SD-WAN is one of the hottest enterprise technology trends in recent years. With benefits like easy management, massive cost savings compared to MPLS, and flexible application performance across complex network environments, it looks like adoption rates will continue to soar. In fact, research from IDC predicts the SD-WAN market will grow at a 40 percent compound annual growth rate to reach $4.5 billion by 2022. While it’s true that this technology can remove a significant amount of complexity and cost from your multi-link network, you must take your time to conduct the necessary assessments and have a strong deployment and operation plan in place before tackling a new SD-WAN implementation.
Here are six key steps every NetOps team should take to ensure the success of an SD-WAN deployment:
1) Approach and Assess Each Site as a Unique IT Environment
The existing WAN connectivity at each of your branch locations likely varies between broadband, satellite, Internet, MPLS, or whatever else is available. Before SD-WAN deployment, it is critical to evaluate these circuits at each of your sites to establish a holistic understanding of the connectivity costs and reliability available to you. Consider which applications are critical for daily operations at each location, where they’re hosted, and what impact your WAN connectivity has on their performance. Are they reliant on the cloud or your enterprise data center? Are they particularly dependent on broadband or MPLS? The goal here is to understand how to meet the performance requirements of each office and surpass your existing performance levels if possible while keeping costs down.
2) Review Your Applications
It’s pointless to deploy an SD-WAN if you can’t properly support your business-critical applications. When planning a new SD-WAN implementation, one of your top priorities should be to make an assessment of your protocol and application usage. What does it say about your company’s bandwidth and routing needs? By taking this step, you can develop an SD-WAN solution that matches your unique needs. Additionally, take the time to categorize your applications from the outset, accounting for the links each application follows, and their end connection. This way, it will be seamless for your new SD-WAN deployment to do application-based routing through available links, based on the established policies.
3) Explore SD-WAN Implementation Options
The next step is to decide between using an SD-WAN that employs virtual server software vs. a set of hardware-based SD-WAN appliances. For some enterprises, it is easier to cut costs by upgrading existing hardware to support the SDN functionality that comes with SD-WANs. But, this is not applicable in every case. For locations that already have virtual machines hosted, the use of virtual SD-WAN appliance might be the most cost-effective option to use.
4) Lay Out Your Transport Plan
One of the most important aspects of pursuing a new SD-WAN implementation is giving adequate thought to transport decisions. Are you planning to direct the majority of traffic over existing MPLS circuits and supplement it with broadband initially? Would it make more sense to transition to mostly broadband WAN? What types of cloud services are you using today, and how will they be incorporated into the deployment? Many of these decisions are based on how your business prioritizes traffic and the unique bandwidth requirements of each specific application. Your transport choices will significantly influence the level of impact users will experience (if any), and the level of cost savings generated by an SD-WAN.
5) Understand Your Monitoring Requirements and Capabilities
As I mentioned, SD-WAN implementations literally transform your network. So, before diving in, you need to ensure that your NetOps team is capable of establishing a performance baseline of your existing network and then verify the new policies are working as designed and optimizing SD-WAN performance on an ongoing basis. SD-WANs without visibility and control will end up squandering the promising ROI they were originally deployed to produce.
6) Run Pilot Tests
You can’t expect to “flip a switch” and deploy SD-WAN across an entire organization in one shot. The aim of a pilot test is to observe and record unforeseen issues, determine if you’re using the appropriate network access and better understand how to optimize your policies across a controlled set of locations and applications. From the results, you will know the appropriate measures to take to improve the network to best suit further your company objectives.
The long-term success of any SD-WAN implementation heavily depends upon the assessments, observations, and adjustments you make during these early stages. There are many other considerations and decisions you’ll need to make, but starting with the above tips to better plan out the next phase of your network transformation will give your business a solid foundation for SD-WAN success.