As someone who has been following enterprise WAN architectures for decades, I find their evolution fascinating, especially the number of new technologies that have been deployed in isolation. For example, WAN optimization and SD-WANs are often discussed as separate solutions. From my perspective, I can’t fathom why a business would deploy an SD-WAN and not implement WAN optimization as part of it. If you’re going to go through the work of modernizing your WAN architecture, then why wouldn’t you integrate optimization technologies into your deployment right from the start?
I’ve had discussions with network managers who have gone down the SD-WAN route sans WAN optimization and they say something to me like “that’s for application performance, we are building an SD-WAN to save money”. After grabbing my head in disbelief (picture a QB that can’t believe a wide receiver dropped an easy TD catch), I must refrain from saying something I shouldn’t, so I probe a bit deeper and ask something like “Shouldn’t everything in IT in some way favorably improve application performance?” A general rule of thumb, I have always believed that for new technology projects the solution to a problem should never be more complicated than the original problem.
It’s All About Performance
Let’s play out the case where an organization decides to build an SD-WAN without implementing WAN optimization. Will the business leader really be happy if it impairs application performance? Any cost savings realized are immediately negated the first time a critical order times out or an important customer call drops. Therefore, IT leaders must take into account how users are impacted whenever they deploy new technologies.
For example, I recall several years ago, one of my clients migrated a number of critical applications to virtualization platforms. The CIO sent a message out to the company to communicate how this new project would save the organization millions of dollars, improve utilization and mark the beginning of a larger IT modernization initiative. In the morning, after the systems running on the virtual machines had gone live, he got a call from one of the business leaders in the company who had literally timed the performance of transactions with a stop watch prior to the migration to VMs and again afterwards and insisted that the new system was slower and demanded the applications be moved back to dedicated servers.
I really didn’t believe the virtual machines were noticeably slower, but users are sensitive and want to know the applications they use to do their jobs are running on the best possible technology platforms and there’s an obvious perception that things that are cheaper must not be as good as something more expensive.
Ensuring the Best Possible SD-WAN Experience
Building an SD-WAN is compelling because they offer the flexibility to leverage broadband, sometimes even consumer-grade broadband to connect users to applications. Network engineers must ensure that neither network or application performance is degraded in the process. An SD-WAN can improve network and application performance by moving traffic to automatically route around points of network or link congestion. However, broadband is broadband and sometimes moving links doesn’t address latency issues due to physical distance between sites. WAN optimization was designed to not only correct for errors but to also accelerate applications traffic so users realize an improved experience and ultimately greater productivity. From a worker perspective, the evolution to an SD-WAN is something that will make them to do their jobs with greater ease, efficiency and effectiveness.
If you’re a network professional and you’re considering evolving to an SD-WAN, do you and your career a favor and make sure to integrate WAN optimization into your deployment. Users will have an experience that is noticeably better and will consider you to be the GOAT (greatest of all time) instead making you the goat.