SD-WAN is increasingly becoming the networking solution of choice for modern enterprises. It simplifies management of a business’s WAN to optimise performance and flexibility. Peter Coppens, Vice President Product Portfolio, Colt Technology Services, explains how companies can choose the right SD-WAN for their business.
Today there is certainly no shortage of challenges for businesses managing and adapting their enterprise networks. Given Digital Transformation drivers including IoT, mobile networks, remote workforces and cloud, networks must be more intelligent and adaptive then ever – able to support new use cases, access types and topologies without sacrificing performance, security or latency – all while enabling the teams managing them to keep their costs low.
In this world, SD-WAN is increasingly becoming the networking solution of choice for modern enterprises – so much so that IDC predicts that the market for SD-WAN will reach USD$5.25 billion by 2023 in their 2019 SD-WAN Infrastructure Forecast.
At its simplest, SD-WAN is a software-based solution that simplifies management of a business’s WAN to optimise performance and flexibility while keeping operational costs low. The main drivers for SD-WAN adoption include: 1) giving a CIO more control and insight over his WAN network, 2) increasing the agility of the WAN network, 3) ensuring the WAN network evolves with changes in traffic topology, including increased traffic flowing to SaaS cloud via the public Internet and 4) being able to scale bandwidth cost-effectively, especially in areas with limited competition among incumbent network service providers.
In contrast to traditional networking, the customer is able to monitor their network deployment, near real-time performance, configuration, congestion, traffic-steering policies, applications involved and more through their SD-WAN. It addresses common pain points for modern business networks, including quality of service and security and meets requirements of today’s decentralised, geographically spread, cloud-centric networks.
It is critical for key decision-makers in the business to understand the exact requirements of the organisation and to choose, deploy and correctly use the most appropriate SD-WAN service.
Choosing the right SD-WAN solution for your business
The most critical step in choosing the right solution for any given enterprise is understanding at a high level how they want to manage their SD-WAN. What kind of support is needed from the supplier, given the IT resources available within the business?
For certain very large corporations, a ‘DIY’ approach to deploying and managing an SD-WAN solution may be considered. The DIY model involves businesses buying SD-WAN technology directly from the vendor and deploying and managing their SD-WAN solution in-house, giving them full control and visibility of the network. However, building a complete SD-WAN architecture across multiple locations and network access types with multiple vendors is a complex task and it is essential that a business adopting this approach have an IT department with the required skills and experience to design and manage their SD-WAN solution internally – including dealing with potentially tens of different local loop providers and keeping the network up and running 24×7.
For most businesses, this option isn’t suitable. Instead, they benefit from adopting a managed service with an experienced partner who can help seamlessly integrate the new SD-WAN service with their existing infrastructure and provide support throughout the service lifecycle.
Working with a managed service provider means that firms don’t need to invest the considerable time, money and effort to source and retain the required niche skills for managing the SD-WAN, nor build up an internal organisation to offers 24/7 support for the network. By adopting this model, they would also benefit from the cost efficiencies of a large provider network, who also leverage existing relationships with third-party access providers to ensure that their customer receives the best possible service, end-to-end.
Overall, choosing a managed service ensures fast deployment, network performance guarantees and assurance that the business-critical application requirements of the company are met by the right access options on the underlying network.
Once the type of service is decided, the next step is to identify what features and capabilities are most critical to meet the requirements of the business. Does the business rely upon multiple cloud-based SaaS and IaaS applications from different cloud service providers? If so, look for a service that offers support for multi-cloud and cloud-to-cloud connectivity. Is it key to future-proof the organisation and fully enable all the network functions to be delivered as an application, remotely and rapidly? Consider a service that is offered over self-install universal Customer Premise Equipment (uCPE), over which new virtualised functions can be added and deployed rapidly without the need for technician site visits. Other important factors to consider are availability of security features like next-generation firewall and encryption, a centralised management portal, network performance reporting and analytics features and availability of load balancing to reduce network congestion.
Setting up and using your SD-WAN
After the service has been chosen, the focus should shift to understanding the organisation’s structure and day-to-day network usage and how to apply SD-WAN features to optimise performance. For managed services, the supplier can provide support in configuring the service to address the organisation’s requirements and patterns of application use, network failover and failback settings or behavioural actions to take place.
Equally important to setting up the SD-WAN service with the most appropriate configuration is continually reassess the service throughout its lifecycle to dynamically respond to the constant changes in bandwidth requirements, application usage and user experience. It is therefore critical to take advantage of the reporting and analytics capabilities available on the chosen SD-WAN platform to actively monitor performance and respond as required.
By understanding that the network requirements and user behaviours of an organisation are constantly evolving and dynamically applying the extensive capabilities and features of the managed SD-WAN service to react to these changes, firms can power their Digital Transformation to their full potential.