If your wide-area network (WAN) has been with you for many years, it may be time to think about an upgrade, especially given the emergence of technologies such as software-defined WANs (SD-WAN). But rather than just dive in, assuming SD-WAN will be a good fit, it’s helpful to perform an assessment of your current situation and what outcomes you’d like to see out of an upgrade.
Making this type of assessment means asking a series of questions, the answers to which may – or may not – lead you toward adopting SD-WAN technology. To learn what sort of questions to ask, I talked with Mike Lawson, Manager of SD-WAN/NFV Solutions Architecture for CenturyLink, a global network provider.Lawson spends his time in the trenches with network architects and customers, accumulating an excellent sense of whether a company is a good candidate for SD-WAN.
According to Lawson, the assessment process has to cover three main areas:
- Foundational business issues, including current challenges and future objectives
- Applications bandwidth and performance tolerance
We’ll cover each of those areas in this 3-part series of blog posts, beginning with the foundational issues.
Current challenges: visibility and performance
For starters, consider the current challenges you experience with your existing WAN. Prime candidates tend to be achieving resiliency and proper performance.
“More visibility into how the network is performing is another common challenge,” Lawson says. “Sometimes companies need two or three systems to get a good grasp on that.”
What drives many companies to rethink their WAN strategy is the changing face of their applications. As companies adopt cloud-based applications, it can dramatically change performance, Lawson says. Whereas previously traffic went from a data center located in or near headquarters to various branch locations, now it’s going from the data center to the cloud and back, introducing latency that may be a drag on performance.
“We don’t see many customers moving completely away from their data centers, but they have a multi-pronged approach, with some applications hosted in their data center, some with a SaaS provider, maybe some seasonal applications with Amazon,” he said. “A multi-data center strategy is emerging, and networks need to be designed towards that.”
Desired outcomes: cost efficiency to resiliency
Conducting the foundational assessment also involves considering the primary outcomes you want from your network transformation.
Interestingly, Lawson says he doesn’t see many customers saying they want to reduce costs as their number one priority. “It’s more about optimizing overall network spend. They want to get lower priority traffic off MPLS and right-size for applications like voice and video,” he says. “So, cost efficiency.”
Better visibility is another big item on the wish list, offering the ability to see how the network and applications are performing at a glance, from the proverbial “single pane of glass.”
The ability to deploy WAN services to new sites more quickly is a common desired outcome, along with being able to tune the network on the fly. Companies want to use templates to that enable them to more easily make the same change at many sites, rather than one by one. “It’s about the agility of change management,” Lawson says.
Many organizations also want better performance and resiliency. To get resiliency with MPLS means getting a second MPLS connection, which will likely sit dormant until it’s needed for backup. Companies would rather use lower-cost Internet or wireless connections as backup, and perhaps use them for applications such as guest traffic on a regular basis – which ties back to the need for cost efficiency.
Finally, customers are looking to reduce security risks, mindful that adding direct internet access at locations introduces additional points of vulnerability. “They’re interested in technologies that provide a multi-tiered security posture,” Lawson says.
Learn more at CenturyLink.
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