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How SD-WAN is Transforming Network Management and Operations in 2019

Written by John Smith, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for LiveAction

The networking landscape is experiencing an unprecedented level of change today, with the emergence of major technology initiatives like cloud, NVF, IBN, SDN, edge computing and more. Each of these has spurred massive changes in how networks are built and operated, but today I'd like to focus specifically on how SD-WAN in particular is impacting and changing network operations (NetOps). While this technology has been around for many years, it's only in the past year that it really transitioned from "hype" to a practical solution with tangible benefits for businesses. It's now one of most transformational technology initiatives being tackled by IT departments around the world. In fact, research from analyst firm IDC shows that the SD-WAN market will reach $4.5 billion by 2022.

Let's take a closer look at how SD-WAN technology can streamline and simplify NetOps, its impact on the bottom-line transport costs for businesses, and some of the key challenges and considerations to keep in mind if you decide to embark on the SD-WAN journey.

Why SD-WAN Adoption is Accelerating

In practice, SD-WAN involves dropping an edge device (whether it's virtual or physical) where you need interconnectivity - whether it be site-to-site, site-to-data center or to the cloud. Many view this as the most effective way to architect a WAN.

It moves the intelligence traditionally housed by routers at the edge of the network into cloud controllers that can coordinate policies across the entire organization through smaller, less expensive edge devices. Simply put, SD-WAN automates WAN environments and makes them more dynamic and secure. For example, SD-WAN deployments can make intelligent adjustments to application paths for better performance, provide direct internet connection from a branch and enable NetOps teams to more easily balance between multiple service provider and transport types.

For many organizations, the cost savings from SD-WAN can be the most compelling part of the equation. It's a no brainer if you can recoup as much as 50 percent (or more) of the cost of traditional WANs, while maintaining equivalent levels of service through a nimbler, more responsive network. And since the automation delivered through SD-WAN makes it so much easier to manage and control each of your different sites, NetOps teams can spend much more of their valuable time on major strategic initiatives, rather than an endless queue of management and troubleshooting tasks. (As a matter of fact, a recent survey from LiveAction and Sirkin Research showed that 43 percent of network professionals are challenged to find time to work on strategic business initiatives, such as SD-WAN rollout.)

As you can see, the inherent benefits of SD-WAN have clearly contributed to its accelerated adoption over the past few years, but there's no getting around the fact that it does take planning and fair amount of work to deploy and maintain a successful SD-WAN implementation. You need to understand that there's no magic switch to quickly migrate your entire network to SD-WAN.

Key SD-WAN Challenges and Considerations to Keep in Mind

For large SD-WAN deployments, most organizations won't attempt a full network overhaul right out of the gate. The majority of these deployments are phased, meaning that they're implemented at specific sites within an organization and expanded gradually. And, SD-WANs do not operate in a vacuum, so a new implementation will most likely have unexpected effects on application performance and existing infrastructure. For example, security applications like antivirus or firewalls may throttle new traffic types that are now going over the Internet rather than MPLS, and QoS policies will likely need to be revised. As a network operator, you're going to need to be able to manage a mixed environment of legacy network components and SD-WAN until the full migration is complete, which can be an complex challenge without the necessary visibility into each network domain. 

As I mentioned previously, the level of automation that SD-WAN offers can be a major time saver for NetOps teams, but it's not a silver bullet. You still need to understand how traffic comes in and out of the various network fabrics, and be able get down to the root cause whenever issues come up. Without visibility into every area of the network, it can be hard to truly understand what's happening with your SD-WAN and your broader network environment, and why.

Another major operational challenge of SD-WAN during a move away from legacy MPLS is the number of service providers involved. In a typical MPLS model, you're only dealing with maybe one service provider in any given region, but with SD-WAN, you could have a different ISP for each unique site. This results in less risk in event of failure, but with added complexity in path selection, and underscores the need for comprehensive visibility to understand how well each transport is working.

Increasing Requirements for Network Visibility

Since SD-WANs create virtual networks using various types of tunnels and knit together remote sites, data centers and cloud, you need granular visibility into the WAN as well as to each site in order to understand what's really happening. Verifying that your SD-WAN is operating based on the policies you've set and effectively troubleshooting issues can become a major challenge without a holistic view across the entire network. Unfortunately the management platforms offered by SD-WAN solutions alone are confined to the SD-WAN edge devices themselves, which is why more organizations are adopting unified network performance monitoring and diagnostics (NPMD) solutions that are capable of providing insight and context across multi-cloud, multi-domain, multi-fabric network environments.

Whether you're in the early stages of planning a new SD-WAN, verifying existing SD-WAN is performing as designed based on the policies, operationalizing SD-WAN into network operations or conducting ongoing monitoring and troubleshooting, you need a unified network solution that can give you the level of visibility required to successfully execute each stage of a new SD-WAN implementation. 

These types of unified network monitoring solutions offer a host of benefits, including eliminating the cost and complexity involved with managing a wide variety of legacy networking tools and task-specific solutions. And when network issues invariably arise, NPMD platforms that can provide insight into every domain can dramatically reduce your Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR), regardless of the problem's origin. In today's IT environment, you need access to multiple network data sets including SNMP, flow data, packet capture and API in order to achieve 360-degree visibility that enables you to isolate, diagnose and alleviate any type of network issue before it can impact business operations. As SD-WAN adoption continues to grow, these unified network management capabilities will become increasingly vital.

Looking Ahead

SD-WAN represents the start of a much larger journey - a stepping stone down the path to further IT automation and more adoption of software-defined networking in other parts of the network. Regardless of what stage you're at with SD-WAN adoption and implementation, remember that its success will be heavily dependent upon the level of visibility you're able to achieve in these complex, hybrid environments.

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About the Author

John Smith 

John K. Smith is the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for LiveAction, where he is responsible for developing the technical vision, strategies, and relationships to drive product development to meet customer needs. He has been in the networking field for more than 15 years, holding two patents and four patent applications. Previously, Smith served as Vice President of engineering at Spirent Communications where his contributions led to more than $120 million in revenue per year, while overseeing the product line and leading more than 130 engineers. He has been in software development for more than 25 years. Smith holds a MS degree in Computer Science from the University of Hawaii and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington, as well as a MBA from Chaminade University.

Published Wednesday, March 13, 2019 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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