Best practices when implementing SD-WAN

Telecoms is an overall complex business – delivering network circuits and optimizing connections – but SD-WAN has its own very specific set of obstacles. SD-WAN involves many components that contribute to overall internet network performance such as national policy, security, hardware delivery, installation and cloud applications. Each element can significantly affect a successful SD-WAN transformation.

Below, we explore the most common questions that spring up when implementing SD-WAN, and how to make the process as easy as possible for your enterprise.

Why switch to SD-WAN?

SD-WAN presents a number of benefits that traditional MPLS can’t deliver on. It allows customers to become vendor-agnostic, meaning you are not locked into a single ISP or Carrier. We now have the ability to handpick MPLS, hardware and all SD-WAN components from various providers to customize the way services fit an enterprise.

Also, in terms of cost-effectiveness, many companies who make the switch will see a reduction of about 30% in network-related fees. Some SD-WAN suppliers advertise 80-90% cost savings, but this figure is only accurate in rare cases. It is best to harbour a more realistic expectation that still delivers notable improvement to network profitability.

Typical advantages of switching to SD-WAN include:

  • More connection types and vendor options when building a network
  • Centralized management and full visibility across branch networks
  • Greater agility as multiple access technologies can be combined
  • Rapid deployment, especially if internet access is already in place
  • Reduced costs as internet access circuits are generally less expensive than carrier grade MPLS
  • Increased security by encrypting WAN traffic
  • High site availability, as SD-WAN automatically re-routes to the best-performing links
  • Enhanced performance for SaaS and cloud-based services, leading to improved user productivity.

How do I tailor SD-WAN to my networking needs?

Every industry is different, as is every country, in terms of regulations that affect network architecture. It makes sense that your network should be adapted accordingly. SD-WAN introduces that flexibility, alongside cost-savings and improved connectivity, as the network components best suited to your business can be prioritized. Enterprises are no longer forced into a one size fits all package.

A company that adopts SD-WAN is also faced with coordinating newly customized network components and vendors. They now have the ability to add and remove sites from the network (whether due to business mergers or divestiture).

That’s why external management services are often brought in to provide SD-WAN flexibility, streamlined into a single bill, contract, currency, technical support, performance reviews and logistics.

How much time does it take to setup SD-WAN?

There is no standard timeframe for implementing SD-WAN. It’s very dependent on how many locations need to be serviced, in which countries, and what technical components contribute to the network.

Logistics and shipping are often difficult to predict – do you have power ready? Do you have cable ready? Do you have MPLS ready? Do you have internet ready? Are you aware of import laws and taxes? The more prepared you are, the less time your SD-WAN transformation will take – maybe even less than a month.

How do I avoid unforeseen costs?

A lot of people think you just need to buy an SD-WAN box, plug it in and magic happens. But companies considering the move to SD-WAN must also take into account cabling, logistics, technical support and all the implications therein. It’s important to maintain a holistic, realistic view of the solution.

How do I avoid technical difficulties?

Feet on the street are important. You need to be able to dispatch local engineers to help with installation, cabling and other hardware issues, no matter where in the world offices are based. Overall, having a single global organisation handle all of these logistics can save a lot of time.

How do I avoid network downtime mid-switch?

Downtime happens when a company tries to implement SD-WAN without instruction or experience. Just plugging in the SD-WAN box won’t be effective if cabling, software and other components don’t match up. If you do the research and plan for each component of implementation, you shouldn’t have any downtime.

What’s the best way to coordinate SD-WAN across international offices?

If an SD-WAN box is shipped from the USA to Africa with no prior paperwork, it’s bound to get stuck at customs. Prior knowledge of the country’s unique network systems is necessary to avoid delays like this. Any network solution provider worth their salt should be able to supply the appropriate global deployment advice – the legislation, paperwork and network design necessary for each country.

Which is better; external management services or a DIY network?

Most businesses want control over their network, but don’t want the headaches that can go hand in hand with monitoring connectivity and performance. For example: If you’re in the food business, do you really want to manage your own IT systems? That’s not your speciality. You may not want to invest in the hours and manpower required to bring that capability in-house.

It’s becoming more and more popular to strike a balance. There are plenty of SD-WAN support options available; from simple hardware suppliers to fully managed services, or even a co-managed network design. Some enterprises just request standalone performance reviews and access to systems as needed. Think of network management like a LEGO statue, shaped to suit your business model, using the blocks you like best.

You don’t have to choose between external management or a DIY model. Instead, you can strike a flexible balance tailored to your needs.

Are there any key rules to remember when implementing SD-WAN?

When looking at the market, you’ll realize that very few network solution providers can deliver on every SD-WAN component you need. It’s best practice to create an ‘SD-WAN transformation’ shopping list covering hardware, software, logistics, legislation and all the essentials. Also, if you’re a global enterprise, that provider needs to be capable of delivering SD-WAN and maintaining performance across far-flung locations.

Essentially, your success is dependent on finding the right partner and having the right information.

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