For the last few years, digital transformation has become a major rallying cry for organisations modernising their IT arsenal — but there’s a problem that needs solving, WAN.
Key motivations for digital transformation include making the businesses more agile and competitive, the workforce more productive and the workflows more efficient. Cloud-based operational models have become the norm and application modernisation initiatives have taken off accordingly to support these trends.
As legacy application architectures are modernised, the distributed nature of the global enterprise means every employee, customer and partner needs to access and experience them in a consistent manner. This has shifted the burden of the application experience from the cloud to the wide-area-network (WAN).
WAN transformation: Follow the cloud to pervasive and elastic networks
While the global internet is somewhat ubiquitous, it alone is not consistent enough to genuinely support predictable application performance. To bring predictability, the heritage of the global network over the last two decades has been built on multi-protocol label switching (MPLS). They have been known for predictable performance. Slated as too expensive once upon a time, the cost of MPLS circuits has been driven down significantly over the past several years fuelled by the competitive pervasiveness of new Internet-based solutions. Not so much the complexity of provisioning them and the delays in procuring them. These has made them less adaptable to the “on-demand” nature of the cloud model.
The search for speed and simplicity has led Enterprises down the path of a software-defined WAN, or SD-WAN. While SD-WAN is still somewhat of a buzzword doe to no standardised industry definition, there are over 70+ vendors in the marketplace, and so it is important to know that not all SD-WANs are created equal.
To combat this lack of clarity, here’s our quick check list for all organisations about to embark on their SD-WAN to accelerate digital transformation:
1. Is the SD-WAN delivered as-a-service?
An as-a-service model is aligned with a consumption approach. CIOs today are used to their computing and applications being hosted in the cloud. Should the WAN be any different? It should be easy to turn on from and for any location, for any application, and scale dynamically based on the requirements of the business. Having a true managed service with a good customer satisfaction score is a huge bonus.
2. Is the SD-WAN just a DIY overlay or an integrated managed offering?
Overlay SD-WANs offer a technology stack and expect enterprises to deploy it themselves. This approach works when the organisation has the right expertise in-house to procure, deploy and manage. Beyond the initial deployment, the organisation has to scope the ability to provision, configure, manage version control, maintain inventory, deploy security patches etc. All these can impede agility over a period of time. An integrated offering brings visibility across the overlay and underlay networks, while a managed offering can offload areas that are beyond the organisation’s core areas of expertise.
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3. How cloud-friendly is the SD-WAN offering?
One of the bigger triggers to moving away from MPLS is due to the move to cloud. However, SD-WAN architectures can vary. Many vendors have to spin up virtual instances to gain a footprint in public clouds or in SaaS companies. Depending on the diversity of the footprint this can add to operational complexity, cost and overhead. Other vendors have direct connection that provide pre-wired cloud connectivity. Some public cloud vendors have also set up their own WAN paths to provide a more optimised experience, some of which may not support a multi-cloud architecture. Only a multi-cloud, pre-wired cloud connectivity can help accelerate digital transformation
4. Can the SD-WAN optimise and accelerate any application, globally?
Optimising applications is not just predictable bandwidth, but also latency and jitter considerations. While traffic in local regions may not require WAN optimisation, this becomes important when distances are large, or where circuits are lossy. Bringing additional vendors or multiple boxes in to do this or even ignoring it altogether all cause additional overhead and impact application experience. Companies in Europe or the US connecting to China, India or other countries often experience the need for WAN optimisation. Certain applications also benefit immensely from it.
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5. How easy is it to troubleshoot when something goes wrong? How strong are the SLAs?
In a global network, a lot of things can go wrong, or perform sub-optimally. Figuring out the root cause for a problem can be an issue i.e. is it a network issue, an application issue or an operator issue? If it’s an MSP, how effective are the NOCs and do they have 24X7 support with consistent global SLAs? Co-relating between the overlay and underlay can itself be an onerous task impacting speed of rollout and the service experience. The problem is compounded when the network is stitched together among multiple service providers diluting the SLAs. All these pose significant roadblocks to digitisation initiatives.
It is important to realise that the cloud-model demands a responsive, on-demand network to be truly aligned with the business objectives. This is all the more important when the charter of the CIO is to have a democratisation of the network where no site is a second-class citizen.
Each of the above allow an organisation to evaluate their SD-WAN vendor and offering and more importantly how WAN transformation is aligned to the demands of their digital transformation initiatives overall.