Demystifying SD-WAN – Part 1 (An Introduction)

Like any new technology, Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) is subject to the Innovation Adoption Lifecycle. The Early Adopters of SD-WAN are now entering the selection phase, while the Early Majority are still educating themselves on how SD-WAN will benefit their business.  Where SD-WAN does differ from other technological advancements is that, rather than denoting a specific technology evolution, SD-WAN amalgamates WAN, cybersecurity and business continuity under one umbrella. The result? A fundamental shift in networking architectures and how infrastructures are deployed. To add to the complexity of SD-WAN, carriers, manufacturers and solution providers are defining, and going to market, with SD-WAN in very different ways.

The result is a plethora of questions being asked by the early majority: What’s the same? What’s new? What’s changed for the better? No wonder SD-WAN is such a hot topic.

SD-WAN is a business-driven solution

Here’s how it works: SD-WAN helps enterprises align networks to cloud initiatives and digital transformation. How? By promising a ‘business-first’ approach that matches resources with business requirements. Unlike traditional network infrastructures, any constraints will now come from the business, rather than the technology itself.

Recent IDC forecast

So what’s the issue?

SD-WAN is supposed to make things easier by increasing network flexibility and agility, while also boosting network connectivity. As the technology matures however, it’s becoming apparent that in order to realize these benefits, traditional ways of thinking won’t cut it. An all-encompassing technology, SD-WAN demands companies understand their business needs down to the nitty gritty details. Here’s what you need to understand:

1. It isn’t ‘Plug and Play’

Hybrid Cloud Infrastructures have been a game changer. They have however also added a layer of complexity that requires fundamental networking knowledge to determine where SD-WAN fits – logically and physically in the network.  Set-it-and-forget-it won’t apply, so IT departments need to understand:

  • Application and traffic priority (not all applications are created and consumed equally),
  • Bandwidth requirements (real requirements, not guesses)
  • Business continuity under every business and technology scenario (which there are a lot of)

2. Security is Essential

The SD-WAN market is still relatively new and solutions can vary dramatically by vendor and provider. It needs to be subjected to the same rigorous security standards as other IT infrastructure elements. What’s more, most SD-WAN solutions don’t offer the protections of next gen cybersecurity like UTM, IPS and other threat management technologies. SD-WAN does not imply ‘Secure SD-WAN’. Assuming that SD-WAN comes embedded with cybersecurity features, or can act as a replacement for cybersecurity infrastructure, can be a costly mistake.

3. SD-WAN still requires the right transit for your business

SD-WAN needs bandwidth – lots of it! At minimum, true SD-WAN requires two live diverse carrier links – without it, it’s just failover, folks – and the right SLA’s for critical applications. (BTW, LTE can’t replace Fibre, if Fibre is what’s really needed…and 3xLTE are still not a replacement for Fibre. You get what you pay for.)  For large companies with offices in multiple geographical areas, this means managing multiple contracts from providers with varying price-points and terms to get what you really need. Even for a skilled IT team, the contractual logistics can be enough to start losing sleep.

4. Price

Yes, the “marketecture” over the past couple of years has focused on the potential circuit “cost-savings” of SD-WAN, but as the technology matures the conversation changes.  To gauge the true ROI, companies must be able to reconcile a host of associated soft costs including:

  • Deploying and managing telco circuits & contracts
  • Layering security
  • On-going management to support both cloud and on-premise initiatives
  • The resources required to fully understand the fluidity of the business, and ensure SD-WAN is being utilized properly

Now, you might be thinking, “Hmm, this all sounds complicated”, and you’d be right.  However, as SD-WAN moves through the innovation adoption lifecycle the market begins to get a clearer picture of how SD-WAN fits within digital transformation, and the differentiation between various SD-WAN vendors. In Demystifying SD-WAN – Part 2 we’ll be focusing on the various types of SD-WAN architectures and the main differences between them. Stay tuned!