, healthcare, retail or even restaurants, where many people work in small office settings or remote areas yet need the online connectivity of the company headquarters," he says. "Network as a Service enables virtually any internet connection and builds the connectivity between their branches."

Because the network intelligence is separated from the network connection, Mr. Ferland points out that businesses can use "the best internet connection that's available in their region and that meets their budget."

Krista Jones, managing director of work and learning at Toronto's MaRS Discovery District, says the arrival and expansion of services like NaaS for Canadian businesses comes at just the right time.

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"The demands for connectivity are just going up and up as we move more to an online world in terms of how we deal with our customers and our employees," says Ms. Jones.

Telus is the first Canadian service provider to market an SD-WAN service to the country, and IDC Canada research suggests that it's a timely move. In 2016, more than 50 per cent of Canadian organizations said they either use or plan to use SD-WAN within two years and a further 16 per cent said they would come on board soon after.

"To drive growth and innovation, and stay ahead of the competition, Canadian businesses need an easier way to seamlessly and securely connect people, data and applications," says Mr. Frith. "It's a critical transformation that calls for a whole new kind of network."


This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Edge Content Studio, in consultation with an advertiser. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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