Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) is fast becoming one of the most popular network technologies for enterprises. Due to its quality of services, enhanced application performance, minimal architectural complexity, simple set-up, and reduced cost, SD-WAN is increasingly popular and rapidly transforming network technologies. According to Kentik’s data collection reports, it is expected that 95% of enterprises will have moved from traditional WAN to SD-WAN architectures within 24 months, due to the vital factors mentioned above.
Almost all industry analysts have closely documented the rise of SD-WAN. Cisco, VMware, and many other firms have moved to SD-WAN technology by modernising the existing Wide Area Networking (WAN) edge. Opportunities like cost reduction due to the depreciation of Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) circuits, improvements in cloud SaaS application performance by Direct Access of Internet (DIA) from branches, and termination of backhauling and consequent latency solutions are all key draws to make the leap to SD-WAN. Nevertheless, the move is not necessarily simple. Challenges associated with migration from existing technologies to SD-WAN arise from factors including: optimisation of links, broadband, impacts of moving towards the cloud, and networking architecture.
The problems and requirements of users and customers are incredibly diverse. Network planners therefore must balance requirements based on application response time, SaaS performance, adoption towards the hybrid cloud, and sites to migrate. Choosing between a physical, hybrid, or virtual solution is another key consideration. Even more crucial, arguably, is the choice of vendor. In the United States alone, 40+ vendors are providing vital services related to SD-WAN. According to President and CEO of LiveAction, Brooks Borcherding, these questions have made this decision of transformation difficult for companies and have paralysed their SD-WAN deployment. What kind of visibility is necessary throughout the entire lifecycle of the SD-WAN is a further, essential concern of users.
What kind of visibility is necessary throughout the entire lifecycle of the SD-WAN is a further, essential concern of users.
This context sheds light on the importance of visibility in the deployment lifecycle of SD-WAN. Here we look briefly at the entire life cycle of SD-WAN deployment to understand the role of visibility in different phases. We can divide the SD-WAN deployment stages into three steps:
Pre-deployment or Planning Phase:
This is a pre-deployment stage, better known as planning phase or “Day 0”. At this early stage before taking action, it’s important to consider all the existing structures and have a reference point for current performance based on existing practices. This reference will help evaluate the desired results and calculations of the changes after the upgrade. Network engineers take part in this phase and assess all the existing techniques, applications, devices, states, paths, and user data. Interoperation of SD-WAN with existing technology and infrastructure is evaluated, as well as the enterprise’s key concern of how their customers will interact with the hybrid state during the transitional period. This planning stage also assesses whether existing infrastructure could be upgraded to an SD-WAN and how much it would cost for the upgrade, which is done by establishing a connection between all the branches via upgraded technology. For example, SD-WAN from Cisco can run over 1 million existing ISR routers. But the same wouldn’t be possible with many other appliances.
In this way, visibility is used at “Day 0” to get an insight into the baseline before deployment of SD-WAN. Visibility at this stage helps teams to understand the optimisation of the business.
Deployment or Building Phase:
This stage is also commonly called “Day 1”. This phase validates the deployment of SD-WAN as per standard and expected outcomes in an efficient way. The fulfillment of intended policies is ensured to the customers by newly adopted SD-WAN technology. Application performance should also meet expectations. The Hawthorne effect dictates assumptions of negative performance. It is therefore critical to validate the success of the transition via pre-customer and post-customer performance. After the pilot sites’ growth, transformation of the remaining sites is easy. The success of Day 1 ensures the successful implementation of the whole. Essential practices of this phase are visualisation of the fabric of SD-WAN, visualisation of traffic traversing and all the traffic links, and auditing of traffic against SD-WAN policies.
Ongoing Operation/Management Phase:
Visibility on Day 2 plays a vital role, as the selection of traffic paths by SD-WAN controllers is highly dynamic, and based on the current application or network. That’s why continuous monitoring and evaluation are necessary for this phase to catch policy exceptions. Degraded application performance is also fixed through constant monitoring. This phase’s critical practices identify and track network health, SD-WAN transport alerts, and utilisation for transport circuits. This phase is more than ongoing management, which is of course essential, but not enough. It also includes the continuous optimisation of the network’s performance.
Visibility plays a vital role in understanding an SD-WAN’s operational impact. After scaling out of the deployment, visibility plays a vital role in monitoring critical performance levels. It also helps in policy optimisation, along with pro-active alerting and systematic troubleshooting. As SD-WAN does not operate in isolation, it interoperates within a network of many parts. That’s why a proper understanding of its interaction with the web is desirable to monitor all of its impacts on the whole, allowing performance levels to remain optimal. In all, network visibility with SD-WAN is therefore of great importance for operational impacts. A shift towards SD-WAN will not impede user experience, nor burden IT teams. Instead, visibility can develop a successful and satisfying transformation towards SD-WAN.