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How to Successfully Deploy an SD Wan

John McVicker


“SD-WAN” is the standard response from so many customers and partners when you ask them what is their most useful and demanded technology. As one of the hottest enterprise technologies to evolve over the past few years, the rise of this seemingly perfect evolution to MPLS technologies, offering easy management, cost savings, flexible application management across different organisational infrastructures, means that a successful deployment is mandatory if these benefits are to be realised.


IDC forecasts that SD-WAN will enjoy an annual compounded growth rate of 40% to reach a market value of $4.5bn by 2022, which indicates that there are still many SD-WAN sites to be deployed in order to capitalise on the market evolution, and yet all too often the operational, performance and financial benefits of the technology, are missed, through poor deployments. And even some sites that have been deployed correctly, fail to deliver the benefits that the technology promises to deliver as they are not maintained, configs not maintained or application performance not considered effectively.


So what is an SD-WAN?

A Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN), essentially simplifies enterprise connectivity for branch offices or remote locations, using a virtual WAN architecture that enables an enterprise to use any combination of transport services, to securely connect users, sites and applications. Think of it like virtualising your network infrastructure to make your applications work more efficiently and you user experience improved.


So how do we deploy one seamlessly?

Deploying an SD-WAN requires careful planning and the correct deployment partner to make sure that things go according to plan. However, before embarking on deploying a solution, it is imperative to consider several important issues, which can not only make life better, but vastly improve the chances of deployment success.


1.   Plan each site and each application to run there

It is entirely possible that over time, different technologies have been deployed to connect each particular site – mobile, internet, MPLS, broadband – and that each of these particular connections needs to be evaluated to see that they are still fit for purpose and enabling the site and its applications to perform as planned. In addition to the network, it is worth evaluating the different applications that are deployed at each site – are they needed? Which ones are critical? Are there any that could be deployed and hosted in a cloud-infrastructure centrally rather than at the remote site? Planning and knowing what applications you want and controlling how they will perform, will ensure that when the new solution is deployed, it will perform as expected for each application, as planned.

And..different access technologies and different application demands on the infrastructure, may have a positive bearing on the technology deployed at that distant site, and may even lead to money saved.


2.   Update and agree security policies at each site

A change in application configurations across the SD-WAN and change in network topology, will require a review of existing security policies. Whilst the SD-WAN meshed network architecture delivers maximum application performance and reliability, it does break the existing security model that so many organisations have – a centralized security architecture that is built into a more traditional hub & spoke network architecture.

All of this change means that security considerations move to the network edge – the site location – and will mean that the overall security policies, procedures and application deployment (secure web gateways or firewalls) can be deployed at the edge. But these still need to be deployed, managed and maintained.


3.   Plan and communicate professionally

“Prior planning prevents poor performance” - A truism of every project but one that is particularly relevant when deploying an SD-WAN infrastructure. As with all projects, it pays to make sure that each affected site (and there may be some sites that are left as they are soon to be vacated or shut down) is included in a comprehensive deployment plan that prioritises the deployment of each site that will enable a structured and smooth roll-out – after all, not all sites can go live at once if they are to remain operational!

Some sites will be less critical than other sites (they may be smaller branch sites, may be running non-business critical apps or may just be temporary sites) and could therefore be prioritised after those sites which are larger, running a larger array of applications or those that have a more complex access infrastructure.

Having prioritised the sites for deployment, it is important to have a clear plan of communication and liaison with the respective systems or IT infrastructure lead at each site – collating a list of the responsible people at each location will make sure that the deployment resources can liaise with the right person and also gauge any nuances at a given site that may not be known centrally e.g. network issues, application performance issues or general access issues. Communicating clearly with each site contact about what is happening, when it is happening and a clear path to escalation will minimise any sense of confusion and associated negative customer experience.


4.   Lock down the architecture and service configuration before you start to deploy

Agreeing the service architecture, general service configuration and agreeing the way in which this infrastructure will support the performance of applications, is critical and must be agreed upon before the service commences deployment. Making things up, mid-way through the deployment process will almost certainly cause project delays, confusion and may lead to more serious technical issues as post-deployment technical teams try to unravel what has been deployed, in what location, for what reason, and then try to understand how to optimise application performance at a given site.


5.   Test, test, test

With the service deployed, the easy path to take it to assume that it is all working as expected and that it will all be ok. In fact, the only way to ensure that the SD-WAN infrastructure is delivering the ROI and general performance benefits that you expected, it so have a robust testing regime, post deployment. This structured regime of testing and optimising the service, will maximise the chances of delivering operational excellent, and minimise application performance issues.


6.   Agree ongoing site support mechanisms

We all know that even the best planned deployment and latest technology can be prone to issue that require support. In a solution that promises visibility, control and application performance as key drivers to deliver the underlying ROI, it means that supporting each site becomes even more critical. And supporting the site will not only require centrally-located resources to triage any application-centric issues or remote site config issues, but will need to seamlessly integrate with a field-service operation that can visit any given site, deploy or upgrade any hardware or fix any local networking issues, to bring that site back up and delivering the ROI as planned. Having a robust and aligned field-service, on-site support function, guarantees that once the service has been deployed, it has every chance of really delivering the anticipated benefits, even in the unlikely event of service outages or problems.

You can see, that quite apart from the headline technical issues associated with deploying an SD_WAN infrastructure, there are several key service imperatives that have a massive impact on the success of the SD-WAN deployment. It is fair to say, that deploying an SD-WAN infrastructure is not the height of technical complexity, but it is clear that without taking the simple deployment steps outlined here, there is a very strong chance that the project will simply fail to deliver the anticipated benefits that the technology seeks to deliver. It isn’t just a case of smart technology delivering the benefit, but is the combined effect of the smart technology and comprehensively planned deployment, integrated with an appropriate support regime, that really delivers on the promise of SD-WANs.

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