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Taking a leap into SD-WAN adoption

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flex)

According to Gartner, by the end of 2019, more than 50 per cent of new managed WAN deployments incorporated SD-WAN and IDC expect that 80 per cent 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 actually made a radical transformation of their entire network. So why haven’t all enterprises jumped on the bandwagon?

There are many reasons why SD-WAN is so alluring. Several years ago, in response to the second-rate customer experience and poor value for money provided by legacy network service providers, SD-WAN presented a welcome alternative and the promise of a brighter future. It would eliminate the need for MPLS-based networks and bring agility, cost-efficiency and transparency to enterprise networking. Fast-forward a few years and the accelerating pace of cloud migration further increased the need for change - by radically shifting traffic patterns towards the Internet. In turn, this introduced more complex fault scenarios and infrastructure departments were required to support constant change driven by fast-paced DevOps teams.

Figure out your strategy

For the vast majority of global enterprise WANs, the SD-WAN journey is a transition, rather than a radical rip-up-and-replace exercise. In fact, more than 80 per cent (according to Gartner), will use a hybrid WAN combining MPLS/Ethernet and the Internet. Enterprises should establish holistic strategies, allowing them to reap the benefits of this transition. Networks shouldn’t simply be software-defined, but rather, business defined. By answering some seemingly simple questions, transformation can be based on business need - avoiding costly pitfalls driven by inflated expectations, market constraints and misaligned capabilities.

  • How is your business evolving?

Aligning your WAN strategy to business needs will help you get your priories right.  When your network agreements come up for renewal, be extremely clear on what is important to you and the tangible improvements you are looking to realise (faster upgrade turnaround, better support, lower TCO etc.). This will give challenger service providers like Telia Carrier a greater chance to help you achieve your goals.

  • What are your three-year cloud and IT Infrastructure targets?

What needs to be connected to the WAN, and how, changes constantly - but by how much, and how fast? Now is the time to identify and harmonise your business requirements based on what they are now, and will be in three years.  This will also help you define the right type of underlay network, as well as the implementation and management of SD-WAN profiles and data flows. Review your network architecture and site categorisation in accordance with a standardised segmentation model. Most companies work with three to six site tiers – based on the number of end-users, the applications and workloads they run, the critical nature of applications, and the necessary security and regulatory requirements.

  • What is the right management model to support your three-year evolution?

Now’s the time to decide upon what extent you wish to manage your WAN transformation. If your topology and policy rules are simple, your offices are in competitive locations within a narrow geographical footprint, and your local operations are both able to procure and manage local network providers, then it may be worth looking into a DIY SD-WAN implementation, or the pure overlay provider route. However, if your sites are distributed, but you need centralised support then you should consider bringing onboard a service provider that can manage core connectivity, the local access, SD- WAN CPEs and configurations.

  • How do you secure commercial flexibility along the way?

You know your network best, you’ve set out your management model and you’re ready to move forward. But if you have previously used a co-location centre for a few servers and access the cloud, now may be the time to think again.  Co-location centres have advantages if you really need to have ‘metal on the ground’ but with the performance you can get in the cloud, maybe those servers could move skyward.  That opens the possibility of connecting directly to the cloud through your chosen service provider. Simplifying your network with no compromise on performance.

  • What are you last and middle-mile constraints?

The availability of high-quality network infrastructure will dictate the design you need in order to keep end-users satisfied.  All sites do not require the same level of connectivity, and depending on your network mix, you will either opt for a more radical SD-WAN deployment, or steady evolution. Define your site tiers by geography from the outset and be sure to understand the different underlay technologies such as global Direct Internet Access (DIA) and business or consumer broadband.

  • What do you need to speed up automation?

Most IT organisations want to focus more of their time on the front-end, directly supporting their businesses. Ensure that your partners’ journey towards automation aligns with your own. Most global network service providers have evolved from decades of M&A activity, delivering their services over multiple networks and legacy platforms. This creates a massive barrier towards a data-driven and highly automated network future. Before renewing or signing-up with a new provider, enterprises should assess the impact of patchwork infrastructures on their future WAN.

Turn your strategy into action

Cloud adoption and digital transformation are redefining the requirements of enterprise WANs, 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.

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. 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.

Mattias Fridström, Chief Evangelist, Telia Carrier