However, the path towards SD-WAN is often not straightforward. Inflated technology expectations, legacy IT dependencies and underlying physical network constraints have left enterprises uncertain about which approach will deliver the greatest business benefit. And the stakes are high.
While most enterprises have been sounding the market, or even conducting pilots, fewer have made a radical transformation of their entire network. So why haven’t all enterprises jumped on the bandwagon?
1.Cloud transformation doesn’t happen overnight
The majority of today’s applications (75% according to Gartner) will still be operational in five years’ time. Before these applications have been migrated, and proper access control, encryption and inspection have been implemented, enterprises are reluctant to let go of the private MPLS-based networks that help keep their applications and data safe and secure.
2.End-to-end SLAs still need a high-performance underlay network
Both provider availability and Internet quality often fall short of expectations, especially in the middle mile. For the full benefits to be realized, it requires software-defined, on-demand delivery models – all the way into the underlay network.
3.Organizations are not yet willing or able to deliver on the promises of SD-WAN
Enterprise network managers are often unsure as to whether they have the right resources and skill set inside their organizations to monetize SD-WAN and adopt a different sourcing strategy.
To be able to extract the benefits, a holistic strategy including the IT environment, network infrastructure and the sourcing model/organization needed to support it.
EVOLUTION OR REVOLUTION? DEFINING YOUR SD-WAN STRATEGY
For the vast majority of global enterprise WANs, the SD-WAN journey is a transition, rather than aradical rip-up-and-replace exercise. Networks shouldn’t simply be software-defined, but rather, business defined.
By answering seven seemingly simple questions, transformation can be based on business need - avoiding costly pitfalls driven by inflated expectations, market constraints and misaligned capabilities.
1.HOW IS YOUR BUSINESS EVOLVING?
Aligning your WAN strategy to business needs will help you get your priories right: Are you entering new geographic markets or consolidating your position in existing ones, developing new revenue streams or simply trying to operate more efficiently? Is IaaS/PaaS a vehicle to improve agility or enable new business models? Or are you pursuing IT infrastructure consolidation simply to reduce cost?
2.WHAT ARE YOUR 3-YEAR CLOUD AND IT INFRASTRUCTURE TARGETS?
What needs to be connected to the WAN, and how, changes constantly - but by how much, and how fast? Are you looking to migrate to a single major cloud ecosystem, or many - considering not just the availability of SaaS, but also where your core workflows will be? How fast will your IT go to zero-trust? How many legacy apps will still be on-prem or in data centres? Who will be using them, and how? What does it all mean for your data flows? How will your Dev and DevOps team access their environments?
3.WHAT IS THE RIGHT MANAGEMENT MODEL TO SUPPORT YOUR 3-YEAR EVOLUTION?
You’ve defined your network topology, a tiered site structure - with clear end-user requirements and established a good understanding of your connectivity needs - now and in three-years’ time. The next step is to look into implementation; When do current connectivity contracts end? Do you want to separate the overlay from the underlay, or would you rather have a single partner do both?
4.HOW DO YOU SECURE COMMERCIAL FLEXIBILITY ALONG THE WAY?
Whilst you may not yet be ready for an SD-WAN, Internet-only approach for all sites and contracts, you certainly don’t want to be locked into another three-year, one-size-fits-all model. Once your target WAN is defined, how can you get the commercial flexibility to support your evolution? What happens when you want to add, change or remove services on-the-go? How will your network scale to support bandwidth growth? How does it support the transition towards an Internet-centric underlay?
5.WHAT ARE YOUR LAST & MIDDLE MILE CONSTRAINTS?
The availability of high-quality network infrastructure will dictate the design you need in order to keep end-users satisfied. Are you aware of the options? Is the market competitive or constrained? What is the quality of Internet connectivity in your different geographies and how well-peered are your ISPs? Based on the apps and workloads you run, how close are your cloud regions and how do you connect back to your on-prem applications? What is the need for
back-up and do you have truly diverse uplinks?
6.WHAT DO YOU NEED TO SPEED UP AUTOMATION?
Most IT organisations want to focus more of their time on the front-end, directly supporting their businesses. Now’s the time to set the right expectation level with your provider. Can self-serve portals and APIs help automate daily networking routines? How can you simplify troubleshooting end-to-end, now that the service complexity extended to an even larger ecosystem of different partners? What network/service information, and what integration, would put you in the driver’s seat?
7.WHAT’S YOUR PLAN FOR SUCCESS?
You are setting out on a major journey of change that will fundamentally impact your company’s digital infrastructure. How do you plan to pull that off without business disruption? And how do you complete your roll-out without getting saddled with hardware assets that aren’t even halfway through their lifecycle?
Cloud adoption and digital transformation are redefining the requirements of enterprise WANs, whilst new technologies and service providers challenge the status quo. For most enterprises, this creates the perfect opportunity to right-size their networks and rethink the way services are bought, and from whom. But enterprises must combine the free thinking of a clean-slate approach with a realistic view of what’s needed to keep everyday business running smoothly. When embarking on the next stage of your WAN transformation, take time to define a holistic strategy beyond the SD-WAN hardware.
Start by setting your priorities straight: Low cost or value for money?
• Be realistic about your last/middle mile constraints and the degree of freedom your SD- WAN migration will actually deliver.
• Develop a framework for how your connectivity needs will evolve in the next 3+ years.
• Outline a management model that will support your transformation.
• Engage with multiple suppliers to identify providers who can offer a flexible approach, free from vested interests.
• Challenge the automation agenda of your prospective suppliers, and their ability to cooperate with increasingly complex troubleshooting challenges.
• Be confident in the people who will deliver your migration. Even in a software-driven world, networking is still a physical environment that requires the human touch.
Whether your change agenda is big or small, it should be driven by business needs and be well grounded in market realities. Look for service providers with deep insight and knowledge of the underlay and inner workings of cloud and Internet ecosystems. (Here, global ISP rankings such as Oracle Dyn Internet Intelligence or CAIDA.org will give you a good idea of who to ask). Moreover, make sure to engage someone without vested interests in legacy products, and a strong customer support that keeps your end-users free from disruption. Your future network shouldn’t just be software defined – it should be business defined.