Reducing Costs and Increasing Efficiency by Building a Robust International Network with SD-WAN


In banking, time is of the essence, especially when you're dealing with international transactions. A millisecond's lag can cost thousands, if not millions of dollars, should the value of a stock, commodity, or currency change. Security is another crucial consideration. Customers trust us to protect their financial assets and personal information.

For these reasons, Gulf International Bank (GIB) looks for a resilient and reliable network to guarantee the security of our regional offices and branches in the Middle East and worldwide, and stay interconnected to facilitate GIB’s operations, communications, and provide instant transactions to our customers. 

Moving from MPLS to SD-WAN

In the past, we connected our various locations using a WAN that ran on expensive MPLS infrastructure and lacked sufficient bandwidth. We experienced frequent delays and downtime. We regularly used video conferencing and other digital collaboration tools to connect with each other, and our branches' senior teams endured lags and dropouts as they struggled through their regular video conferences. Our setup also lacked automation and central management. We had to manually install, configure, and update WAN devices and routing protocols at every branch, which was time-consuming and increased the potential for human error. 

We examined some solutions and decided to move from MPLS to a secure SD-WAN network that ran atop the public internet. We wanted cutting-edge technology, but we wanted it on a budget, so we first tried working with a small company that had recently brought a new solution to the market. It had excellent connectivity and bandwidth, and it seemed like the perfect platform for our video conferencing needs. But we couldn't scale it to meet our other operational requirements, customize its failover, or use it to automate the management of our infrastructure. Recognizing these limitations, we started to explore other options.  

It can take a leap of faith to move to a new platform, especially if it’s not widely used. It helps to have experts on your side.

That's when we turned to our long-time partner Cisco. We've used Cisco hardware in GIB network for years. It made sense to look at the company for a solution that would interconnect our locations, so we approached them about their SD-WAN technology. Cisco’s combination of hardware and firmware security capabilities made them a logical choice. Their ability to secure remote plug-and-play activation and SD-WAN, along with their richer authentication, would help us sell the solution from a security perspective.  

Despite our established business relationship with Cisco, it took a leap of faith to make a move to this new platform because SD-WAN is relatively recent and not widely used in the Middle East. With Cisco, we had experts on our side. We worked with Cisco's engineers to design and deploy an SD-WAN solution that would connect our regional and international locations without disrupting operations.  

Compatibility and Impressive Features

Compatibility with our existing Cisco equipment was a big plus, but the real advantages of Cisco SD-WAN were app-specific optimization, enhanced availability, and zero-touch provisioning. Older technologies optimize traffic based on quality-of-service considerations, but Cisco SD-WAN allows us to prioritize traffic on a per-app basis. This means we could assign top priority to our banking transaction or currency exchange systems while moving email and other less time-sensitive network activities to a lower service tier. For example, if we were transferring business data from our Abu Dhabi branch to our New York City branch, Cisco SD-WAN would route this operation over the network ahead of a video call between the two locations.

Finally, Cisco SD-WAN's enhanced availability is another key feature that sets it apart. Our previous MPLS solutions limited our disaster recovery capacity because our DR data-center ran in standby mode. That meant an interruption of almost three minutes during the failover process. With Cisco SD-WAN, we can mirror our primary operations environment to our backup site in real time and make the switch instantaneously. Everything is transparent to end users, and there is zero data loss.

Crunching the Numbers

It all sounded good on paper: reliability, security, and scalability in an affordable package that automates data encryption, network optimization, and end-to-end internal and external threat protection. But we had to be sure we had found the right solution. We didn't want another false start.

SD-WAN offers reliability, security, scalability, and automation in an affordable package.


Our next step was to crunch the numbers and add up the cost of the hardware we needed to upgrade our offices to Cisco SD-WAN. Some of our facilities were updated fairly recently and required a minimal investment in new equipment, which was good news for our budget. Then we factored in our support and bandwidth costs and compared the total to our current MPLS expenditures.

Cisco SD-WAN came out among the top partner due to their strong presence in the region, so we set our plans in motion.

A Slow and Deliberate Migration

Before deploying Cisco SD-WAN across our branches, we coordinated the delivery of new equipment and upgrades to existing infrastructure across Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the UK. We installed everything at the same time. Once the hardware was in place, our Cisco SD-WAN went live, and we started to migrate services from our MPLS WAN to the new network and servers.

Our migration approach was slow and deliberate. To avoid service disruptions, we moved individual applications, one location at a time, starting with the least critical services and working our way up to the most mission-critical apps. We learned as we went along, and the migration process sped up as we became more comfortable with it.

With help from Cisco Professional Services, we took six months to move everything over to our Cisco SD-WAN and shut down our MPLS network. The speed of deployment saved us even more money by avoiding renewal of existing MPLS network.

Cisco's technical support team has been invaluable throughout implementation. As a bank, we need lightning-fast response times and accurate time frames for ticket resolutions. I don't have to chase after Cisco to resolve a local or international issue. If our SD-WAN is not operating optimally, Cisco's engineers will set everything right before an issue escalates into a crisis.  

Setting the Stage for Future Growth

 Our CIO is delighted with saving achievement. We built a Cisco SD-WAN solution that saves GIB 30% a year on network infrastructure spending and has reduced our bandwidth costs by 50%. We can expect lower operational costs for years to come and have instantaneous DR and on-the-fly traffic shaping at the push of a button. 

Cisco SD-WAN has reduced our bandwidth costs, improved network, security, capacity, and speed. It has streamlined and centralized infrastructure management and given us the IT tools we need to enhance our services and grow our business in the Middle East and around the world.