A well-planned SD-WAN deployment can provide several benefits for organizations. However, transitioning from a traditional MPLS to an SD-WAN is a complex switch flip.

Understand the Requirements

When evaluating SD-WAN solutions, technology teams must understand the capabilities required to address organizational business goals and meet quality of service (QoS) and security needs. The multi-disciplinary evaluation process typically includes WAN professionals, application specialists, and security professionals.

Unlike traditional WAN architectures that backhaul traffic to the centralized data center, an SD-WAN enables branch offices and remote users to connect directly to the cloud or software as a service application. This eliminates latency and improves connectivity and user experience.

SD-WAN also reduces costs by eliminating the need for expensive MPLS connections and enabling offices to connect over commodity Internet links that are up to 90 percent less costly. Additionally, an SD-WAN allows for cost-effective traffic prioritization and optimization that can be applied to all Internet-based traffic.

The most effective SD-WAN solution provides a secure overlay that protects devices and users from attacks by encrypting traffic over the Internet to create a secure tunnel. An advanced SD-WAN will also include features that can prioritize a specific type of application or packet based on their performance requirements and tolerance for latency and jitter.

Finally, a robust SD WAN implementation checklist provides centralized management and visibility into network traffic. This will allow for the easy provisioning of new sites and the flexing of bandwidth across all locations from one centralized management portal.

Design a Network Architecture

SD-WANs can reduce network costs, increase reliability, and improve connectivity, including performance for remote employees. They can also deliver a high level of redundancy by sending traffic through multiple virtual tunnels to mitigate failures. This provides a failover mechanism and increases bandwidth throughput. Additionally, they provide administrators with a bird’s-eye view of network operations and traffic that can be difficult to get when using traditional WAN devices. This visibility can help with capacity planning, application prioritization, and more.

When looking for an SD-WAN solution, choose one that is application-centric and separates the data from the control plane. This will ensure data is routed directly from branch offices to application servers, improving scalability and sidestepping security vulnerabilities. It’s also important to consider what types of monitoring capabilities are included. Many SD-WAN solutions offer monitoring capabilities like event management, active path testing, and network topology visualization. Evaluating these capabilities and ensuring they provide the visibility and troubleshooting your team needs is important.

It’s also important to ensure your SD-WAN solution meets industry or country-specific regulations that may dictate network requirements. You can do this by evaluating the quality of hardware support, software support, and hardware-based quality assurance processes. Finally, it’s important to understand whether your SD-WAN will require a managed service or if you can implement a hybrid model that distributes management between an MSP and your IT team.

Select a Vendor or Vendor Partner

Whether an enterprise wants to adopt SD-WAN in-house or partner with a managed service provider, selecting the right vendor is important. This involves more than analyzing hardware and software capabilities. It also includes looking at the vendor’s portfolio breadth. For example, does the vendor offer UC, IP telephony, video, and collaboration apps? And does it have a robust security offering to help enterprises secure unreliable Internet links and manage data flows across multiple sites?

For example, an effective security platform must include advanced firewall capabilities that address WAN traffic patterns. It should include sandboxing, malware analysis, endpoint identification and management, URL/content filtering, and IPS/AV. The system must also support granular WAN encryption and automatic key rotation.

Finally, the platform should enable companies to connect sites via broadband and wireless technologies. This is particularly important for companies that rely on mobile workers in various locations, such as healthcare and financial services firms.

In addition to addressing connectivity, the right SD-WAN vendor or vendor partner should be capable of assessing a company’s network and providing recommendations for improving performance. This may include suggesting a plan for adding bandwidth with a new MLPS line, dedicated Internet circuit, or another solution. 

Deploy the Solution

As with any complex technology implementation, deploying SD-WAN will take time and effort. It is important to be realistic about this and communicate with other decision-makers. Getting everyone on board will reduce internal conflict and frustration, speed up project timelines, and help avoid any potential hang-ups that could derail a successful migration.

For instance, it’s essential to understand how your organization currently manages remote site connectivity. This includes where your sites are located, how many remote users there are, and what access connections they use to connect to the network. Understanding this will help determine the SD-WAN services your business may need, such as a secure direct-to-internet (DIA) solution for flexible and cost-effective WAN connectivity.

In addition, it’s essential to establish a performance baseline and understand how your current infrastructure performs. This will enable your team to monitor, analyze, and troubleshoot network issues more effectively. For example, you can set up alerts for jitter, latency, and packet loss so your team can be notified when these indicators exceed certain thresholds.

By following these tips, you can ensure an effective and successful SD-WAN installation that is scalable to meet the needs of your enterprise over time. By taking a strategic approach to your implementation, you’ll be able to deliver on the promises of an SD-WAN solution that offers enhanced application performance, resiliency, and security while lowering costs.

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