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Know what to look for when evaluating an SD-WAN solution

14th November 2019 Print

WAN performance is an important part of the modern digital business. Services like UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) demand high-performance connections, and WAN bottlenecks can bring productivity to a halt. For this reason, it is important for IT decision makers to know what to look for when it comes to SD-WAN.  

Here, we’ll take a look at the 3 most common approaches to deploying SD-WAN, the pros and cons of different approaches, and review some important items to consider when evaluating an SD-WAN solution. 

The different types of SD-WAN

IT managers deploying WAN solutions and industry experts have both recognized that SD-WAN can deliver real tangible benefits to WAN performance and the bottom line. However, it is important to note that there isn’t just one single type of SD-WAN. Selecting the wrong SD-WAN model for your use case can lead to you missing out on the benefits, so understanding them is important. 

The 3 most common SD-WAN approaches are:

- DIY (Do-It-Yourself) SD-WAN. Uses appliances to provide WAN overlay functionality and bring the benefits of SDN (Software Defined Networking) to the WAN. Also known as appliance-based SD-WAN, DIY SD-WAN offers enterprises full control over how they deploy and manage their SD-WAN solution.

- Provider-managed SD-WAN. Leverages the same underlying technology as SD-WAN, but delivers it as a service from an MSP (often a telco). This approach allows enterprises to offload much of the operational complexity of maintaining the WAN for a premium price.

- Cloud-based SD-WAN. Delivers the “standard” SD-WAN overlay benefits with a private backbone and cloud-native network infrastructure to go along with it. This allows enterprises to benefit from SLAs, flexible cloud-based management models, and security features included in the network infrastructure. 

Here's what to look for

So how do you know which approach is right for you? Generally, it’d advisable to evaluate the solutions 

taking into account the 5 attributes below, and make a decision based upon your needs.

- Reliability

Since both DIY and provider-managed SD-WAN are effectively only network overlays, reliability depends on the underlying network transport methods used. The underlying transport methods can range from unreliable public Internet connections to leased MPLS lines. While also providing overlay functionality, cloud-based solutions include a private backbone that comes with a 99.999% uptime guarantee helping enterprises address uptime concerns without purchasing expensive MPLS bandwidth.

- Agility

With provider-managed SD-WAN, change management can be a damper on agility. Changes as simple as modifying a network rule may require a change request that takes a day or two to complete. DIY SD-WAN leaves everything up to the enterprise. This means organizations can move as fast as their IT Ops teams will let them. In organizations where IT infrastructure and network engineering are core competencies and IT is well-staffed, this can mean DIY SD-WAN offers plenty of operational agility and flexibility. 

However, sourcing appliances for deploying new sites and the time it takes to provision them can still create bottlenecks. The “co-managed” approach of cloud-based SD-WAN allows enterprises to change configurations as they see fit, while still enabling them to offload work to the provider where it makes sense. 

- Security

With DIY and provider-managed SD-WAN, security must be implemented using additional appliances and solutions. While this is certainly possible, it adds to the complexity of the network and increases the likelihood for oversights when configuring security policies. As the network grows, so does the chance for human error leading to a misconfiguration at one of the sites, creating a vulnerability. 

With cloud-native solutions, security features are inherently a part of the cloud-native network infrastructure. As opposed to deploying multiple security appliances like NGFWs (Next-generation firewalls) or SWGs (Secure Web Gateways), enterprises benefit from them being part of the network fabric to begin with. This reduces the oversight risks and makes it easier to scale network security policies.

- Manageability

With provider-managed solutions, the complexities of management are abstracted away. This means enterprises don’t need to worry about the nuts and bolts of WAN management. With DIY SD-WAN, everything is up to the enterprise, meaning management can become complex. The tradeoff between the two approaches is one of complexity vs control. 

With the cloud-native option, enterprises can select the balance of complexity and control that works for them. The co-managed model allows organizations to manage the WAN when they want or need to, but still offload work to the vendor when they choose to. Further, premium cloud SD-WAN providers also offer fully managed services for the enterprises that prefer that management model. 

- Scalability 

Both DIY and provider-managed SD-WAN are tied to on-premises appliances to scale. Whether these appliances are hardware or software, they still take time to get off the ground or take offline when spinning up or down new locations. Similarly, appliances can be limited in capacity and resources, creating additional bottlenecks. 

With a cloud-native SD-WAN solution, enterprises gain the scalability of the cloud. New sites can be rapidly spun up or down. Capacity can be easily increased thanks to the economies of scale of cloud-native. 

There’s only one SD-WAN solution that checks all the boxes…

You may have noticed there is a clear pattern when we evaluate the different approaches to SD-WAN: cloud-based SD-WAN meets or exceeds the benefits of the other options across all categories. While DIY and provider-managed SD-WAN force you to choose between complexity or control and limit your scalability, cloud-native infrastructure lets you choose your management model and offers the hyperscale of the cloud. Security with DIY and provider-managed SD-WAN can also be a challenge, while cloud-native builds security into the infrastructure, making it simple.  Further, a private backbone helps the cloud-native option deliver reliability at a global scale. Simply put, cloud-based SD-WAN checks all the boxes for the modern enterprise.