SD-WAN Transformation: Empowering the Digital Enterprise
Jan 16, 2023

SD-WAN Transformation: Empowering the Digital Enterprise

SD-WAN is the buzz word in today’s digital economy as every organization is inclined to adopt SD-WAN as part of their digital transformation journey and to alleviate some of the key issues they face in infrastructure operations. 

Enterprises are dealing with dynamically changing network traffic patterns as application workloads move between on-premises and cloud infrastructures while users move in and out of office network boundaries to access enterprise applications from home or public hotspots. The need for enhanced speed and rapid scalability has increased multifold. While enterprises are adopting a hybrid WAN strategy with distributed internet and security to counter performance issues of such dynamic environments, there is a need to have an intelligent traffic routing solution at the WAN edge which is fulfilled by SD-WAN. 

The SD-WAN Promise

SD-WAN performs intelligent traffic routing at the WAN edge while enabling few more solution sets in the form of application visibility, edge network service consolidation with NFV, modular security solutions, centralized policy-based control, and faster PnP provisioning. SD-WAN seamlessly connects business branches, without the hassle of maintaining complex systems, manual time-intensive MPLS upgrades, or dedicated IT teams at individual locations. Precisely the reasons why SD-WAN is getting adopted as a default WAN edge in the enterprise.

According to analyst surveys, almost half of the global enterprises still backhaul internet traffic to a central location, leading to latency and rising WAN expenses. The resulting cost, performance, and flexibility challenges ultimately dampen user satisfaction. WAN is perceived by customers as either “brittle and slow”, “prone to outage” or “highly expensive”, while what they needed was a “cost-effective and agile” solution. It is evident that enterprises will need to transform their network infrastructure sooner rather than later to support rapidly evolving end user needs. 

So how should enterprises go about with an SD-WAN implementation? Should they go through the rigmarole of procuring hardware/software from OEMs before consulting a Service Provider (for MPLS circuits) or should it select a reliable System Integrator to deliver an end-to-end solution? Or is there yet another way to achieve the intended outcome? This paper takes a deep-dive into the why enterprises need WAN edge transformation, how to leverage SD-WAN to deliver on its promise, and who should drive the transformation.

A graphic by Microland showing what SD-WAN addresses and the customer benefits of SD-WAN transformation

Digital Transformation Impacts the Traditional WAN Marketplace

At its core, digital transformation is all about accelerating the pace of business through improvements in performance, speed, and reach. For an enterprise to successfully embark on its digital transformation journey, it is imperative that its IT Infrastructure capability is geared to leverage NextGen technologies such as cloud, SaaS applications, and more. However, traditional WAN architectures are typically complex with little visibility into application performance and control and can take weeks if not months to provision besides requiring time consuming MPLS upgrades and CPE equipment refresh. As digital transformation becomes imperative, the need for higher bandwidth and availability, real-time application-level visibility, low latency, and superior security become evident. The situation is further compounded by the challenges and limitations of MPLS-based VPN service offerings that businesses have predominantly relied on as the standard connectivity solution for the past decade or two. While these solutions worked well in the absence of other options, the emergence of newer technologies such as IoT, Big Data, AI and ML is forcing the traditional WAN marketplace to undergo a complete makeover. 

Paving the Way for NextGen Network Experience

SD-WAN is that change-agent that the traditional WAN marketplace needed. SD-WAN enables IT to not just respond rapidly to evolving business needs, but it does so intelligently, cost-effectively, securely, and in a highly flexible fashion. Through application-aware networking, it enables dynamic path selection leveraging the underlying transport technology (MPLS, broadband Internet, 5G or LTE). The result is superior flexibility and agility to ramp up/down network resource consumption, end-to-end visibility enabling IT to control network performance in real-time, improved user experience, and significantly lower branch equipment CAPEX and operational costs. The benefits do not end here. SD-WAN can be a great enabler for enterprises to embrace zero trust security principles and integrate innovative technologies such as 5G networks, cloud-based Wi-Fi, IoT/ IIoT, AI and ML, paving the way for a truly NexGen network experience. 

SD-WAN Signals the End of Edge Routers 

Much like the way virtual machines and hypervisors replaced the monolithic hardware in the data centers and cloud, SD-WAN will replace conventional routing appliance-based architecture in the enterprise IT infrastructure space.

Picture this – if an enterprise installs a router for one of its branches, it will not only cost more but will come with the limited ability to service only that location. Alternately, if the enterprise chooses to deploy SD-WAN, it can connect all its remote branches seamlessly to a common network using the internet and enjoy greater flexibility and agility at an economically competitive price point. The low-cost of the internet compared to MPLS services enables enterprises to significantly reduce their monthly spend on bandwidth, while improving key parameters related to agility, scale, and user-experience.

