Discussions about SD-WAN often emphasize its general advantages compared to traditional data networking: lower cost, virtually zero downtime, and simplified expansion and updating. While those are benefits that SD-WAN adopters can expect, generalizations can give the impression that all SD-WAN implementations are alike, a one-size-fits-all solution.
As I’ve written previously in this space, that is far from the case for mid-market enterprises seeking maximum value from SD-WAN.
That’s because gaining full benefit from SD-WAN inevitably requires that it be tailored to an organization’s unique networking needs. This is especially true of mid-market enterprises, where one organization’s needs can stand in stark contrast to those of another similarly sized, yet fundamentally different, organization.
Fortunately, one of SD-WAN’s primary benefits is flexibility, which mid-market customers can use to great advantage.
Start with your needs, not the solution
Because SD-WAN is software-defined, it offers optimization that isn’t as easily achieved with hardware-defined, on-premises WAN solutions. SD-WAN is inherently more capable of being what it should be, and that’s one of its greatest values.
In an article I recently wrote for CIOReview, I compared three mid-market SD-WAN use cases. One of them, which reflects a relatively common implementation, is that of a restaurant chain with 50 locations throughout the country and projections for steady growth ahead. Some of the primary SD-WAN needs associated with such a customer include:
If your own organization is highly similar, the SD-WAN solution described in the use case as meeting these needs might be perfectly suitable for you.
But what if your organization is not expecting significant growth? If rapid scalability isn’t required, emphasis is better placed on more pressing factors.
What if your organization doesn’t handle credit card payments? It will still have security needs, which can range from basic to more stringent due to the requirements of the industry it serves – how are those security needs best served?
What if your organization needs either more or less download speeds across locations? Is streaming video an essential part of what you do? Does the need for download speed vary widely, such as 50 Mbps at headquarters, 20 Mbps at regional centers, but minimal bandwidth at remote locations?
In the use case example of a restaurant chain, locations are typically within urban areas served by robust telecom infrastructure. What if some of your locations are in markets where infrastructure is less robust?
These are just some of the many factors that must be taken into account for SD-WAN optimization.
Needs assessment is the starting point
The need for customization is one reason so many organizations grow to value a managed service vs. a do-it-yourself approach the further they get into it – skilled tailoring usually proves to be essential.
Because simply put, if there were a one-size-fits-all “SD-WAN in a box” available for purchase by mid-market enterprises, it would prove satisfying to at best a slim minority of those who purchase it – and would disappoint a great many others. That’s because the starting point of an optimized solution isn’t SD-WAN itself.
The most appropriate starting point is a thoughtful and informed needs assessment driven by an SD-WAN supplier that is highly sensitive to the many ways in which this remarkable technology can be best fitted to the uses that will be expected of it. If you choose this path, you’re off to a great start in the transition to SD-WAN.
Yulia Duryea served as the Director of Product Management at Windstream where she was the product lead over the Enterprise SD-WAN portfolio. Prior to joining Windstream, Yulia held a variety of product roles at Level 3 Communications, where she managed the product lifecycle of a number of services, including managed security services, managed router, managed UCC, Ethernet and IP-VPN. Yulia holds an MBA from Oregon State University, and a BS from Université Lyon 3, in Lyon France.
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