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Not all SD-WANs are born equal

In the first of three articles looking at the SD-WAN market, Technology Reseller examines the fundamentals of Wide Area Networks and considers the questions resellers should be prepared to ask and able to answer

Organisations today need to leverage all their assets to achieve business goals. The staff they employ, the skill sets in the business, the locations from which they operate and the infrastructure that supports their activities all contribute towards those objectives and the overall success of the enterprise.

At the same time, we are in an age in which every business and every person uses technology to change how they get things done. As a result, the barriers to entry to new markets are being lowered and new business models and services are being developed.

Welcome to the world of digital disruption.

No wonder that today many senior managers are questioning the capabilities and cost of one of their key infrastructure assets, the wide area network (WAN), over which vital and time-sensitive communications – both voice and data – are carried throughout the whole organisation.

Software-defined networking in a wide area network (SD-WAN) is of interest because it holds out the promise of simplifying the management and operation of a WAN by decoupling (separating) the networking hardware from its control mechanism. SD-WANs are often seen as a replacement for MPLS (Multi-protocol label switching) networks.

Reseller questions to ask to establish customer motivation for SD-WAN

*Is it to improve workflows?
*Is their use of online/cloud apps growing?
*Are they under pressure to reduce costs and/or get more for their money?
*Do they need greater flexibility and agility in the business?

Variables and options
For enterprises considering the deployment of an SD-WAN, possibly the most important factor to consider and recognise is that this is not an off-the-shelf commodity product.

There are numerous variables and options to consider and the first factor to understand is that SD-WAN is an overlay service that sits on top of an underlying network of connectivity – the underlay.

Many suppliers only provide the overlay service, which is effectively the equivalent of a customer premises equipment (CPE) router solution with underlay connectivity supplied and managed by third parties. Within this overlay service there are further points of differentiation and options in the form of, for example, physical CPE, virtual CPE and hybrid solutions.

For underlying connectivity between sites there are additional choices to be made. At the top level, this is principally between using dedicated private circuits with guaranteed bandwidths or ‘laying off’ services to the internet. Again, a hybrid mixture of the types could be deployed.

Next up for consideration are the services available, in particular the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that suppliers are able to put in place for their overlay SDWAN services. Such guarantees are worth little if the underlying network connectivity is supplied by a third party, as the overlay supplier will not be responsible for, nor directly able to impact, any fault resolution. No connectivity means no WAN service.

The list of options is extensive and will encompass user preferences for WAN monitoring and alerting features, as well as the possibilities of including LAN infrastructure and application

Finally, you may have seen the suggestion that an SD-WAN gives users the ability to change bandwidth in an instant. If the SD-WAN central controller doesn’t control both the underlay and the overlay this isn’t possible. The only way to achieve that is to work with an SD-WAN supplier that can provide both these elements, that is to say a complete SD-WAN solution.

What to ask
So, if not all SD-WANs are born equal, what questions do resellers need to ask to establish the user’s priorities and options?

*Are they looking for a complete solution or just the overlay service?
*If they just want an overlay service, is the user happy to manage the underlying connectivity elements themselves?
*Does the user have the in-house skill sets to do this?
*What kind of monitoring and alerting features are needed?
*With more and more business applications migrating to the cloud will the user need LAN infrastructure and application monitoring and management?
*How important is business agility and flexibility to your business?

The next articles in this series will look at SD-WAN managed services, reseller skill sets, costs and the changing face of data and explore some of the myths surrounding SD-WANs.

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