The desire to improve bandwidth capacity at branch offices, expand the use of cloud applications and grow mobility options, have all pushed enterprises to look for innovative ways to improve traditional wide area networks (WANs). In meeting these goals, organizations are also looking for solutions that untangle the complexity of managing these networks, as well as for ways to reduce costs and improve security.
For many enterprises, software-defined WAN is the solution for these challenges because it offers tighter control over networks. SD-WAN is unique in that is replaces traditional branch routers with appliances that use virtualization, application-level policies and network overlays for secure and unified connectivity over any transport (MPLS, Broadband, LTE, VSAT etc.).
Centralized management and more granular control
SD-WAN is attractive because it abstracts, automates and consolidates some of the most complex tasks associated with traditional network connections. SD-WAN makes it simpler to incorporate broadband Internet links into the WAN. SD-WAN networks also identify and use the best available network connections per site, including public or private, meaning reliance on MPLS is reduced and overall bandwidth costs are cut. SD-WAN does this by routing traffic to the most optimal paths for each application flow, making the internet links behave like a dedicated circuit. That means traffic and data packets flowing back and forth between branch locations can be programmed and optimized− from a centralized software managed environment- to always take the best possible route.
SD-WAN vendors must haves
Those considering a shift to SD-WAN should first evaluate if network managers are prepared to manage new SD-WAN environments in-house, or if a managed SD-WAN provider is preferred. It’s also important to look at various options of SD-WAN technologies based on the organization’s biggest priorities. This could include things like dynamic support of multiple active links, or an SD-WAN that supports traffic prioritization and Quality of Service (QoS) metrics.
When looking at managed SD-WAN providers, look for those that offer a clear transition plan to SD-WAN as well as services that support both traditional and cloud-centric applications. Keep these criteria in mind when comparing vendors.
Ask about customer testimonials- Customer testimonials show exactly how other customers are using products and services to their benefit. Look for testimonials, or case studies, from companies in a similar vertical market or those that have congruent business objectives. For instance, if an organization is particularly concerned about the resiliency of the network or hybrid SD-WAN options, ask for customer testimonials that talk specifically to those areas. You may learn, for example, that a customer with a small internal IT team was able to set the SD-WAN solution to work in ‘autopilot’ mode when it was first deployed, where it routes application-level traffic flow automatically and security intelligence is collected over time.
If a hybrid approach to SD-WAN is a significant sticking point, network teams should ask to speak with current businesses that are using a hybrid SD-WAN model to run most internal traffic over their hybrid network, while sending highly sensitive data over MPLS. Ask specific questions about how the SD-WAN platform enables users to separate traffic and set up protocols on a granular level.
Years in the market- The desire for more intelligent and efficient network design, is no doubt driving the adoption of SD-WAN more than even anticipated two years ago. According to analysts, by the end of 2019, 30 percent of enterprises will have deployed SD-WAN technology in their branches, up from less than 1 percent in 2015. SD-WAN is expected to reach more than $5.55 billion by 2020 (Source: MarketsandMarkets). That means that the SD-WAN space is becoming quite crowded! When taking steps to adopt SD-WAN hardware or managed services, companies should do their homework and go with those companies that have in staying power for delivering core SD-WAN features like multi-tenancy and scalability, along with any value-added features like backup and recovery.
Industry-specific experience- An SD-WAN partner with experience across many verticals, demonstrates the versatility of that provider. On the other hand, SD-WAN providers that focus on specific industries, like retail or education, may have experience or technology features that may be useful. For instance, most managed cloud providers offer a centralized cloud service that deploys appliances at the branch-level quickly, with the ability to remotely provision virtualized services as needed. Financial services organizations that require secure communications with central data centers, for example, may look for providers that deliver hybrid WAN to improve security and performance.
Regardless, look for vendors with excellent customer service rankings and an innovative portfolio of hardware and virtual appliances as well as those that offer cloud and on-premises management.
Product lifecycles and partnerships- When evaluating vendors, look at the lifecycle their product and service portfolios. Is their core focus on SD-WAN? How are their security and backup and recovery features? Is the provider focused on delivering high-quality network experiences for cloud-based software as a service, or SaaS, applications? Some SD-WAN providers can steer specific, trusted SaaS traffic directly to the internet while directing unknown or suspicious traffic to a firewall. Further, you may want a provider that has partnerships with top-tier cloud providers like AWS, RackSpace, and Azure. Ask them!
Organizations deserve an SD-WAN partner that is continually innovating to optimize application performance and extend services to the cloud by simplifying and adding flexibility to the enterprise network. Selecting an SD-WAN vendor that is advanced and highly responsive to customer needs will pay dividends over time.