Robert is the creator of Netify comparisons, instantly compare SD WAN vendors and providers across UK, US and Global requirements.
As the vendor marketplace for software-defined networking in a wide area network (or SD-WAN) begins to take shape, certain leaders are increasing marketing spend to gain brand awareness. In turn, businesses are finding the task of vendor alignment that much more difficult as they conduct the initial research required to shortlist solutions.
In my experience as the managing director of a company that compares SD-WAN vendors, the outcome of using search engines to vet your future WAN capability is not always the most effective. In more serious terms, there is also the potential to implement technology that does not fit specific business requirements.
We are living through a time of change. SD-WAN technology is the enabler to critical cloud applications, business continuity and remote working, which in turn means there is a certain gravity to making the right procurement decision.
In this article, I will discuss three comparison areas to consider that will help you assess SD-WAN vendors and the provider solution marketplace across both do-it-yourself and managed service options.
What connectivity is required to support your business?
With public cloud solutions, distributed enterprises and lower costs compared to multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and remote user home working, the internet is viewed as the default SD-WAN underlay platform for the majority of branch office requirements.
There are certain SD-WAN vendors that view the internet as the only valid method of delivering true software-based networking (i.e., a move away from the traditional MPLS private WAN). Whether you subscribe to the “SD-WAN is internet-only” thought process or not, the decision to implement the internet, MPLS or virtual private LAN service (VPLS) should be firmly dependent on your business requirements. Then, you can create the required hybrid WAN to deliver against critical application performance.
The majority of larger business SD-WAN architecture designs will mandate hybrid solutions. These solutions often require internet connectivity sites and remote users alongside private circuits, as well as improved service level agreement performance and security where required.
When deploying internet-based SD-WAN, there is an initial decision surrounding whether to adopt a multi-ISP strategy or single backbone service provider architecture. With multiple service providers, there is a clear cost-saving benefit because you are effectively searching for the lowest cost provider within each of your locations. That said, there are two main downsides to this approach:
• Multiple ISPs are often challenging to manage, especially when network performance issues occur. Latency and jitter are mostly unknown quantities across multiple ISPs, which often mandates the addition of application acceleration.
• Vendors offer internet only, a private-based backbone with a local internet VPN, or support for internet and MPLS circuits directly into the WAN edge or NFV termination.
How complex are your requirements?
While SD-WAN providers offer simplification with respect to solution management, the capability should be considered when thinking about how to deliver your desired network architecture.
Software WAN vendors are typically split into three areas:
1. Simple requirements with off-the-shelf WAN edge hardware to deliver capabilities that meet the demands of small to medium-size businesses.
2. Networking with the need to deliver the standard capabilities for the most part, but some areas might require some thought and attention.
3. Highly complex solution requirements with a specific network, WAN optimization and security needs requiring bespoke configuration.
In general terms, starter questions often surround:
• How will vendor solutions support WAN uplinks for load balancing?
• How will the solution support multiple VPN tunnels from hosts within the network?
• Are there complex routing or bespoke security functions?
A statement of requirements (SoR) should be fully documented and created prior to vendor engagement. As a guide, the majority of vendors offer solutions to fit the needs of standard branch offices, thus leaving a niche market to service complex architectures.
Do features need to be consolidated into one solution?
SD-WAN brings together unique networking attributes into a single capability. Alongside the basic fundamentals of creating WAN connectivity, SD-WAN offers next-generation firewall (NGFW) with aspects such as intrusion protection (IPS), content filtering and malware protection. Security and packet inspection are intrinsically connected to the WAN from the perspective of how traffic is processed.
The real benefit to SD-WAN surrounds how WAN traffic is monitored on a real-time basis (i.e., deciding on path selection, cloud platform access, reporting and security). Using reporting as an example, the granular monitoring of traffic allows IT teams to make faster decisions on aspects such as application performance and security. If all elements are contained within one solution, everything can be managed from one portal using a joined-up approach to help both deployment and in-life services.
A further consolidation feature is WAN acceleration and data caching. Acceleration and treatment of applications to enhance performance typically requires a stand-alone solution to deliver capability. With software WAN, the general view on architecture is only to deploy features where required, using the application granularity we’ve mentioned within this article.
The SD-WAN vendor marketplace remains varied in respect of capability. There are vendors with their own backbone, built-in security and specific features to make their propositions unique. The question is always how these next-generation features align with your specific business requirements. Without analyzing the WAN services marketplace, businesses are wasting their resources engaging with vendors and providers that simply do not fit within their technical, strategic and budget requirements.