Software defined networking – How best to optimise the procurement, deployment and management of your network

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Over the last 18 months developments in networking have reflected the trends for separating compute and storage.  As such the network has tentatively moved towards software virtualisation of key network and security components using software-defined network (SDN) technology.

Requests for SDN were sporadic at best in 2017 but are now the norm in 2019. The deployment of an SD-WAN Service is the first step to clients utilising an end-to-end Software Defined Environment (SDE). In turn, use of an SDE can lead to the full hyperconvergence of an enterprise’s IT infrastructure.  Full hyperconvergence is a further reaching project than traditional network virtualisation; it includes the consolidation of network function virtualisation (NFV) with compute and storage at the data centre and remote office/branch into a single set of consolidated and virtualised hardware platforms. The ultimate goal and best possible outcome is to have a single pane of glass view, allowing you to control all these virtualised platforms from one place.

However, this is a huge exercise in services integration, and one with many steps towards success and numerous associated pitfalls to avoid. Even the first step of deploying SD-WAN can bring considerable benefits, but comes with its own risks. For example, when implemented and supported correctly we have seen its potential to reduce client’s costs by up to 30 per cent over a traditional WAN service. It has also come with the added benefits of greater security, agility and flexibility.

To maximise these benefits and provide support for long term objectives around using a Software Defined Environment, an innovative approach is needed for the initial procurement, optimisation and support for the Software Defined Network.

In this context, we need to ask two initial questions; the first is whether the traditional model for supporting the WAN with a traditional Internet Service Provider is the right one?  The second question is whether it is better to maintain a hardware virtualisation platform outside of their normal realm of control at the customer premise equipment router?

To answer these questions, we need to first ask how many managed service providers are truly aligned to your particular goals around the development of a full SDE. Many managed service providers will advise using a traditional ISP, however, many ISPs are aligned to “standard” WAN offerings with support models that are often inflexible to change.   

This means that they don’t take into account the hyperconvergence skills between compute, storage and the need to future proof the whole IT infrastructure, not just the network.

A methodical approach

Some managed service providers and ISPs have their own bandwidth solutions, which they will be using as standard to protect their revenue streams. These are often not the most cost-effective solutions for you, so it is important to find a partner who is technology and vendor agnostic, allowing them to assess your current and future requirements against the market and help you find the best solution for your needs.

Another point to consider is geographical coverage. Some ISPs are forced to limit what they can offer and where so that they can cap at the most cost-effective prices. You can save money by working with a partner who can help you procure these services directly.

When things go wrong, will they work pro-actively on anything other than areas within their commercial service control.  Issues in this area often compounded by offshore support teams with no customer network familiarity unless it’s a standard ISP service.  How many of us run our networks this way?

It’s with these challenges, that you should think about the procurement and design of your traditional WAN Services. Therefore, before you extend or source a new WAN contract, we would recommend a methodical approach that does the following:

  • Confirms the end-to-end architecture that the SD-WAN needs to support.  Consider where you are hosting applications and how they are being accessed with pertinent security controls. 
  • Confirms what locations need to have 100 per cent network reliability and what can be best efforts
  • Includes an investment in a CPE platform that supports hyperconvergence of remote site functions, not just the network as part of that architecture
  • Decouples the CPE from traditional WAN provisioning models i.e. buy unbundled WAN services.
  • Looks across potential multiple ISPs for bandwidth, performance and cloud interconnectivity requirements. 

Once you have identified your ideal next steps for your WAN project, the next hurdle to tackle is how to design, deploy and manage the new unbundled services. 

This means that enterprises should be on the lookout for potential “integration” partners that can address these challenges on their behalf almost as if they themselves are an extension of the inhouse service model. This integration partner should be technology and vendor agnostic, and able to work on your behalf to secure the best long-term solutions for your business.

An analysis of trends in the industry has shown that you don’t have to implement everything on day one to meet your digital workplace and multi-cloud objective.  But by following the right principles early on with the right partnerships, and avoiding vendor lock-in you can, over many years scale a very cost-effective service, rather than undergoing a complete rejuvenation every time it has, inevitably, to change and develop.

John Bidgood, CTO, Systal Technology Solutions
Image Credit: Flex