SD-WAN also has other advantages over traditional deployment. It enables bandwidth optimization through dynamic traffic path selection. Most traditional WAN architectures fall short when trying to meet the quality-of-service demands for public cloud computing. SD-WAN, on the other hand, boosts application performance both on-premises and in the cloud. 

Transformation Approach - Future-proofing Network IT Infrastructure Investments 

Choosing between DIY vs. a trusted partner is a typical dilemma most organizations face once they are convinced that WAN transformation is the way to go. While SD-WAN’s touted benefits of centralized management and zero touch provisioning may make it seem like a plug and play solution, enterprises would need the right expertise to harness these superpowers. Much like any other new technology, considerable investment – in terms of time, effort, and people – is required during the initial design as well as subsequent deployment stages. The fact that the network technology has evolved to include new areas like Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), vendor offerings are complex which further complicates the adoption decision. Enterprises considering the DIY approach to SD-WAN face a two-fold challenge – lack of internal resources and bandwidth to implement SD-WAN and the ability to continuously stay abreast with SD-WAN innovations. 

Roadblocks in Enterprise SD-WAN Adoption

Here are some of the common roadblocks that enterprises experience during SD-WAN adoption:

  • Rigid customer WAN contracts with telecom providers
  • Challenges defining the right goals and outcomes
  • Choosing the right technology and vendor partner for your business
  • Underestimating the variations and challenges of the environment
  • Prolonged periods of POC and pilot implementations
  • Inability to deliver tangible cost savings
  • Rising Internet costs in developing Goes
  • Managing the size and spread of customer business
  • Difficulty in correlating technology to business impact
  • Lack of a resilient IT and network infrastructure strategy post SD-WAN adoption

Partnering with an SD-WAN Solution Provider versus a DIY approach

There are four key reasons why a vast majority of enterprises prefer partnering with an SD-WAN solution provider over the DIY option.

  1. Mitigate Risk: By collaborating on technology selection, offloading technology implementation and management to trusted third party experts, enterprises will be able to eliminate the inherent risks associated with deploying an innovative technology. A fully managed network fabric enables centralized orchestration and load balancing for superior WAN performance and security across global branch locations. This is where a trusted partner like Microland with a proven track record of successful network transformation and management can benefit your enterprise transformation initiatives. 
  2. Accelerate Implementation: In-housing technology management can mean heavy upfront CapEx investment for businesses, and at a time when technologies are evolving rapidly, it can become an overwhelming experience for internal IT operations to keep pace. Partnering with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) ensures businesses have access to the latest infrastructure, expert resources, and ready deployment blueprints which are critical factors to ensure a quick and smooth implementation. Further, the MSP can help transform heavy upfront CapEx investment into a relatively easy to manage OpEx spend that can be spread over a reasonable time-period. 
  3. Eliminate Vendor Lock-in: By leveraging a trusted SD-WAN provider’s fully integrated SDN platform, an enterprise can steer clear of ‘lock-ins’ to a single vendor or technology solution. MSPs can also, in some cases, allow direct connectivity to multiple cloud providers through a customized WAN-cloud exchange solution, enabling enterprises to strike the right balance between price, performance, and resiliency. 
  4. Simplify Network Management: For most small and mid-sized organizations, an SD-WAN solution provider plays a role akin to a Starfighter in Star Wars. Tasked with keeping IT infrastructure operational and agile during crisis, identifying, and remediating problems, and optimizing overall network performance, an MSP plays a critical role in making SD-WAN work as intended. Enterprises can realize operational benefits through automation quicker when they partner with an MSP like Microland who is well recognized by industry analysts for their automation capabilities.

Top Factors to Consider Before Embarking on an SD-WAN Transformation

Here are the top factors that enterprises need to consider while planning an SD-WAN transformation:

  • Appropriate POC/pilot coverage to account for all variations in the environment
  • Assurance of technical and operational design features
  • Management buy-in on plan, transformation, and expected outcomes
  • Clearly outlined risk mitigation plan to achieve outcomes within planned timeframe
  • Clear understanding of regulatory and compliance factors prevalent in the country of deployment and operation
  • Digitized project plan aligning internal and external stakeholders

There are NO Standard Templates for WAN Transformation

Enterprise WAN architectures are unique in terms of their geo-location, availability of MPLS or internet broadband services, as well as the applications that need to be supported. They are also different in terms of where applications are hosted - on-premises or cloud (public, private or hybrid) and user expectations related to availability, latency, scalability, etc. However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to WAN transformation. Different WAN infrastructure technologies such as cloud management and orchestration, SDN, and advanced LTE support specific use cases. The decision to use one over the other requires deliberation. Deciding whether one of them or a cluster of them is best suited to your organizational goals is the key to realizing superior ROI from WAN investments. 

