Making sense of SD-WAN

Wayne Mason EMEA Head of Vendor Management, at Westcon

Wayne Mason, Sales Director, Advanced Networking – EMEA, Nuvias, takes a step back to provide some advice for those looking at buying into SD-WANs.

While hype rarely matches reality, when it comes to SD-WAN the market is starting to live up to expectations, driven not least by the enthusiasm for digital transformation. For the channel, we are enthusiastic about what SD-WAN can deliver, through better margin opportunities with more volume as companies move from proof of concept to roll-out.

But when it comes to choosing the right SD-WAN solution, there is an abundance of choice as more vendors jump on the bandwagon with dubious credentials and products that fall short of a full SD-WAN. The result is that not all SD-WANs are equal or even comparable; so, questions need to be asked. There are a lot of evaluation factors to consider and it can be difficult to differentiate between the solutions.

The most important thing is to understand the architecture of your network. SD-WAN is a great solution but knowing what your network is capable of and having clear objectives for its transformation, will help you select the right solution. Then there is speed of deployment, management, resiliency and scale. In addition, we are seeing network visibility and security moving up the list of priorities in the selection process. Network managers need to see what’s going on in their networks and how their applications are running to ensure consistent quality-of-service and be sure that security mechanisms are built-in to avoid failures or data breaches.

The increase in software-defined network and WAN enterprise-class automation, is also helping to drive demand for virtualised CPU environments, even though it’s early days. There are a lot of benefits, not least decreasing network costs and increasing agility and flexibility.

Then there are the costs associated with different charging models. One of the things we are seeing is that software-driven SD-WANs are quite agile and able to readily support a subscription-based approach that avoids large up-front costs. This makes the as-a-service SD-WAN solution an attractive option, particularly for SMEs.

For any companies looking to reduce the multiple-layers of complexity in their businesses and migrating big applications to the cloud such as SalesForce, SD-WAN is a great solution that delivers a robust, scalable and reliable network. The attraction of replacing some or all or your costly MPLS circuits is also a major attraction to companies looking to engineer their network infrastructure for maximum value.

The risk is that SD-WAN is being sold by some as a panacea. But the fact is that there are some environments where it doesn’t make sense. For example, if you have a small number of very large branches with some 2,000 users per location – most SD-WAN products are currently optimised for sites that have less than 300 users. And if an organisation is very risk-averse or not adopting the cloud, then you have to question whether they are SD-WAN ready as an organisation.

It’s interesting to compare the SD-WAN market to the CCTV industry. There are still many companies out there pushing analogue CCTV systems and the transition from analogue to IP has been going on for almost 20 years. It can be confusing to differentiate between SD-WAN vendors when there are some 40-50 different companies, all claiming to offer solutions. On the one side you have pure play SD-WAN vendors while on the other side, you have the WAN optimisation players – along with a number of others in between. What is clear is that there needs to be more education about the different SD-WAN options, so network managers can make informed decisions.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine