How to Take the Risk Out of SD-WAN Deployment

We've all seen the predictions: IDC, for example, forecasts a $8 billion global software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) market by 2021 -- an enticing figure that has led many telcos and cable companies to add SD-WAN to their portfolios in the last 12 months alone. The market is clearly confident of the technology's potential to help drive greater business agility.

However, before IT teams jump on the SD-WAN bandwagon, they need to take a long, hard look at their network performance expectations and vendor capabilities. A suitable strategy will include risk assessment and risk management planning with an eye on avoiding any potential cost issues or operational constraints.

Protecting Network Performance

Enterprises increasingly are using on-premises and cloud services in hybrid deployments to boost responsiveness. And to empower local branches further and boost DevOps' innovations, they've taken networks hybrid, too -- with many using a blend of MPLS, broadband, 4G, and public Wi-Fi connectivity. As a result of these different connectivity choices, however, maintaining network performance, locally and across the globe, can be a struggle, as can keeping costs from mushrooming. Analysts have warned that despite all the network investments in recent years, global businesses still have infrastructures with sub-par connectivity; core applications that can't respond adequately to volatile economic conditions; new branch connections in need of upkeep; and difficultly keeping up with increasingly mobilized users who move from device to device throughout their working days.

Fortunately, SD-WAN promises better control of these scattered networks, sites, and applications. Layered over companies' existing connectivity solutions, SD-WAN abstracts applications and data from the underlying infrastructures. As a result, organizations using SD-WAN can better control global network performance. They can fine-tune and automate management from a central point, eliminating the need for network engineers to travel to or be located at branch offices to carry out manual network configurations.

Centralized control promises transformation of local branch capabilities. In particular, SD-WAN helps network managers make smarter decisions about the routes that data will take over the network, depending on business priorities for different applications. Enterprises can build in greater bandwidth for local offices or set up failover rules so traffic automatically switches to the next best available route and avoids downtime.

Using SD-WAN, networking teams can use cheaper connectivity options and improve application availability and business productivity, sending sensitive application traffic down high-grade routes such as MPLS while transporting less important material over cheaper routes. In addition, they can accelerate the set-up of new locations, and reduce the ongoing need for onsite maintenance.

Cost Assessment

Before rushing into an SD-WAN strategy, therefore, CIOs would be wise to seize the opportunity to assess other connectivity costs, such as enterprise-grade Internet, at the time of MPLS contract refreshes. While MPLS generally requires an organization to operate expensive edge hardware, usually to a carrier's term contract, SD-WAN flips the cost model to suit the service user, offering a low-cost commodity item with the intelligence or orchestration capabilities provided at the overlay level.

As such, SD-WAN is turning hybrid network cost equations on their head. Gartner, for example, recently estimated that a company with a traditional 250-branch WAN model could reduce three-year running costs of approximately $1.3 million to $453,000 through an SD-WAN deployment.

Carefully implemented, even in complex brownfield IT landscapes, the latest SD-WAN implementations are starting to provide new levels of network control and agility as well as boost the bottom line for performance while bringing order to network maintenance, support, and travel budgets. SD-WAN tools provide the opportunity, as Gartner puts it, for IT teams to align IT infrastructures with the businesses they serve; but planning for them also demands that they consider commercial and network priorities together and not in isolation.

To ensure effective SD-WAN planning and guard against network agility strategies placing possible constraints on the business, enterprises should take time to understand their innovation, future business model, infrastructure, and in-house resourcing needs. The need for caution naturally extends to selecting the right SD-WAN provider.

Continue to Page 2: Evaluating SD-WAN Vendors