Prepping for Software Defined WANs

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) continues to pick up momentum as organizations look to evolve their networks to meet the demands of digital transformation, Internet of Things (IoT), and other trends. But how does one know that the business is ready to make this shift? An SD-WAN is significantly different than a legacy network and requires new ways of doing things.

Here are the top five things companies should do prior to implanting an SD-WAN:

  1. Make sure the infrastructure is ready. For some companies this might mean upgrading the hardware, and for some software, but for most it’s probably both. It’s important here to think “end to end” and ensure that all the infrastructure components are “SD-WAN ready” before deployment. If the goal is to migrate to an SD-WAN, then make sure the infrastructure is 100% ready to go before the project is started.
  2. Do an application audit. To make the most of the SD-WAN deployment, businesses needs to have a sound understanding of what applications traverse the WAN and what traffic patterns are like. It’s also important to know what dependencies the applications have, which ones are subject to what types of network issues — like packet loss, jitter, or delay — and how much bandwidth they consume. Also, if a hybrid WAN is being used, network managers must understand which applications must run over MPLS and which ones can run on broadband without a significant drop in performance. An application audit can answer all these questions and can help organizations build an application strategy. Without it, the impact of an SD-WAN will be minimal.
  3. Change the organizational structure. In most companies, the network, application, and compute teams work independently and interact very little with the other groups. This has never been ideal but was sufficient in a legacy IT world. With SDNs, these IT sub-departments need to work together and be tightly integrated. Applications and compute infrastructure are highly dependent on the network today, meaning there will be a significant amount of cross-group collaboration required to ensure user productivity is not impacted.
  4. Rethink IT security. Securing a legacy network certainly isn’t easy, but it’s straightforward as there are a minimal number of ingress/egress points and attack surfaces. With an SD-WAN, traffic patterns change, branch offices have direct Internet access and the number of attack surfaces grows. Traditional perimeter security tools are no longer effective in a software-defined world. It’s important to re-think security strategy and implement products that are continuously gathering network data, analyzing it and looking for anomalies. This will enable security to become more proactive versus reactive.
  5. Evolve the skills of network operations. Even if the infrastructure is ready and the applications have been studied, the business needs a network operations team that can support it. Managing virtual workloads, network architectures, orchestrating services and analyzing data requires significantly different skills than managing routers. If the organization doesn’t have the internal skills, consider using a managed service as a way of bridging the gap.

Evolving to an SD-WAN has a strong ROI for businesses but many of the benefits could be negated if the proper pre-work isn’t done. Be aggressive with SD-WAN but makes its important to ensure the organization is ready.

About the author
Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and with long term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to the following constituents: End user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers.