SD-WAN Buyer’s Guide: A Summary of Potential Technical Benefits

J. Stradling
J. Stradling

Summary Bullets:

  • SD-WAN complements dedicated IP/MPLS VPNs; it’s a case of different horses for different courses, with certain parts of the IT estate benefiting from both technologies.
  • SD-WAN services offer rapid turn-up for multiple branch sites where typically there might not be an IT technician on site.
  • SD-WAN solutions can be crafted to give cost-effective and agile support for leveraging IaaS environments, and will typically support traffic optimization and robust security.

Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) services received enormous marketing attention during 2016, as various providers and operators sought to gain mindshare among their potential customer bases. As we proceed through early 2017, it is now clear that SD-WAN services can be sourced from a wide variety of company types including telcos, platform developers, hardware manufacturers, cloud providers and software developers. For the average IT manager, this has made the market landscape difficult to understand and navigate to find a solution.

SD-WAN is now widely available in proven formats for supporting the needs of enterprise IP networks. We at GlobalData believe that SD-WAN complements dedicated IP/MPLS VPNs. MPLS technology is reliable and proven in the field for supporting mission-critical business applications. Operators and vendors already have global support operations in place for delivering MPLS services including all the backing logistics. However, carriers have recognized the appeal of SDN/NFV in their network cores and for intelligent connectivity between data centers for over five years, and investments were at the outset aimed at getting better OpEx, with new business opportunities through innovative services launches a desirable byproduct.

We currently see positive attributes within SD-WAN solutions for connecting multiple branch sites to the corporate WAN. We suggest that IT departments look at this area first and seek a SD-WAN solution that will integrate with the existing IP VPN. Ask your network provider, or a SD-WAN platform developer, for a solution that will fit with the current WAN to make the entire IT estate easier to manage. There is little sense in a dramatic rip and replace; a small SD-WAN implementation can thus be tried and tested, with the initial baby steps paving the way for moving to a larger deployment.

In terms of technical attributes, SD-WAN service should provide a convenient platform for flexible network resource allocation, and this is one aspect where SD-WAN can compare more favorably with MPLS (although network traffic may be passing over MPLS in any case!). IT managers need to be asking suppliers what type of service management portal or interface is available for viewing and managing the network, the applications running over the network and those being served up from SaaS/IaaS partners, and for getting control of customer experience or application throughput and response. The SD-WAN should empower IT teams with abilities to turn services and resources up or down, or on and off, as needed. Users need to evaluate how the various SD-WAN products in the market can significantly reduce operational management, comparing SD-WAN solutions built with a number of vendors (and DIY) and/or a solution that comes fully managed from a service provider.

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