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Is SD-WAN Right For You?

Ensuring a higher level of network efficiency at a lower cost than traditional WAN infrastructures is the primary value proposed by SD-WAN. Even though the SD-WAN market is experiencing tremendous growth, many businesses are still hesitant in adopting this new technology. Since mission-critical applications within the modern business are often dependent on a reliable WAN infrastructure, a cautious evaluation of SD-WAN is necessary to avoid potential business catastrophe. If you’re trying to figure out whether SD-WAN best suits the needs of your business‘s current network infrastructure, there are several questions that should be asked.

How Critical Is The Network To Your Business?

A high-performing, streamlined network is a great thing to have, but the cost of developing such a network can quickly exceed the average budget. A mid-level retailer which needs access to a half-dozen or so cloud based applications may not require the efficiency provided by SD-WAN, while a larger enterprise business with multiple branch offices could require minimal latency and downtime to ensure seamless connections between each branch.
If any of your business operations are dependent on a reliable and consistent WAN connection, then SD-WAN may be the right choice for you.

Does Your Network Rely On MPLS?

MPLS has been the de facto standard for providing reliable data connections between remote locations. The carrier handles WAN routing, which makes MPLS a simpler operation, and built-in support for Quality of Service (QoS) enables for the preferential treatment of specified services, such as VoIP, video, or bulk file transfers.
All that sounds great, but as businesses shift to the cloud, which demands real-time access to these mission-critical applications, MPLS is quickly becoming a less efficient solution. Ultimately, SD-WAN offers a far greater range of functionality and higher performance over MPLS when it comes to the cloud. More importantly, SD-WAN is significantly more affordable than MPLS, which means that if your network is currently reliant on MPLS, making the switch to SD-WAN may be an obvious choice that can significantly reduce operational costs.

What Are Your Bandwidth Requirements?

Within the enterprise, an increase in bandwidth is often treated as a cure-all for any issues within the network. Sometimes this helps solve the problem of latency and network failure, but blindly increasing bandwidth capacity is a costly solution for what could be a relatively simple issue.
Before considering making the transition to SD-WAN, it’s important to evaluate the actual needs of your network in a thorough and concise manner. This will not only help you arrive at an objective understanding of your bandwidth requirements, which can potentially help you cut costs, but also identify any performance issues that may be limiting your network. By addressing these issues, you may find SD-WAN to be an entirely unnecessary expense.

Do You Understand the Needs of Your Network?

Perhaps the most important question to ask is whether you understand the needs of your network and answering that question will also help you address everything else you need to know. Bandwidth requirements, the interconnection of remote offices, the performance demand of business applications, and the current architecture of your network are the most important pieces of information that should be understood and kept in mind when evaluating or anticipating changes to your network.
At first glance, it may seem like figuring all of this out would be a time-consuming process that could eat up man-hours and cost a lot, but that’s not necessarily true. Establishing an accurate understanding for the needs of your network can be a simple task that only takes an afternoon using a WAN emulation appliance, such as the Netropy N61 from Apposite Technologies.

How Do You Figure It All Out?

By replicating your live network conditions in a test network emulated by one of these appliances, you can observe the performance of applications and protocols under the same conditions you can expect to encounter once any changes are made. This provides an accurate and reliable understanding of the impact these changes will have on your network and allow you to evaluate end-user experience in a safe environment before committing to any of those changes. The WAN emulator also allows you to apply impairments, such as latency and packet loss, within the emulated test network, which can help you identify the cause of any performance degradation. The ability to throttle bandwidth as needed can also help you figure out the bandwidth requirements of your network.
If your network currently handles the interconnection between multiple sites, you can also use the WAN emulator to simulate the deployment of those sites and observe the limitations an SD-WAN controller could present. If you already have an MPLS network in place, settings can be manipulated to alter the flow of traffic to get an idea for how your network will perform without it. Conduct a series of actions users may often engage in, add and remove users, reconfigure nodes, and test everything you can.
Check out this whitepaper from Apposite Technologies for a more thorough description of how to properly test SD-WAN using a WAN emulator.

What’s Next?

An SD-WAN solution can make the most of the WAN links they control in a way that increases the capacity and reliability at a reduced price point, but an SD-WAN architecture may not be the best solution to meet the needs of your business. Once you’ve tested your network and figured out an answer to the questions presented in this article and determined that SD-WAN is a good fit for the needs of your network, figuring out which vendor provides the most appropriate SD-WAN technology should be the next step.
There are multiple solutions from multiple vendors and each one presents its own proprietary algorithm to handle the routing of traffic. They also come with different features at different price points. Will you build your own SD-WAN or choose a managed solution? How to go about figuring this out is the topic for another article. Be sure to check out the whitepaper on testing SD-WAN for a more detailed walk through of the process.

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