A specialist’s guide to your SD-WAN journey

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Raise the subject of digital transformation and the conversation soon turns to networks. Not surprisingly, since networks are critical for application performance.

Applications are at the core digital transformation. They're a key driver of competitive advantage - and increasingly, they're in the cloud.

Cloud changed the network paradigm

As applications moved from the data centre to the cloud, traditional hub and spoke network architectures became less relevant.

Enter SD-WAN. Organisations realised they could use different carriage types like 4G/5G and the internet with MPLS, orchestrate them with SD-WAN, and cut carriage costs at the same time.

SD-WAN's software based approach to network management promised to solve an array of issues. But experience shows this often isn’t the case.

An SD-WAN box should be last on your list

SD-WAN and its emerging successor, the SASE framework, are the future of networking. But your network has multiple moving parts. Before you deploy either technology, consider how the rest of your network environment will support them. 

Most importantly, your business goals must come first. No organisation's needs are the same so a cookie cutter approach is not going to deliver the best results. Define your business needs, then deploy the technology solution that suits.

Having said that, here are some of the key points you need to consider before implementing SD-WAN to support digital transformation. This advice is based on our experience deploying more than 7000 SD-WAN solutions globally for our customers.

Insist on technology choice

Chances are, you're not going to deploy SD-WAN by yourself. You're going to rely on the expertise of a third party.

There are pitfalls in this approach. Vendors will recommend their own devices, and most integrators will recommend the vendors they're associated with.

The problem is, different SD-WAN/SASE led solutions come with different levels of capability. The technologies offered by the vendor or integrator may not fully support you. But it's all you're going to get because that's all they sell.

If you're going to rely on integrators, make sure they're vendor agnostic. And importantly, that they're proficient in the full range of vendor technologies. However, most integrators may only be skilled in a couple technologies or refer to a couple vendors.

On the other hand, Telstra has capabilities across most major vendors and technology domains in the mid to large scale enterprise market in Australia today.  Consequently we can put your business goal first, then match the technology to it - and that's the way it should be.

Check the quality of the networks

The performance of an overlay technology like SD-WAN  will ultimately depend on the strength of the networks it runs on - or the underlay. Several networks are involved in the underlay.

Core network. Performance will rely heavily on the quality of the core network, which should have high capacity with multiple pathways for resilience. The difference between using a provider like Telstra that owns and continually invests in its core networks, and one that doesn't, can be significant.

Internet. Direct internet access is now the preferred method of connecting users to the cloud. However, some internet providers offer shared or contended services, so check what you're signing up for. The other option is to use a service like Telstra Internet Direct, which offers a dedicated, uncontended internet connection with guaranteed bandwidth.

Mobile. With the roll-out of 5G, mobile technologies are coming into their own, both as a backup or as primary connectivity. But coverage is everything. If your mobile provider doesn't have coverage in the area you want, Telstra most likely does.

Check how everything interconnects

Good core networks are just one side of the story. How the network connects to the capabilities you use daily is just as important.

Most organisations today will use one or more public clouds. The peering links between these cloud providers play a major part in network performance. The more links your network provider offers, and the closer they are to clouds and other networks, the fewer hops users have to take to get to their applications.

Peering links will therefore impact how well applications work, and ultimately productivity, user and customer experience. It's one of the reasons why organisations choose Telstra. We have more links than any other Australian provider, and the quality of integration between links is world class.

Will you have business flexibility?

Whatever your SD-WAN solution, you'll need to purchase connectivity. However, some providers will lock you into bandwidth, access types and pricing. That can be a dead weight in an evolving application landscape, especially as your digital transformation progresses.

It pays to have a network provider that offers flexibility. For example, with Telstra's Adaptive Networks, you can move between MPLS or internet services, add or remove them at will, and scale bandwidth within and between services with ease. In addition, you can choose month-to-month contracts or commit to a term that suits you.  

SD-WAN and digital transformation

SD-WAN is a key part of digital transformation. But it's only one part among many, and most of them are interrelated.

If you're considering these technologies, it pays to have a partner who can see the big picture. One whose capabilities not only cover the entire technology stack, but can also extend to your overall business strategy. This makes it easier to get where you want to go in your transformation journey.