Traditional WANs aren’t keeping up. In the broadband age, network professionals are having problems managing and configuring branch offices. Employees are noticing slowdowns in their business-critical apps, while other apps, such as those streaming sports events, override the network. There’s a traffic jam, and businesses, especially global enterprises with many branch offices, like financial institutions and retail outlets, are moving to SD-WAN.
SD-WAN (or, software-defined wide area network) is an architecture that uses software-defined networking to direct traffic and improve connectivity while sending data over vast geographic distances. It improves agility and productivity and brings down costs.
But we need to move past some common misconceptions and fears about SD-WAN. I thought I’d list the top three.
Myth 1: It’s Too Complicated
Occasionally, I meet with network engineers who shy away from SD-WAN adoption because they seem to think the technology is going to require them to learn some complex, new programming language. I can almost see the wheels turning in their heads: “Too hard. Steer clear.”
I’m not going to deny that there’s a learning curve involved, but SD-WAN doesn’t require you to learn some arcane new programming language. Because SD-WAN sits on top of multiple WAN links and uses software-driven policies to select the best data transport mechanism for each application automatically, it masks complexity.
Once you install the hardware, you can provision it quickly. It doesn’t put you in some nightmarish spinning tires environment where you’re waiting on the configs and checking everything, seeing how it's going… waiting and waiting.
And remember: If you’re command-line driven and you're at each device putting together a network, you’re going to make mistakes—and take a lot of time trying to eliminate them because human error is the biggest obstacle in your working life, not software.
With SD-WAN, you get to see the whole network. You’re breathing it and feeling it and seeing how it’s moving the traffic. SD-WAN lets you stay ahead of your bandwidth, and you're able to keep up with your service level agreements throughout your offices. It takes a huge burden off your shoulders.
Myth 2: It’s Too Expensive
SD-WAN is available as SaaS, which makes it comparatively inexpensive compared to a custom, DIY setup. Before adoption, you’ll need to sit down and ask yourself: can my team do this on its own with a custom model, or should our organization contract a service plan? Later, once you become acquainted with it—and have it all set up correctly—you can pull it into a DIY model.
In my experience, the obstacle is just convincing others of its business case—one that’s easy to prove. If you want to save money because you're wasting bandwidth and productivity, that alone can prove its case.
SD-WAN’s firewall helps ensure IT admin gets the security and ability to identify thousands of applications on the network. It simplifies the process of defining configurations and policies for each one, giving IT admins the control they need to do their jobs.
Simple buy-in is the usual obstacle because it’s an upfront cost. And the earlier you adopt it, the more you’ll be on top of things, and the more value you can provide to your business.
Myth 3: It’s a Job Killer
Occasionally, I run across network engineers who push back hard on SD-WAN. They say its purpose isn’t to help the organization; instead, its goal is to cut jobs. SD-WAN isn’t about that. It’s designed to automate decisions and centralize operations while reducing error.
With so many applications, IoT devices, and ways the internet is being used, your organization’s bandwidth is likely getting stolen right out from under your operation. I can steal it on my phone by streaming football all day. I can download intensive files to my laptop or tablet while on the job. Without SD-WAN, your system will inevitably choke and sputter.
SD-WAN adoption is inevitable, but it requires a changing of mindsets. Some engineers may have to move their work to a higher level, but we’ll still need jobs for people who can design and implement networks. We’ll still need people who can work with the software.
Fundamentally, this advance is just another in a series of technological leaps forward wherein you must learn something new—and remember, if you’re the person setting the policies that SD-WAN uses, you still have control over how they’re set up. The SD-WAN software won’t be doing something behind your back. You will still have control.
SD-WAN is just a tool—one you should consider adopting.