For many, the WAN of the future has failed to manifest into anything more than another hard-to- manage, costly IT project that has failed to deliver on its promises. Or it’s failed to live up to expectations. But why?
The problems SD-WAN solutions address aren’t incremental change or gradual evolution. They’re the result of industry mega trends, such as digital transformation and cloud computing, that have upended the way we consume applications and connect our users, all in a very short period of time.
New demands are being placed on network infrastructure, IT staff and application owners. This requires a complete rethink of how they’re connecting locations, delivering applications and services, as well as securing networks.
The sheer gravity of these changes and scope of what needs to be done to support them, can’t be undertaken with an additive approach. They must be tackled as transformative projects that require a complete rethink of enterprise WAN design and strategy.
There is hope, however, for those who have tried and failed, as well as for those who haven’t yet embarked on their journey. It’s possible to have a successful implementation that delivers on the promise of SD-WAN – you just need the right partner, product and process to do it.
Expertise is everything
Having the right partner to guide you through the tough design and architecture decisions is critical. They must demonstrate a repeatable process to follow that’s worked with countless other customers and take into account the pitfalls to look out for as you move forward.
It could mean you need a variety of partners – a technology vendor, a service provider, a systems integrator or a managed service provider. They all play critical roles in the success of your project, but they must have a track record of successful customer deployments and specialisation.
Your own team must also have the right skills. SD-WAN technologies are networking products, so leverage many of the same core concepts that they should already know, but there’s still a learning curve. Make sure the partner you’re engaging with offers comprehensive training and certifications to help quickly tool your team to become experts in the technology they’ll be deploying and supporting.
The right product matters
There are unique challenges that SD-WAN products must deal with, such as making the WAN cloud ready and consolidating multiple appliances in the branch and data centre into a single unified platform. All of this while still interoperating with legacy networks and protocols.
Your partner should have a clear understanding of the challenges and product needs to address them. The ability to provide a smooth journey for non-SD-WAN sites to gracefully enter the new SD-WAN fabric is paramount. No organisation turns SD-WAN on overnight at every location.
A no-compromise WAN strategy is critical to achieving better performance, control and reliability of applications on your network and in the cloud, along with better economics and agility for your infrastructure, processes and people that support them. It takes a well-thought out approach and powerful solution to get it right.
There is, however, an important balance between the need for change and innovation on the WAN edge, and the need for working with legacy networks during this transition period. Some solutions provide an unbalanced approach in one direction or the other, which could deal a lethal blow to your project and fail to deliver tangible benefits.
Thooughly evaluate leading solutions. Don’t just fall back to your legacy network or security vendor assuming they’re providing the innovation or expertise you need.
Planning and execution
SD-WAN projects involve replacing critical infrastructure in the branch. This often means consolidating multiple routers, firewalls and WAN optimisation devices down into a single unified SD-WAN platform. Removing this legacy equipment and software stack requires a well-coordinated plan to get it right with minimal disruption.
Understand how your SD-WAN solution connects into your data centre, cloud and security stack. Identify how your applications will use this new WAN and plan for how legacy sites will interoperate until they become SD-WAN sites. If there are other major changes taking place such as a move to cloud security services, those should also be planned for at this time.
Once this architecture is well understood, document your rollout process, test at a handful of sites to work out the kinks, refine your process and then start deploying. If you’re deploying hundreds or thousands of sites, make sure your partners have the ability to automate much of this process.
If there are things that may prolong your deployment, identify and plan for them ahead of time whenever possible.
Get out what you put in
As with anything, you get out what you put in. Successful SD-WAN deployments require the right set of people, the product that best fits your needs and the planning and execution that you should expect with any large project.
The benefits of SD-WAN are tangible, and the market has moved far beyond the hype. Realising a multiplier effect, as well as delivering better performance, reliability, security and control across your cloud investments is entirely possible.
*About the author