The Four Elements that Build a Better SD-WAN for Retail

These four elements should form the core of your formula to deliver a better branch network for your retail clients.

Building a better branch network for retailers is not necessarily rocket science. At least, it doesn’t have to be. The formula for building a better branch for these highly distributed businesses is rather simple. When you think about it, it is more like alchemy than chemistry. Like air, earth, fire, and water, it does not take more than four elements to define the ideal branch network. On the plus side, four elements are easier to remember than the 118 elements on the periodic table!

So, make these four elements the core of your simple formula to deliver a better branch network for your retail clients. Unlike alchemy, though, you actually can produce gold out of these four SD-WAN elements (if you know what I mean).

Agility

Most of the time, your clients are struggling with IT sprawl at branches: multiple hardware appliances that are often expensive, complex to operate and under-utilized because they are packed with features that are not needed by these types of businesses. Constant calls to the help desk, frequent truck rolls to service hardware on-premise, and other woes derived from the lack of IT staff at these small branches are the norm and painful reality.

To transform your client’s network into an agile operation, it is key to reduce complexity, to be able to deploy and service rapidly, to be able to see, analyze, segment, and shape traffic easily from anywhere at any time. Deploying a small, but simple and powerful universal on-premise equipment (uCPE) at all branches and pairing them with a multi-tenanted cloud-based orchestrator and a service gateway will enable you to accomplish that.

Cost-efficiency is one of the main outcomes of network agility: You will help your client lower CapEx and OpEx, while your business delivers the managed services, support and talent, to operate the network efficiently.

Resilience

Being always-on is a critical business requirement for your clients, not just to be able to transact with the payment processors, but also to protect the brand’s reputation by preserving positive in-store customer experience.

Network resilience and high availability are achieved when implementing an intelligent cellular failover solution and by doing VPN right. The promise of 5G will further enhance the link quality of the cellular failover, and, in some use cases, it could become the main link replacing cable and DSL as the transports.

When helping your clients build a resilient network of interconnected branches, all with “backup internet,” you will be protecting their brand’s reputation by delivering an uninterrupted in-store omnichannel experience. Showing you care about their customer will earn your client’s loyalty and advocacy.

Security

A comprehensive SD-WAN solution for retail must have security in its DNA. Client networks may be agile and resilient, but if they are not secure … You get the point. A negative media hit or dent in reputation typically results in lower future sales, or worse, forcing the business to close.

Many small to midsize retail chains may believe they are not the typical target for cyber attacks and consider an endpoint security solution plus a stateful firewall enough protection for their branch network. They may focus mostly on rapid service delivery and failover connectivity. The reality is that a flat network (switch and firewall) will hamper both agility and resilience–for example, a blackout or brownout slowing down zero-day vulnerability patches or affecting CCTV connectivity.

Many SD-WAN vendors claim to offer a secure point-of-sale (POS) solution, but the reality is that they fail to cater to the retail vertical with right-sized and right-priced solutions because their core product development strategy focuses on solving for large enterprises. As a result, their solutions are as difficult to sell as they are to operate. You would fare better by partnering with vendors that run their own SOC-as-a-Service and that tailor their product development toward solutions that are easier to sell to this segment and are simpler to manage. For example, Netsurion BranchSDO was developed with security in its DNA just for that niche: highly distributed small to midsize branches, POS systems, kiosks and mobile retail branches.

Compliance

Security leads us to the fourth element: compliance. “Fear the hacker, not the auditor.” Achieving true compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is not just about answering a questionnaire and filling out forms, but by truly enabling your clients to have the right tools and processes in place to secure transactions and data. Going above and beyond to ensure protection from external and internal threats should be their goal. If your clients adopt a zero-trust approach to network security, there’s a chance they will always be ahead of the game and true compliance would be a by-product of that security stance.

A comprehensive SD-WAN solution for retail must include compliance readiness tools that help your clients produce reports and complete questionnaires. Yet it also needs the services and processes that guarantee that compliance, such as regular internal and external vulnerability scans.

The Fifth Element

"But… the title says there are four elements to consider”, you may say.

I lied. There is a fifth element and it’s you: the talent to position, sell, and deliver network solutions to retailers. There are gaps in IT talent among retailers that managed service providers can bridge. Plus, by pooling tools and resources to best serve your clients, you add the value that vendors alone cannot. You are the alchemist and you can help your clients create gold out of these four elements. The secret is to combine agility, resilience, security, and compliance to deliver a better branch experience.

As I hinted, these are four interdependent elemental properties of a robust SD-WAN solution for retail. Gaps or lackluster delivery of any of these four elements affect the rest. Poor security will hamper compliance, resilience, and reduce agility to respond. Poor resilience will compromise security, agility, and compliance. Lack of agility will definitively affect security detection and response, hinder network resilience, and affect compliance. No compliance… you get the point, it means your client’s transactions and data are not secure, they cannot quickly adapt to evolving threats, and most likely indicates low network availability.

Not all SD-WAN solutions are created equal. To better service retail clients and help them build a better branch, you should partner with an SD-Branch vendor who takes the virtualization of network functions to the next level by combining these for elements as an integral part of their offering.

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