SD-WAN continues to be a growing trend across the technology landscape, both as a deployed technology and as a buzzword for what is coming. Several new entrants to the market have appeared in the last 12 months, and several more have been acquired by competing firms, creating a very dynamic market. Additionally, new deployment models and capabilities based on branch-edge devices have also cropped up, further complicating the market.
Before we can fully get all of the excitement that is circulating, let’s focus on SD-WAN. To get more technical, SD-WAN is a path-selectable network overlay that rides on multiple physical circuits. This set up allows SD-WAN to deliver undeniable benefits over traditional wide area networks (Related: Why SD-WAN?). These benefits are why SD-WAN continues to be on every technology department’s short list of initiatives.
There are various reports and research out there that claim 25% - 35% of businesses have adopted, or are in the process of rolling out SD-WAN solutions. Meaning that as we move out of the early adopter phase of this technology and into the mass adoption phase, there is a large number of businesses still needing to evolve to SD-WAN. Very few businesses say they are not looking to make this move, usually less than 7%.
So, how does a company choose the right SD-WAN solution given the dynamic market and changing options? It all comes down to a few key focus areas: application performance requirements, security, and deployment model.
Application Performance Requirements
Here are some guidelines to help assess your application performance needs:
- Do you have a broad application portfolio needed to operate each branch?
- Do you use or will you add real time apps like VoIP, video, and interactive apps that will require consistent 2-way engagement with a customer or employee?
- Are there multiple apps that will require dynamic prioritization to ensure mission critical or customer experience critical apps deliver a consistent level of performance?
- Do you have, or are you moving to, multiple cloud-based applications, especially spread across multiple cloud providers?
- Do you plan to have a significant turnover in app portfolio or engage in a ‘test and refresh’ piloting effort requiring the integration and/or removal of a significant number of new apps?
If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then as a business you will likely need an SD-WAN solution that provides a broad capability set, and a greater degree of configuration and optimization controls. Right out of the gate, it may be a better move for your enterprise to avoid the more streamlined SD-WAN solutions that lack the sophisticated prioritization and optimization controls, and have a limited ability to automatically detect and connect to cloud services.
Here are some questions to ask about your current security setup:
- Will your move to SD-WAN be used as an opportunity to refresh your security architecture?
- Is there anything about your current security architecture that requires you to fit within your current design and tools?
- Do you have any legacy apps that exchange data with other apps within the branch that require substantial local security to provide adequate risk management?
- Are you currently or are you planning to move to a cloud-centric zero-trust and access-based security model?
These are critical requirements that will define what type of SD-WAN is right for your enterprise, and just as importantly, the security model you will need to deploy with the SD-WAN.
Not all SD-WAN comes with integrated security, and many that claim to have integrated security only provide a limited capability set, often just a stateful firewall. Some SD-WAN solutions come with no inherent security, requiring a completely parallel security solution. This approach may be right for an organization seeking to build a best-of-breed solution and preferring a cloud-based security model. Other SD-WAN solutions can offer very robust integrated security, providing the full range of NGFW and UTM capabilities.
For some businesses, particularly those that opt to maintain legacy apps that exchange data within the branch, a hybrid security architecture with both strong edge-based platforms and cloud-enabled security may provide the most cost-effective approach to security.
Below are some ways to evaluate the need for an updated deployment model:
- Do you have a preferred vendor stack you want to maintain, or are you seeking a best-of-breed solution?
- Will all of your branches be able to get sufficient wireline connectivity, or will some need wireless coverage as well?
- What is the level of in-house execution and help desk support, and is there a desire to have a partner support the specialized needs of the SD-WAN design, deployment, and maintenance?
- How critical is time to market and ability to adapt to app and architecture changes, and will the in-house team be able to meet those expectations?
- How many service providers and service plans do you expect to support for all your branches? Are you ready and staffed to take on 5–15 new vendors and their associated billing and service ticketing systems as part of the move to broadband based SD-WAN?
The answers to these questions will guide you to the appropriate SD-WAN solutions. And more importantly, they will help identify whether a DIY approach or partnering with an MSP better fit your needs. Some responses, like the desire to stay within a single vendor stack will lead to a very specific potential solution set. Others, like the need for wireless/4G or even 5G circuit support, will result in just a few solutions meeting the criteria.
Too often we try to find a single solution and then figure out how to make that work for our needs. The SD-WAN space is too dynamic and too new to have consistent and easily comparable solutions across the competitors. This really is a market where knowing your needs, and using those needs to define your selection criteria will provide a valid shortlist of appropriate solutions.
The up-front work is demanding, but a little extra effort at the start will pay great dividends by ensuring your SD-WAN solution fits your needs today and tomorrow, and will provide all the needed capabilities, without unwanted costs or overhead.
About the Author
Jeff Bradbury works across markets to help distributed organizations identify trends that are driving digital transformation and adopt technologies critical to connecting their customers, employees, and locations.