This article is based on content from the Telstra Ultimate SD-WAN Guide – a comprehensive guide containing 40+ pages of handy tips, pitfalls to avoid, security risks to be aware of, lessons learned and more. Download now.
Migrating to SD-WAN is a little like renovating your house. There’s a need for extensive planning and careful thought before you start.
Like, what do you really want from your new home and how might your needs evolve over time? What should the design look like, and does the building’s infrastructure enable you to do what you need today and what you want tomorrow? And what’s your strategy for continuing your day-to-day life while work is underway?
There are similar concerns when it comes migrating network services to SD-WAN.
SD-WAN adoption is expected to continue rising as organisations take advantage of the wide range of benefits it delivers, all of which are ever more relevant in today’s environment of dispersed teams and cloud applications. In fact, Gartner predicts that 60% of enterprises worldwide will have implemented SD-WAN by 2023 1.
When we help customers deploy SD-WAN, I always forewarn them that it is a complex endeavour at the start. Much of the work required is front-loaded to get the design right so that we avoid problems down the road.
Of course, each deployment is unique and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But based on our experience deploying thousands of SD-WAN instances, here are four major things to consider to ensure the migration is a success.
Business needs need to stay front-of-mind
It can be easy to lose sight of business priorities in the midst of a digital or network transformation. However, your organisation’s requirements – from strategic goals down to application needs – should inform each step of your SD-WAN decision-making and planning.
Does your organisation require high-quality video conferencing? Do you have critical business apps such as your customer relationship management database (CRM) which you want to prioritise to ensure availability? Do you have different types of branch sites with their own particular networking needs?
Matching your SD-WAN solution to the shape of your business requirements can help you make effective strategic and technology decisions for the long term.
Good SD-WAN deployments start with good network design
SD-WAN solutions can significantly improve your networks’ performance but realising their full potential depends heavily on existing network design. Factors like cloud interconnects need to be incorporated into SD-WAN architecture, while diversity in connectivity options are important for taking advantage of SD-WAN’s redirection capabilities. If there are underlying problems in your network design, SD-WAN solutions won’t solve them.
Also consider the realities of your network design when exploring the vast range of solutions, service combinations and vendor technologies on offer. Understanding how each vendors’ different strengths relate to your underlying network can help you choose the right technology at the start.
Lay the groundwork for measurement and manage expectations early
SD-WAN is occasionally misunderstood (or hyped up) as a solution for decreasing network management costs, but it’s unlikely to yield major cost savings on its own. Instead, organisations can look forward to receiving a return on their investment through the improved flexibility, resiliency, performance and speed-to-market that SD-WAN can enable.
As part of measuring the benefits of SD-WAN, you should map a clear view of your network status with benchmarks to track metrics like response time or latency across priority applications. Not only will this help you monitor and optimise performance, but it also provides the quantitative picture necessary for communicating the full benefits to leaders.
Don’t skimp on design and planning – but keep it simple whenever possible
Simplicity is a key advantage of SD-WAN’s automation and centralised policy controls, but delivering a smooth migration to an optimised solution while avoiding disruptions to your network performance requires time and effort up front.
This means approaching set-up with a clear understanding of ongoing requirements like managing multiple devices, reconfigurations and connectivity contracts, along with any impacts from organisational security policies.
IT teams can also avoid unpleasant surprises by determining business-critical priorities and establish a focus on simplicity from the outset.
For instance, it can be tempting to explore the full potential of SD-WAN control and orchestration tools, which support far more complex policies than are usually possible in a traditional WAN. But network performance can suffer if you’re trying to define every application flow and edge case rather than sticking to the rules that are most essential to business needs.
SD-WAN migration is more complicated than a home reno, with more stakeholders involved, more fluid needs and a greater risk of disruption for more people. But whether you are building your dream house or your dream network, the more time you invest in design and planning, the less likely you are to encounter problems during down the line.
 Gartner. 2020. Forecast Analysis: Enterprise Networking Connectivity Growth Trends, Worldwide. [online] Available at: https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/3969496/forecast-analysis-enterprise-networking-connectivity-gro [Accessed 21 July 2020].