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SD-WAN: Buy as a Service or Do It Yourself?

The software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is in the middle of a perfect storm formed by digital transformation, cloud migration, and branch simplification. As such, a plethora of established and emerging companies -- vendors with expertise in networking and security and service providers alike -- are offering products or solutions related to this technology.

As with any technology approaching critical mass adoption, IT organizations have a choice of how to best implement SD-WAN. One size fits all doesn’t apply here.

Enterprises can take a hands-off approach with a fully managed service; a hands-on, do-it-yourself (DIY) approach; or something in between. As you evaluate the best SD-WAN solution for your organization’s needs, asking these five questions will help in your considerations.

1. Is it delivered as a service or is it DIY? 

A regional-based, DIY SD-WAN will reduce transport costs by allowing you to replace legacy MPLS links with less expensive public Internet connections (often business-grade broadband). However, what happens to your data and applications across the middle mile tends to be a mystery: Your application can traverse multiple connection points and providers. 

This approach may provide acceptable application performance if you’ve localized your branches and data center and cloud resources regionally. But what happens with global sites? If you’re conducting business on a global level, this leaves you susceptible to poor application performance and security threats when collaborating over long distances with customers, partners, and employees.

SD-WAN, delivered globally and as a service, can overcome these challenges with a software-defined, private network used for the middle mile, or network core. It can offer flat latencies, performance acceleration for applications, quality of service (QoS), and easy multicloud connectivity. There is no best effort Internet transport involved in this scenario.

2. Is the network transport Layer 2 or Layer 3?

This is a critical point to bring up when it comes to searching for a global provider. A Layer 3 Internet introduces jitter, long latency, and packet loss -- all of which will adversely impact application performance, particularly when it comes to real-time voice and video. While some vendors employ techniques aimed at mitigating these conditions, you should still consider the effects of multiple providers and hops on overall performance when utilizing a public medium.

Look for an SD-WAN offering global connectivity through a software-defined, Layer 2 core. Your business-critical applications and data would get a dedicated fast lane with performance optimization, QoS, and 99.99% reliability.

3. Are applications optimized?

Application performance or the lack thereof is a common challenge with which IT teams grapple. Many SD-WAN providers will suggest you add an extra appliance or virtual machines for each location, especially when geographically dispersed, to prioritize applications and mitigate the performance challenges of the public Internet.

SD-WAN services can provide WAN optimization, as well as application proxies for HTTPS, CIFS, SSL, QoS, and SaaS acceleration. This not only enables faster performance for cloud-based applications and platforms such as Microsoft Office 365 and SAP Business ByDesign, but enhances performance for hosted voice and video solutions such as Cisco Webex, Zoom video, and more.

4. Will it work with all cloud and SaaS platforms?

Your network should be able to connect end users seamlessly to all your business-critical applications and platforms without having to backhaul your connectivity through the data center. This means giving every site access to cloud platforms such as provided by Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure and applications including Office 365, Salesforce CRM, or Oracle enterprise resource planning.

Find an SD-WAN provider that enables direct connectivity to every IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS platform through its network. This will enable your workforce to have fast access to applications across platforms from every remote location around the world.

5. Do I have to build the network myself?

Some SD-WAN vendors only provide devices for each office, and it’s up to the IT department to build out the network. This leaves IT with the dirty job of purchasing connectivity, orchestrating each device, managing multiple telco contracts, and ensuring connections at each location are up and running. An effort of this magnitude can leave your business waiting months before it reaches a full global network deployment.

SD-WANs delivered as a service can offer fully-integrated solutions with always-on support. The provider takes care of managing the network and minimal investment in resources are needed from the customer to maintain everything at each location. There are many large and mid-size global enterprises that have either deployed or are currently considering SD-WAN as a service so that their IT departments can focus on being more strategic. What’s more, a fully managed global solution can be deployed in a matter of hours.

Don’t Settle for Less

Regardless of the SD-WAN approach you undertake for your digital transformation strategy, consider some of the major elements mentioned above before choosing a provider. Your SD-WAN shouldn’t force you to sacrifice reliability or performance for something that merely appears to be easier to manage and cheaper to roll out.

Consider the holistic costs and complexity associated with a DIY network. Your SD-WAN needs to ensure that your global workforce can get work done without losing out on reliable connectivity or wasting time waiting for applications to load. SD-WAN as a service can give IT teams back critical time so that they can focus on delivering more strategic value to their organizations.