Enabling a more holistic approach to SD-WAN adoption: A guide

Johan Ottosson is VP strategy at Telia Carrier.

Software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) has been all the rage for a number of years. We’ve all heard about the benefits: Optimising transport cost with Internet connectivity instead of MPLS. Application visibility. Simplified network management. To be sure, they are real. According to Gartner, by the end of 2019, more than 50% of new managed WAN deployments incorporated SD-WAN and IDC expect that 80% of enterprises will define their SD-WAN strategy within the next 24 months.

While most enterprises have been sounding the market, or even conducting pilots, fewer have made a radical transformation of their entire network. So why haven’t all enterprises jumped on the bandwagon? Here are three perspectives on the barriers to SD-WAN adoption:

Underlay + overlay = quality

No network is stronger than its weakest link. While SD-WAN is a significant leap forward, it can’t deliver the promised results without a reliable, well-connected physical network. According to the Uptime Institute’s 2019 global survey, 31 percent of organizations cited network failure as the primary cause of their most recent data centre incident or outage. That’s why the network ‘underlay’ – the combination of infrastructure and service – still matters more than ever. In fact, more than 80% of Enterprises (according to Gartner) will use a hybrid WAN combining MPLS/Ethernet and the Internet in five years’ time.

Managed, co-managed or BYO?

There is no “one size fits all” sourcing and management models for SD-WAN. Some enterprises prefer taking back control, whereas others prioritize simplicity. However, what we keep on hearing from enterprises is that service management, fault-finding and troubleshooting continue getting more difficult as the number of partners and possible fault modes increase. Is the problem with my cloud service? My cloud security provider? Or the CPE, last mile or middle mile connectivity?

If you have offices in multiple locations and more complex traffic flows; want end-to-end SLAs and support across both the overlay and underlay; and are concerned about how many more partners you can realistically manage, then you should look into a managed or co-managed service.

Self-serve and data as a competitive advantage

Most IT organizations want to focus more of their time on the front-end, directly supporting their businesses and quickly responding to change. Now’s the time to set the right expectation level with your provider. Do you get commercial flexibility to support your evolution or contract lock-in? Can you add, change or remove services on-the-go? Will self-serve portals and APIs help automate daily networking routines? Do you get network insights that put you in the driver’s seat?

Ensure that your partners’ vision and roadmap align with your own. Forward-leaning service providers will give you a clean slate approach and without vested interests or legacy limitations.

Planning for success

For the vast majority of global enterprise WANs, the SD-WAN journey is a transition, rather than a radical rip-up-and-replace exercise. Cloud adoption and digital transformation are redefining the requirements, whilst new technologies and service providers challenge the status quo. For most enterprises, this creates the perfect opportunity to right-size their networks and rethink the way services are bought, and from whom.

But enterprises must combine the free thinking of a clean-slate approach with a realistic view of what’s needed to keep everyday business running smoothly. When embarking on the next stage of your WAN transformation, take time to define a holistic strategy beyond the SD-WAN hardware.

  • Start by setting your priorities straight: Low cost or value for money?
  • Be realistic about your last/middle mile constraints and the degree of freedom your SD- WAN migration will actually deliver
  • Develop a framework for how your connectivity needs will evolve in the next 3+ years
  • Outline a management model that will support your transformation
  • Engage with multiple suppliers to identify providers who can offer a flexible approach, free from vested interests
  • Challenge the automation agenda of your prospective suppliers, and their ability to cooperate with increasingly complex troubleshooting challenges
  • Be confident in the people who will deliver your migration. Even in a software-driven world, networking is still a physical environment that requires the human touch

Whether your change agenda is big or small, it should be driven by business needs and be well grounded in market realities. Look for service providers with deep insight and knowledge of the underlay and inner workings of cloud and Internet ecosystems. Here, global ISP rankings such as Oracle Dyn Internet Intelligence or CAIDA.org will give you a good idea of who to ask.

What’s more, make sure to engage someone without vested interests in legacy products, and a strong customer support that keeps your end-users free from disruption. Your future network shouldn’t just be software defined – it should be business defined.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their experiences and use-cases? Attend the Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.

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