Having recently returned from the first annual SD-WAN Expo, I can confidently say the SD-WAN market is on fire. And the numbers back it up (see my other recent blogs for more on that). But rather than focus on market projections, I want to talk about what comes next, as the inevitable stampede gains momentum. It’s something we’ve seen with other new technologies, especially those that in effect democratize access to a once exclusive capability. Giving people the false impression that all solutions that fall into that particular category are the same. Or in this case, giving them the impression that the features of SD-WAN solutions are the same industry wide.
So, as the tire kicking of potential SD-WAN service providers begins, let’s set the record straight…
All SD-WAN solutions are not created equal
While most SD-WAN solutions address the same four basic challenges outlined in a recent study by Forrester Consulting – increased readiness for current and upcoming innovations and trends, reduced downtime, decreased service costs, and improved security – there are essential differences in how easy they are to implement, monitor and manage. Where the rubber truly meets the road is the level of visibility and control built into the SD-WAN orchestration layer, which should ideally be designed for and made available to network/IT staff. This is important even when it’s part of a fully-managed service like our own SD-WAN Concierge.
Understanding how much control your IT staff will have should be an important consideration in service provider selection. The number of mission critical cloud-based enterprise apps being deployed grows daily and are too important to your customer experience and employee productivity to be left to chance.
The problem is, there is a good bit of disparity between how one service provider’s solution approaches this need vs. another. Even among those that seem to be using the same underlying technology from a common software/hardware provider.
Visibility and control to see into and navigate the cloud
At Windstream Enterprise, we’ve made it a priority since SD-WAN day one to provide a superior management portal to our customers to empower their people to get the most out of their SD-WAN investment. We know that how network technology companies provide information is rarely how end users want to consume information and set out to make the Windstream digital experience different. Drawing on our extensive experience managing our own network, and delivering complex hybrid solutions prior to the emergence of SD-WAN, we created a proprietary SD-WAN management portal with a level of usability that sets our solution apart. In addition to the foundation of integrating the SD-WAN visibility and control into our existing portal which provides you a single pane of glass for your Windstream services, trouble ticketing, billing and digital interactions we focused on a process of continuous improvement to make sure our portal continues to offer our customers a truly competitive edge.
How “Tagging” and “customized naming” support superior visibility/control
Two exciting additions to come from this process are “customized naming” and “tagging.” They don’t sound fancy but what they do make management, monitoring, and ongoing optimization significantly faster and easier (an IT manager’s favorite combination!). This is especially true as you add more locations, devices, users and applications to the network. Needless to say, the benefits multiply quickly.
Custom Naming: The ability for a network manager to assign an easily identifiable name for every location or device on the network drastically improves their ability to recognize and synthesize performance monitoring data in the context of the portal on a real-time basis. So they can react to it quickly, easily, and proactively, without having to look up IP addresses and technical location data or cross reference their commonly used names with some gobbledygook that their service provider uses to identify their locations. It’s the difference between seeing that ATL-Laptop-44872 is almost constantly sharing files peer to peer and seeing that “Mark’s laptop” that is exhibiting anomalous behavior. It may sound like a total no-brainer to include this but the process to make this happen was unique to the WE management portal.
Tagging: Tagging is another feature that differentiates our SD-WAN management portal from all others. It takes visibility to a new level by enabling customers to add tags for filtering to the custom names they’ve already assigned them. The combination renders real-time visibility on an easy to interpret basis and simplifies report creation on customer created filters, helping deliver superior results with speed and simplicity. And enabling IT managers to make better use of the data to proactively optimize the network, instead of spending too much time simply gathering it.
Identifying application usage is great but typically our teams are using multiple devices to accomplish their daily activities. Tagging allows the IT manager to quickly visualize the application usage of team members, groups, departments or any other stratification in their organization. Going back to our example of Mark using his laptop for peer to peer file transfer using tags to identify his laptop, tablet and cellular phone we can quickly see that he also spends an inordinate amount of time watching videos and browsing social media. Tagging can similarly be used to identify network usage by department – say sales, marketing and engineering – to help organizations allocate costs internally.
The control needed to avoid flying blind
Wherever you are in your SD-WAN journey, it’s essential that you dig deep to understand the degrees of visibility and control you will have with one SD-WAN provider vs. another. The differences, as we often point out, are in the details. But they are critical to the results you will be able to achieve. So be sure to evaluate the visibility features the provider offers to see if they support easy-to-interpret real-time monitoring, and simplified graphing and report generation. As well as the enhanced control features that give you and your team an easy-to-use centralized portal to make changes whenever you need, and implemented across all locations instantly without truck rolls or on-site IT resources.
Tagging and customized naming are just two small parts of how WE approaches these needs and WE are only just beginning. Part of a broader, highly comprehensive approach that puts power in our customers’ hands which is critical to getting the most out your investment in SD-WAN.
Be sure to ask prospective providers how they approach this challenge. To learn more about what Windstream Enterprise’s SD-WAN Management Tool can do, schedule a live demo to see it in action. The differences are extremely important as you continue making your journey to the cloud.
Mike Frane is Vice President for SD-WAN at Windstream Enterprise, with responsibility for the company’s overall SD-WAN strategy, as well as the network and security service portfolios. Since joining the organization in 2008, he’s overseen the launch and lifecycle of services including LTE wireless, Ethernet and MPLS IPsec access elements, Secure WiFi & Analytics, Application Performance Optimization, IPsec VPN and Unified Communications. Prior to Windstream’s acquisition of EarthLink, Mike led the launch of EarthLink’s SD-WAN service; their most successful product introduction in over a decade. Mike has a BS in Genetics and Cellular Biology from the University of Minnesota and was involved in gene therapy research at the Institute of Human Genetics before entering the telecommunications industry.