What is SD-WAN and How Can I Use It?
Teneo has established an SD-WAN practice to fully explore all things SD-WAN and help you navigate your way through the fast-changing SD-WAN market landscape. We’ll help you to answer questions such as, “What SD-WAN option is right for me?” and “How can I achieve the best cost efficiencies and performance improvements across my global WAN architecture?”. But first, let’s be clear on what overall benefits SD-WAN can bring.
What Benefits Can SD-WAN Bring?
SD-WAN (short for Software-Defined Wide Area Networking) is changing the way global networks are architected to support a digital future that will involve heavy use of the Cloud, SaaS apps, collaboration tools and video. The benefits, or outcomes, most organisations seek from SD-WAN are as follows:
- Greater network agility, scalability and performance
- Improved resiliency
- Reduced costs
- Shorter site set-up lead times
- Reduced supplier complexity
- Simplified network assets
- Better security
- Streamlined management processes
SD-WAN: THE BACKGROUND
What’s Driving the Need to Cut WAN Costs and Complexity?
New Services and Applications
Over the last 5 years we’ve seen a rapid evolution in the type of new services and applications being introduced onto the network. We’ve well and truly entered the digital and cloud-first era and enterprise architecture considerations have had to move up a few gears – along with the demand for more bandwidth. However, while an organisation’s applications and hosting architecture might be groundbreakingly new, we’ve observed that the WAN is often the last thing to be considered for an upgrade in a business’s quest for innovation. And so predictably, the WAN can’t cope with the demands placed upon it and performance suffers.
New Working Models
Added to that, working models are more flexible than ever before, meaning the end user and the applications they consume are rarely housed in the same building. The further application data has to travel across a WAN, the more likely you are to see performance problems. From a consumer perspective, the always-on interaction with digital devices, including the consumption of voice and video, now blurs the lines between personal and professional application usage. Due to this, time has become more precious than ever before, meaning an end user’s expectation of application speed and response time is at its highest level yet and is only set to rise.
Shift to a Hybrid WAN
So, what’s the cost to get the network back on track? With IT budgets often being squeezed it can be tough to stay creative enough to avoid the typically high capital costs of a traditional enterprise WAN. Once you’ve factored in the cost of networking equipment refresh and been presented with yet another rigid set of connectivity options, for example MPLS, from a limited number of suppliers per region at contract renewal, it can feel like you don’t have much financial leverage at all. Whilst Internet connectivity is relatively inexpensive (normally 20-100 times less expensive than MPLS), with the Internet come reliability and security challenges when used in a corporate environment. The ideal scenario would be to leverage both of these options together, along with private line connections and others, and operate a hybrid WAN. But that level of complexity has to be designed, configured and managed by someone…
The Global Network Team
The roles in the global network team have also changed. No longer does a network management role sit strictly in the area of the network, neatly boxed off with clear boundaries. Individuals within these teams are now expected to be generalists rather than specialists, with increased knowledge and experience required in the domains of security, cloud, application performance and disaster recovery. The network manager has become the collaborator and sits central to any new major IT project so much more now than ever before, and this is critical. With today’s nature of business being 24×7, global network teams are frequently expected to manage at least half of the world’s business from one single location. Already with a smaller team due to the generalist nature of individual roles, when half of that team is constantly on a plane travelling to the next branch office that needs equipment to be fixed or installed on the other side of the world, colleagues really start to feel the pressure. The network team really can’t be everywhere and do everything at once. Or can it? Enter, the architectural concept of SD-WAN.
SD-WAN: THE TECHNOLOGY
So, What Exactly is SD-WAN?
SD-WAN leverages technology to make use of all hybrid connections you have available on the WAN at any one time, constantly monitoring them to automatically choose the best possible path available for the type of traffic that’s crossing your network and the business priorities you set. Those connections can include your redundant – but very expensive – backup lines. You’ve already paid for them so why not use them? And then there’s enterprise-grade Internet, which you can now start to leverage, sometimes at a more cost-effective rate than MPLS. This approach makes your network much more flexible, allowing it to live and breathe, reacting to network conditions in real time without the intervention of a network team member.
