Follow these three best practices to ensure a successful SD-WAN implementation and maximize long-term success.
11 minute read time
As enterprise organizations continue to push applications and business-critical data to the cloud, and as teams continue to sprawl outward from a centralized hub, IT leaders must evolve their networks to deliver fast, flexible and secure access and performance—no matter where end users, devices and information are located.
Organizations around the world have modernized their networks and accelerated digital business transformation initiatives with software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). And the market is showing no signs of slowing down: In 2019, the global SD-WAN market size was roughly $1.4 billion and it is expected to reach $43 billion by 2030.1
Compared to MPLS, SD-WAN offers numerous business advantages including greater network resiliency, advanced application performance, access technology flexibility and centralized management, and the foundations for next-gen networking and security frameworks like Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), to name a few.
What’s the key to a successful SD-WAN implementation? Like any large technology solution roll-out, getting SD-WAN right is all about upfront strategy and planning. Follow these three best practices to ensure a successful implementation for your software-defined wide area network:
The basis for SD-WAN success lies in your ability to understand your organization’s needs today, and anticipate what you might need going forward.
Ask yourself and your stakeholders:
By thinking strategically with a forward-looking perspective, you’ll avoid common pitfalls like focusing on how products work vs. what they enable.
If you’re facing any of these common challenges, SD-WAN might be right for your organization:
You’re facing outages that disrupt critical business operations and/or impact end-user experience.
You need to deliver fast and secure access to cloud environments—including to remote employees.
Your employees are tapping into the network from their homes, branch offices, satellite sites or local coffee shops.
Your teams need bandwidth-hungry apps like video conferencing and other collaboration tools to connect, innovate and engage.
You’re managing multiple network solutions, vendors and resources, perhaps with interoperability and resource constraints.
You lack a holistic and deep view into and control over network activity: who’s doing what, on which applications, when.
You’re facing declining or stagnating budgets, but need to deliver more to your teams as the business evolves.
Central to aligning around your ‘why’ is getting everyone else to believe in it. The buying dynamics at enterprise organizations are highly complex and fraught with friction.2 According to Gartner, the typical buying group for complex B2B solutions involves 6 to 10 decision-makers—with 77% stating that their latest purchase was very complex or difficult.
Each decision-maker comes to the table with different (and sometimes competing) needs, challenges, motivations and levels of authority.
For example, your CMO might be laser focused on enabling a great end-user experience, while your CISO is dialed into security. Your COO needs to see solutions with resiliency and reliability to achieve business continuity, and an IT Lead may have their eyes on the latest bleeding-edge solution.
The key to keeping the peace and keeping your plan on track is to understand your decision-makers’ worldview as it relates to technology, and help them see how SD-WAN can deliver on each of their goals. By gaining alignment early and often, you’ll build advocates, avoid internal conflict that can delay or derail a project, and ease the migration journey.
Once you’ve determined that SD-WAN is right for your business and aligned with your buying committee, you’ll need to determine who will design, procure, install and ultimately manage your solution—your team or a managed service provider.
In a managed deployment, the organization purchases the service from a service provider who works with the organization to design, install and operate the SD-WAN infrastructure, such as endpoints and dual uplinks, at each site. Additionally, day-to-day management and software provisioning is in IT’s hands via an SD-WAN controller. Two areas to evaluate when considering DIY vs. managed SD-WAN include your in-house expertise and your management and monitoring needs.
In-house IT talent may understand the connectivity and security needs of your organizations, but SD-WAN demands a specialized skill set and can come with a steep learning curve.
There’s the installation and implementation phase of an SD-WAN implementation—access configuration, bandwidth prioritization and endpoint installation—but your team will also need to manage and monitor the network long term.
For more questions to ask before deploying SD-WAN on your own, check out this article.
By working with a managed SD-WAN service provider, IT departments can circumvent many of the challenges they encounter during an SD-WAN implementation. A third-party service provider with a proven track record of successful deployments can bolster the IT team by facilitating access configuration, bandwidth prioritization and endpoint installations to help ensure your project stays on track and on budget.
Buys SD-WAN service from a service provider that deploys and manages the SD-WAN solution and related network services, end-to-end.
Buy SD-WAN service from a service provider that deploys the SD-WAN solution and related network services, and co-manages the solution along with your internal IT team.
Procure SD-WAN hardware (and software) directly from the vendor and have the internal network/IT team deploy and manage.
Core competencies: Is the service provider deeply rooted in legacy technologies or do they live and breathe cloud-ready solutions?
Experience with SD-WAN implementations: Does the provider have a volume of successful deployments that span geography, size and vertical?
Credibility of provider: Is the vendor well-regarded and recognized in the industry for SD-WAN? Do analysts agree?
Single pane of glass portal: Does the vendor’s SD-WAN management portal offer deep network visibility and holistic control? Is it easy to use? Does it offer actionable insights on issues and performance optimization?
Right-fit solutions: Does the provider offer expert guidance, choice of solutions and contract terms to fit your needs today and scale with your ambitions?
Professional Services: Does the provider offer professional services or white-glove options to assist with inventory and migration planning, implementation and configuration?
Promises kept: Will your vendor stand behind their SD-WAN solution with guarantees around uptime, customer satisfaction or updates?
Once you’ve determined who will design, install and manage SD-WAN in the long run, you need a migration plan. Understanding exactly what you have in place now—as well as what you might need in six months, one year, three years—will help avoid hang-ups like project delays and budget overruns.
A well-thought-out SD-WAN migration plan centers around 3 things: sites, access and security.
First, take stock of site locations, along with the number of remote users, applications and devices that require network access.
Next, think about your access technologies:
Finally, how are you securing your remote users and sites? How will existing security solutions play (or not) with SD-WAN? Will you require additional layers of protection as your business changes or new sites/users are onboarded?
Like any complex technology solution, SD-WAN is not a flip-the-switch activity, and you’ll need to set expectations with other decision-makers. Because SD-WAN is a software-defined overlay, there’s no need to rip and replace what you already have, but it’s important to understand whether there will be any downtime for customers and employees. Will there be new processes and workflows for your teams to learn or training your IT team will require?
Being thorough and practical while balancing business demands will ensure you keep your project on track and keep a cool head about it.
Getting it right in the early stages of SD-WAN deployment is essential to maximizing return on investment (ROI) and minimizing risk. For many enterprise organizations, a hybrid network—often comprised of MPLS-based circuits and highly available and cost-effective broadband—is a viable solution that balances existing capital investment and current and future business demands.
Deployment plans and timelines will look different for each organization, with existing vendor contracts and digital transformation strategies guiding when a new SD-WAN site will be turned on. Large enterprises and organizations with high sensitivity to critical application performance often start with an SD-WAN proof of concept (PoC) on up to 10 sites to observe, adjust and optimize traffic performance before scaling up.
By aligning around three key SD-WAN best practices, you’ll set your team up for ongoing success with SD-WAN. Working with an experienced managed service provider can make all the difference. Windstream Enterprise has partnered with two of the leading SD-WAN technology providers, VMware and Fortinet, to offer an award-winning SD-WAN solution that’s right for your business. SD-WAN Concierge™ features an intuitive single-pane-of-glass management portal and is backed by our industry-leading service guarantees.
Want to see some successful SD-WAN implementations? Check out these customer stories in key industries including healthcare, financial services and retail.
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