What’s more, the SD-WAN provider market is congested with cloud networking, WAN and LAN vendors moving in to get a piece of this pie. So how should enterprises go about choosing the right SD-WAN solution provider? Enterprises must evaluate their strategies and plans as much as those of the MSPs to reap the right benefits in the promised timeframe. 

What Should Enterprises Consider When Selecting an SD-WAN Transformation Partner?

Here are three important capabilities that enterprises must consider when selecting an SD-WAN transformation partner: 

1. Deployment expertise with nuanced understanding of the industry vertical: The right SD-WAN solution provider should be able to assess, design, transform, and manage the end-to-end WAN infrastructure through customization. 

Not all enterprises deploy SD-WAN for the same reasons. Requirements can vary across business sizes and the industry verticals, and even across applications deployed at the enterprise and their branch locations. For instance, day-to-day branch operations may require a simple connectivity overlay to exchange data to and from branch locations to a central cloud repository or a data center, but surveillance monitoring systems will need additional security features to safeguard operations. Similarly, in industries such as banking, financial services, and healthcare that require compliance with stringent security requirements the SD-WAN requirements may be very different. In such situations an MSP can implement robust security measures. These could include IDS/IPS, anti-virus modules, vulnerability scan, and advanced unified threat management (UTM) systems as part of the WAN infrastructure. The MSP should have the right people, processes, and technology expertise to offer tiered support to cater to low, high, and mission-critical requirements. If the MSP can offer analytics capabilities on top of tiered services, it provides an extra layer of visibility and WAN optimization that enterprises typically desire.

Microland explaining the trick to finding your best-fit SD-WAN solution provider

2. Leverages strategic partnerships: In most cases, buying an SD-WAN solution from a single vendor is likely to curtail independence and constrain the choices available for enterprises. Opting for a fully managed and integrated network solution from a reputed SD-WAN solution provider is a better option. Such providers typically establish strategic working partnerships with key players in the WAN value chain to ensure a smoother deployment and cost-effective management. These include alliances with telco service providers for circuits, OEMs for hardware/software, and local vendors to provide rack and stack or hands and feet and break-fix support. This type of service chain also helps enterprises customize SD-WAN solutions through additional functionalities such as security and WAN optimization.

Some of the key considerations to consider when buying an SD-WAN transformation solution

3. Focus on User Experience: The main catalyst behind organizations shifting to SD-WAN is to acquire the ability to efficiently leverage any available combination of public and private cloud services. Instead of using internet links or wireless networks in a passive mode as a back-up link to the primary MPLS circuits, enterprises prefer to use all these simultaneously to provide better user experience. MSPs focus has been on achieving and bettering SLAs agreed.

Explanation of why enterprises should look at SD-WAN transformation as an opportunity to move past SLAs or XLAs

Enterprises are wary of Relinquishing Control to MSPs

While the benefits of SD-WAN are becoming increasingly clear to enterprise decision makers, a substantial proportion of them are still wary of letting MSPs take total control. 

Perhaps, one reason why several enterprises are skeptical is that they have relied on vendors for a long time for infrastructure transformation and network management without getting the desired service or value that would propel business success. Many businesses prefer status quo because it comes with less risk of disruption which helps them maintain the existing levels of service. To achieve excellence, it is imperative for enterprises to find a partner who is willing to look beyond the immediate goal of transformation and managing SLAs. Enterprises need a partner who would combine their technical and operational expertise with shared understanding of business goals and collaborate to deliver business benefits. A trusted partner enables smooth transition from your current technology estate and services to a resilient SDN. 

Why Choose Microland as your Trusted SD-WAN Transformation Partner?

Microland has been recognized globally by both Gartner and ISG as a Leader in the SDN Transformations and Managed Network Services space. The recognition is due to our ability to be a trusted partner and deliver the highest levels of performance in a manner that increases business capabilities and outcomes for our clients.

Our in-house Intelligeni NetOps Platform provides the ability to innovate by easily integrating with new technology and dynamic capacity allocation with a single pane of orchestration and administration. 

  • With the right mix of technology experts and technology services, Microland can help enterprises with the following:
  • Deliver an integrated WAN edge solution that is cloud-ready and agnostic to underlying transport along with application visibility and end-to-end service management capability 
  • Introduce, deploy, and manage technologies such as private 5G, Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA)
  • Accelerate branch rollouts through Build-Operate-Transform (BOT) factory model that are proven and time tested 
  • Leverage existing knowledge base from multiple client engagements along with proven automation tools and processes to provide a seamless transition and integration
  • Post transformation, technology-led, human assisted way of operations through Intelligeni Bots, AIOps, and Network DevOps

About the Author

Harish M N, Director - Networks & Cybersecurity

Further Reading on SD-WAN Transformation