The number of SD-WAN offerings available continues to grow since everyone who’s anyone in the networking space (and beyond) is projecting the same vision of the network of the future. But how each SD-WAN product or service works can differ. Fundamentally, each SD-WAN product is made up of a control plane and a data plane.
The Control Plane
The control plane (or controller) is the GUI (graphical user interface) through which the network team can centrally design, configure and manage WAN traffic based on business-related application policies. This typically resembles a network topology map. The controller is usually software running either in the cloud or on an on-premise machine and essentially does all the hard work for you.
In most cases, the controller will also allow zero-touch provisioning, where, providing someone else that’s non-technical can be onsite to perform the simple task of plugging in a branch edge device, removes the need for a network team member to travel to remote sites to set up new equipment – saving valuable time and money.
The Data Plane
The data plane consists of all WAN branch edge devices that handle network traffic and are deployed to each branch site. Once plugged in, a branch edge device will establish logical connections with other edge devices on the WAN and download the configurations it needs to operate. These logical connections not only allow for efficient and dynamic load sharing of traffic but also serve to create encrypted paths across multiple WAN connections and carriers, such as hybrid Internet and MPLS, therefore addressing any security level inconsistencies.
SD-WAN technology deployed at the branch can also serve to consolidate other branch equipment such as routers, next-generation firewalls and WAN optimisation devices, which can all run as virtual instances on the same hardware or software and be kept up to date through the same controller with minimal intervention.
SD-WAN: THE PRACTICAL STEPS
What SD-WAN Options Does Teneo Advise?
Before considering what SD-WAN technology is right for you, it’s important you get your business case right. You’ve probably realised by now that SD-WAN isn’t just about the network. You’ll also need to factor in your organisation’s connectivity, WAN optimisation, cloud, security, disaster recovery, application development, hosting and visibility architectures and understand those future strategies. Working with a partner that understands these broader areas is crucial – and we can certainly support you here.
Because the SD-WAN market space is changing so rapidly, we’d strongly advise that you run a pilot project in your environment before making a decision on your preferred SD-WAN technology. Many organisations are running multiple pilots consecutively to determine the best-fit. However, if you get your business case right, a natural right choice should present itself based on the criteria and features you prioritise. We’d be happy to guide you to the technology we feel is most suitable for your environment and future business plans based on what you tell us.
The Delivery Model
Then there’s the delivery model to consider. Only you know how much capacity you have within your network team to handle SD-WAN planning, deployment, ongoing monitoring, management and support. Since it’s such a new technology, chances are your team has limited knowledge or experience. Our years of technical SD-WAN knowledge and practical, real-life SD-WAN experience can quickly help to fill those gaps.
Vendor hype suggests that SD-WAN is easy to operate. We’d suggest otherwise. The features of course are designed to make your life easier. But managing a global deployment and 24x7x365 operation isn’t quite so simple. We’re used to managing global deployments for networking technology, so you can rely on us to deliver technology to site and implement it in the fastest and most agile way possible.
To further accelerate your time to market with SD-WAN, all of our SD-WAN offerings are available as:
- A Managed Service: where you invest in SD-WAN technology upfront using Capex budget and pay monthly for Teneo’s 24×7 SD-WAN Lifecycle Management using Opex.
- ‘as a Service’: where you pay a small Service Enablement fee to get set up, then pay monthly using Opex for the SD-WAN technology and people Teneo uses to deliver ‘SD-WAN as a Service’ to you, 24×7. This service depends on your site locations.
We also, of course, offer Level 1 and Level 2 support on the SD-WAN technologies in our portfolio if you’re taking on full SD-WAN management yourself.
The important thing to know is that you’re not alone. We’ve been through many SD-WAN projects already, with customers just like you. Here are a couple of them in fact – click to check out the videos:
To get started with SD-WAN, we offer an SD-WAN Workshop, held onsite with your network team at your offices at a date convenient to you. Find out more and register your interest.
You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask us an SD-WAN question or arrange an SD-WAN meeting at any time.