Chances are you’re paying for past network decisions right now. At the time, those decisions made sense. But over time, those decisions multiplied one on top of the other.
Today, your network fabric may be a patchwork because of so many customisations to the original design. Your entire environment is harder to manage and secure, not to mention the time, resources and cost to do so.
If you want to move to SD-WAN, the worst thing to do is bring that complexity over. In fact, SD-WAN is the perfect opportunity to get rid of the clutter and start afresh. But that will require the right approach. Here’s how to do it.
Pare down to the essentials
It’s important to focus on creating efficiencies from the start. So do the groundwork. Explore your environment from top to bottom and discover what should go, what to remediate, and what stays. Be ruthless. Everything you carry over will create further complexity.
Simplicity is vital to SD-WAN. It will make your environment faster and more cost-effective to deploy. And equally important, easier to manage. The stability and ease of MACs post deployment will depend to a great extent on what you cleaned out before the move.
Focus on results
Be clear what your network transformation wants to achieve. Your desired outcome will determine the vendors and technologies you adopt.
For example, is resilience your goal? If so, consider diverse connectivity options like dual links using different last mile technologies.
If performance is your aim, what apps do you want to prioritise? You should also think about whether you need interconnects between critical sites and public clouds.
It can be tempting to adopt the latest technologies simply because they are the latest. But again, focus on the outcomes. SD-WAN alone may look attractive, but a mix of SD-WAN and MPLS may be more practical.
If you do replace MPLS with the internet, remember that 90% of internet products are contended, and without Quality of Service. SD-WAN tools can overcome a lot of issues, but not contention.
Benchmarking your current state should be integral to defining your results. Obviously, it will help you measure improvements as you move to SD-WAN. But equally important, it will offer insights into problems, and what actions you need to take for rectification.
Keep the design simple
Now you’ve cleaned out the clutter and defined the results you want, it’s time to design. Make sure your defined outcome is supported by every element of the design, with nothing more than you need. Once again, be ruthless in your approach.
The first rule of thumb is to avoid customisation. Consistency is key to a successful SD-WAN deployment, so use standardised templates wherever possible. Deploying bespoke technologies at different sites will only create difficulties down the track.
You should also try to cut carriage complexity. It pays to group sites with similar carriage services together to streamline setup for sites with common requirements.
At the same time, focus on implementing simple policies. Fewer traffic rules will facilitate traffic flows to better support application performance.
Move one step at a time
Be aware that some transformations can take anywhere from 6-18 months, so set up your environment for a staged migration. Doing the simple things first is a good starting point.
The moment the transformation starts, it will impact users, customers and revenue streams. But if your move is progressive, gentle and considered, you can still keep everything running smoothly.
It’s vital to pilot the solution so you can adjust the design and reduce costly and time-consuming fixes. Then you can roll it out in stages to the broader business, testing as you go to confirm applications are working as they should.
Piloting and testing will also help you evaluate if you were thorough enough in your initial clean-up of the environment. Righting past actions may need to continue in the piloting stage, and it’s important you do so.
You should also be clear about how to integrate existing features with new ones. Since a network transformation can be lengthy, your current network solution will need to work with your future state for a period of time.
Even if you have a third-party deployment, it’s critical that you’re closely involved. So you’ll need to provide good project management from your end. It doesn't need to be a technical involvement, but you do need to stay on top of things.
Of course, if you’re considering self-managing your SD-WAN after deployment, you must be fully involved to understand security policies, traffic routing, site requirements and features.
Moving to SD-WAN is also a catalyst to get your security right. Security and network teams need to work closely together so network design aligns with security policies. What worked in the past may not be relevant now.
It’s also advisable to decouple security tools from hardware since different SD-WAN devices will have different strengths in networking and security.
If you’ve planned correctly, your SD-WAN environment will have adequate protection. But if remote working is increasing, you should think about deploying SASE.
SASE will have an overarching impact. It will demand a fundamental change, not just for your security and compliance policies, but for your entire security philosophy. Understand what SASE means for your risk profile before you deploy.
Build flexibility in from the start
Even a new SD-WAN environment will demand future alterations as needs change. So, while your environment should be as streamlined as possible, it should also be open to flexibility. It’s hard to future-proof, but at least you can put in some basic precautions to deal with change.
Preparation is everything
The key point to remember is that preparation is key for smooth BAU post deployment. If you fail to sanitise your environment, or fail to think ahead pre-deployment, the results could disappoint.
Having the right people and experience to identify inefficiencies and simplify the build is a key part of the equation. If you don’t have the skills in-house, engage experts who do.
In fact, a professional services assessment beforehand is probably the most critical factor that will determine the success you achieve with SD-WAN. Otherwise, you may simply inherit the sins of the past.
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