Shattering the myths of SD-WAN

Have you ever considered that software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) may be the technology equivalent of the men’s “skinny suit” fashion trend? In the right context, it’s a flattering fit. But some enterprises just wear it the wrong way, and the result is all-around discomfort.

Before a business decides to step into SD-WAN, it’s important that IT leaders understand how to tailor it for appropriate use. Unfortunately, many companies make some big mistakes when it comes to suitably deploying SD-WAN.

IT leaders and staff tend to assume the following:

  • Moving to SD-WAN means they can replace all their private WAN solutions with pure broadband internet connections.
  • Saving money is guaranteed, end of story.
  • Getting up and running with SD-WAN – and keeping operations going smoothly – is a simple proposition.

Now for the reality…

Sadly, each one of these statements is a myth. The chain of false beliefs typically flows from the original misconception that choosing SD-WAN means your enterprise can ditch its hybrid WAN infrastructure.

It can’t – not, that is, if your IT team hopes to be able to meet its responsibilities to provide guaranteed performance for business-critical applications. It’s unreasonable to expect to be able to do that by relying solely on SD-WAN over best-effort broadband services.

True, SD-WAN provides some excellent techniques and technologies to boost speed and uptime when using run-of-the-road broadband connections. But they’ll only improve the situation up to a certain point. When those efforts have been exhausted, your business will be left to suffer the effects of service outages or degradations for what could be a very long time – and broadband providers aren’t exactly known for offering mean-time-to-repair guarantees! Can you really afford that?

Opting for dedicated internet access services to assure consistent broadband performance could help assure application requirements are met – but at what cost? The answer is: Probably a lot more than you were expecting to spend when you thought that the move to SD-WAN meant that you were buying your business a future of cheap and compliant broadband connections.

Suddenly, the money you thought you’d save by doing away with high-performance private WAN connections starts slipping through your fingers.

Money and labour become issues, too, around deploying SD-WAN appliances on your network and optimising use of the technology. Certainly SD-WAN capabilities like zero-touch provisioning are meant to streamline operations. But they’ll only be effective in that respect if you have – or hire – network architect talent to design all the parameters for your applications in advance and program them into a central orchestrator, so that they can be downloaded to the SD-WAN hardware.

Those talents will need to be called upon every time you need to make changes or additions to configurations, as well.  Maintenance struggles also surface when IT departments find themselves having to deal with dozens of different broadband internet service providers (ISPs) across the globe for break/fix issues.

Get SD-WAN Right

Of course, if you get the SD-WAN cut right, so to speak, the technology will be an excellent option for your business. How to do it? For starters, continue to leverage two or more types of connections in a hybrid WAN setting – think private multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) as the primary option for your critical real-time applications, backed up by broadband.

Or, for remote sites or smaller offices that don’t need a lot of bandwidth, it might make sense to combine broadband services as the main SD-WAN function with network options that support IP virtual private network (VPN) encrypted tunnels. That permits direct private network connections so that when necessary, users can quickly track from the internet onto a global private line network to ensure quality of service and data integrity.

The important thing to realize is that SD-WAN is not a broadband panacea, but rather should be viewed as a sophisticated means to leveraging multiple types of WAN links for top price-performance value. That value is maximised when paired with various deployment mode options (cloud among them) and dynamic application control, which makes it possible to switch traffic from one link to another when a certain threshold is reached and then revert back to the main path once the coast is clear again.

Bottom line: SD-WAN will help make the hybrid WAN function in the most flexible, cost-efficient and performance-enhancing way possible.

Now that you have the correct frame of reference about how to best use this new technology, you can make an informed decision when updating your corporate WAN.

Paul Ruelas is director of network product management at Masergy.