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Getting SD-WAN Deployments Right

The SD-WAN market is growing rapidly as the world adopts the technology and is expected to reach $4.6 billion by 2023, according to Futuriom. That said, transitioning wide area networks (WANs) from one technology, MPLS, to a modern technology, SD-WAN, can be complex and requires knowledge of the existing enterprise WAN and local area network (LAN) to ensure improved performance and user experience, especially for hybrid and remote workers.

During the migration from a legacy network to a software-defined one, a better understanding of architectures will streamline the deployment process. New technologies like SD-WAN are only part of the answer – ongoing support to design, manage and maintain it is the other important part. Having the right skills and support creates a successful foundation to approach the deployment across the entire enterprise and ensures a solid foundation for growth.

Building the right foundation

The advantages of SD-WAN are numerous and powerful. Enterprises moving from MPLS to SD-WAN increase control and visibility of their networks and application performance and can centralize management policies via a web portal for all their locations. When deployed correctly, SD-WAN delivers additional capabilities such as forward error correction and application-aware routing to resolve or work around network problems, reducing downtime while providing a seamless end-user experience. 

Companies looking to deploy SD-WAN should start with a “kick the tires” approach by getting demonstrations of how it works, demonstrations of the digital experience, and a potential lab trial or a proof of concept (POC). When it comes to deploying proof-of-concepts, enterprises should start by looking at their current deployment models – virtual employees, branch locations, regional locations, HQ, and data centers, for example – and create a microcosm of their existing network to allow for a full evaluation.

Getting a partner to help

Often, companies attempting to build solutions on their own can run into challenges either through a poor choice in technology or a poor choice of doing-it-yourself; either can account for underperforming business objectives. In these cases, leveraging outside expertise to help plan and deploy across the litany of software-defined networking technologies will give a decision maker flexibility to review the strengths and weaknesses of each technology to make an educated and informed decision and to bring in specialized assistance to ensure the transition is successful.

Managed service providers (MSPs) can help an enterprise design the best solution based on its specific business objectives and provide ongoing support during the deployment and even in life so that the solution procured continues to meet the demands of the business.

Ideally, the MSP’s team that helps with design will be there throughout an enterprise’s POC and help make any adjustments to routing or security profiles prior to a full installation across your locations. That partner can not only manage and maintain the SD-WAN solution on your behalf but can procure and manage the underly network, ensuring a single source of accountability across connectivity and networking and reducing the burden on the enterprise IT team by acting as an extension to help with design, deployment, and ongoing support.

One common critique of SD-WAN MSPs is that they struggle with a lack of common technologies or engagement practices, making it somewhat difficult to choose the right provider from among several options. Enterprises should choose an MSP that will be a great partner by looking for third-party validation from sources such as use cases, peer insights, or analyst reports.

SD-WAN’s benefits are worth the right investment

The cost to migrate to new technology like SD-WAN is easily paid for by total cost of ownership benefits like improved cost per megabit-per-second, better performance of networks and applications, reduced downtime, and higher user productivity. Companies who are still hesitant to make the transition to SD-WAN should understand that a poorly planned DIY approach with the wrong technology can drive failure, while carefully selecting the right solutions by assessing business needs and objectives (and finding a trusted partner to assist) will produce these benefits. Making investments such as bringing in an MSP and taking time to carefully build the right architecture and transition plan will pay off in the long run.

Todd Kiehn is GTT's SVP of Global Product Management.

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