One of the biggest technology trends in modern networking, SD-WAN has had the enterprise IT world buzzing for several years. As network bandwidth requirements have skyrocketed in the face of limited IT budgets, network operations (NetOps) teams are still tasked with the challenge of managing the flow of critical traffic from HQs and data centers to various branch offices. Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to assure that traditional WAN transmission technologies like MPLS circuits will meet 24×7 business-critical bandwidth and application requirements without interruption (or exorbitant costs). That’s where SD-WAN benefits to business come in, and why it’s seeing such staggering adoption rates.
So, what is SD-WAN, exactly?
Capable of boosting the efficiency of internet transport systems or WAN connections, SD-WAN is a virtual technology that capitalizes on the working principles of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) to automatically identify and select the most productive paths to distribute traffic across legacy enterprise WANs (and to and from various branch locations), without tampering with the efficiency or security of the network.
As such, it ensures 24×7 connectivity for every user, without any unnecessary slowdowns in service rendering. A
nd, it reduces operational costs from running expensive MPLS links across all company branches, enables IT to scale effortlessly across new locations without unnecessary delays, and improves user experiences and overall productivity,
The Innerworkings of SD-WAN Architectures
The secret to SD-WAN’s unique ability to improve network efficiencies is that its mode of operation is software defined- and often cloud-based, as opposed to traditional connections that require specialized hardware.
SD-WAN deployments act as an overlay of the traditional routing links by extracting and automating all the network monitoring and management functions to deliver a higher level of traffic fluidity.
As a virtual overlay technology, SD-WAN is compatible with various WAN transport services.
No matter how many links, network applications and edge devices an enterprise operates, SD-WANs are able to monitor and manage them concurrently, automatically redirecting critical traffic through the best available path without interruption, while directing less-critical data to less expensive broadband circuits.
Through this centralized control, SD-WANs make managing multiple WAN links less cumbersome for NetOps teams!
Best Practices to Maximize SD-WAN Benefits
SD-WAN probably sounds like a no-brainer now that we’ve covered its ability to centralize and simplify existing WAN architectures, optimize enterprise connectivity and resource allocation, lower operational cost, and provide added IT scalability.
Many come to this conclusion – in fact, Gartner forecasts that by the end of 2021, more than 65% of enterprises will have deployed SD-WAN technology.
So, what’s the best approach to a new SD-WAN deployment? The SD-WAN lifecycle can be broken down into three crucial steps: baseline planning, deployment verification and ongoing operational insight.
Here are some things you need to be thinking about at every stage with SD-WAN deployment:
1 – Baselining your current performance
Completing an initial network assessment is your first step toward deploying a new SD-WAN architecture.
Evaluating the current network as it is today, the devices involved, what connections are in play and how the infrastructure supports various business requirements will help you establish baselines for WAN operations and performance, what applications are running and other factors like how many sites there are, which service providers are involved, SLA standards, and more.
This process will help you construct a complete picture of your current architecture so you can determine how the SD-WAN can help optimize the network and what potential impacts it might have.
2 – Validating the deployment performance as intended
Once a new SD-WAN deployment is rolled out across an initial subset of locations, it’s time to begin evaluating your policies to ensure that they’re successfully routing traffic across the WAN as intended.
At this stage, it’s critical to have access to network management solutions that are capable of consuming a variety of data types (including packet data, SNMP, NetFlow, IPFIX, APIs and more) in order to establish a complete understanding of how the new SD-WAN is performing, and how it is impacting the surrounding network.
3 – Manage and optimize network performance
As SD-WAN initiatives are gradually rolled out and expanded over time, you’ll need to constantly assess and reassess how the integration is progressing, what impact it is having on the rest of the network, any changes in performance and bandwidth utilization levels and signs of potential issues that might arise.
Holistic visibility into both the existing network infrastructure and the new software-defined deployment is compulsory. You couldn’t possibly troubleshoot critical SD-WAN issues or evaluate and optimize policies successfully without it.
Many organizations view SD-WAN as the best path forward when it comes to efficient, cost-effective network operations. It’s true, the technology can be a game-changer, but it’s important to understand that success isn’t guaranteed.
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Planning, deploying and operationalizing these deployments can be incredibly complex and time-consuming if you take the wrong approach or are unaware of the pitfalls along the way.
As you develop your SD-WAN strategy, be sure to leverage the SD-WAN best practices listed above to establish a successful deployment and optimize its business benefits over time.