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City & Guilds Group deploys SD-WAN to improve Office 365 performance

Apr 18, 20185 mins

After deploying an Aryaka SD-WAN, global e-learning company City & Guilds Group saw a 3x improvement in Office 365 application performance.

sd-wan optimization
Credit: istock

There are many reasons to deploy a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN), including saving a boatload of money, improving network agility, and increasing WAN resiliency. However, those all pale in comparison to the ROI that a business would see by making its employees more productive.

One of the biggest drags on worker productivity is poor application response time. In 2016, ZK Research conducted a study that found on average, workers were 14 percent less productive than their optimal state because of poor application performance. (Note: I am an employee of ZK Research.) There’s nothing that frustrates a worker more than clicking on an icon and sitting around waiting for it to open or update, but that’s exactly what happens to global organizations that need to access resources over a long distance.

Problems running Office 365 over legacy network

Global e-learning company City & Guilds Group was having horrible problems with Office 365 running over its legacy network and shifted to an SD-WAN with the hopes of remedying the problem. For those not familiar with City & Guilds Group, the company works with education providers, governments, and large companies to do training and skills development in over 100 countries.

Being a global company, City & Guilds employees are scattered all over the world. The company’s instance of Office 365 is located in Dublin, Ireland, relatively close to its London headquarters. For European users, this poses no issue at all because the files are relatively close to the user.

It’s a different story, though, for workers located remotely like in the Asia-Pacific region. For those individuals, the experience can be very frustrating. I have first-hand experience with this. Prior to being an analyst, I spent some time as a consultant, and I remember trying open PowerPoint and Word documents out of region and it would often take minutes. Sometimes the process would go “not responding,” necessitating the need to shut down the application and start over. The most frustrating part was that there was no way of telling whether the file was still being downloaded or if the process died. I would often “open” the files and then go do something else for a while and come back and hope they finished opening. Bandwidth speeds have increased, but so have the size of Office documents.

This is the situation that remote City & Guilds workers were facing. For example, users in Wellington, New Zealand, saw extremely slow response times when accessing files from the corporate Share Point drive, leading to a number of user complaints and a loss of productivity.

SD-WAN to the rescue

This issue was not going to be solved at the application layer, so City & Guilds decided to change the underlying network and migrated to an Aryaka-based global SD-WAN solution.

Aryaka has a unique flavor of an SD-WAN. Like other solutions, the company connects the local offices using any kind of network service including the Internet or private circuits. However, instead of using the internet to carry the traffic from one international site to the other, Aryaka has built out a massive, private, software-defined global network that has some significant advantages with respect to application performance over long distances.

Global organizations see huge application performance improvements with Aryaka’s architecture, as highlighted in the company’s recent “State of SD-WAN Connectivity Report.” It’s an undeniable fact that over long distances, private networks will perform better than the internet, which is why MPLS has stuck around as long as it has. Think of Aryaka’s network as giving SD-WAN flexibility at the edge with MPLS plus WAN optimization-like performance across the backbone.

Aryaka SD-WAN significantly boosts Office application performance

The SD-WAN deployment significantly improved application performance for City & Guilds as compared to legacy networks. Some of the performance improvements for the Asia-Pacific users are shown below:

Application Performance: Legacy Network vs. Aryaka SD-WAN

Application Performance

Legacy Network

Aryaka SD-WAN

Save 10MB file to Share Point

37.31 seconds

12.88 seconds

Open 10MB Share Point file

9.87 seconds

0.05 seconds

Upload 10MB file to OneDrive

36.72 seconds

12.30 seconds

Send 10MB email attachment

23.71 seconds

8.11 seconds

Open shared calendar

5.24 seconds

1.91 seconds

As the table shows, the SD-WAN deployment saw application performance improve by a minimum of 3x, which has a direct result on user productivity and satisfaction. Instead of sitting around and waiting for files to load, people can get to work right away and collaborate better. Without it, users are more likely to save files to their local hard drive, causing versioning issues.

There are a couple of key lessons to take away from the City & Guilds Group case study. The first is that businesses should look past cost savings with respect to SD-WAN implementations. There’s no doubt that money will be saved, but improving worker productivity will have a much bigger impact on the organization. 

The second point is that not all SD-WAN solutions are the same, and businesses should do their homework, test a few, and choose the one that best fits their business.


Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research, and provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long-term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to end-user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers.

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