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 the guide now.
I usually liken an SD-WAN migration to moving to a new house. You know where you are today and where you want to be, but how do you get there? Can you move all at once? Do you need a mover to help? Move the fridge first or last?
An SD-WAN migration is no different. Every business has its own goals, challenges and networking requirements, making each SD-WAN transition unique. That said, there are few key stages, each with its own set of dependencies, that most IT managers will encounter when deploying SD-WAN solutions.
Here are six main steps for a best practice transition to SD-WAN.
1. Define needs and review your network status
Begin with a clear view of the business objectives and application use you want to support. Is your strategic goal to improve your organisational agility, deliver a better customer experience or ship products and services to market faster? Or do you need to improve business continuity in the face of disruption?
Missing this key step can result in failed SD-WAN business cases or delivering a network that doesn’t solve the business issues.
For example, I once worked with an IT Manager who wanted to design an SD-WAN solution with a minimum of triple resiliency at every site even though some sites had one or two people with access to mobile phones for backup. While the proposed solution offered great resiliency, it did not solve a real business problem. The SD-WAN deployment did not proceed because it was impossible to relate the ROI back to the business needs.
Your business goals will dictate your application choices, which in turn will influence your network design. For example, does your organisation rely on bespoke data centre-hosted applications? Or are you moving to cloud-based software-as-a-service applications to support business functions?
Once you understand what you need to achieve, you can begin weighing it against the performance of your existing architecture.
2. Identify priority metrics and create benchmarks
Translate your goals and requirements into metrics you can track over time. Begin by measuring user experience for all the end user use cases, starting with your priority applications running in public clouds such as AWS and Azure, and business critical SaaS apps like Office 365, Salesforce and Workday. Don’t forget VoIP, video and collaboration tools like WebEx and Zoom.
This baseline will help you identify areas for improvement as you roll out SD-WAN to your sites.
3. Understand your SD-WAN vendor and partner options
Once you have defined your business requirements and current network status, you can begin to compare the assortment of SD-WAN technologies and services.
There are a variety of SD-WAN technologies in market from entry-level to fully-featured solutions. Evaluate technologies against your business use cases and demands. For example, if your business goals are operational efficiency and cost optimisation, then having a simpler management experience may benefit your business more than adding more features and controls.
There are a variety of ways to source your hardware and expertise. We see very few customers going 100% DIY. Instead most look for assistance from a professional services team in gathering requirements, baselining applications and deployment. A subset of those also want a fully managed service.
Choosing the right solution or partner for your business comes down to how well they align with your strategy and complement your internal capabilities.
4. Design the solution
Successful SD-WAN design and deployment depends on factors like how your solution will interact with your data centre, cloud architecture, security stack and correct anticipation of traffic flow scenarios. As one of the most crucial steps in a transition to SD-WAN, it’s worth considering who will be responsible for this and whether they need additional support from experienced partners.
You should also consider bringing in your security team early as major changes to your WAN architecture also require changes to your security design.
5. Invest time in migration planning
Robust migration plans are essential to avoid costly and time-consuming fixes once the rollout begins. Your migration plan should set out the processes to support operations when only some of your sites have been migrated to SD-WAN. It will outline exactly how IT teams and vendors will minimise disruption, by keeping priority apps like CRMs or point-of-sale up at all costs.
Ensure you plan your carriage requirements ahead of time to avoid holding up deployment waiting for new connectivity links.
6. Roll out incrementally and monitor as you go
Finalise your design through a proof of concept and then roll out to your sites incrementally. Monitor the metrics you established in step two to identify effects on performance as you migrate and ensure applications are working as they should on the new solution. A staggered approach will help you understand how the solution will impact different branches and enable you to make any adjustments necessary.