June 15, 2022 | 8 min read
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Getting started with SD-WAN

Hein Pattyn

Product Officer SD-WAN, SASE & Security

Whether your goal is to optimize application performance or get real-time visibility over network traffic, enhanced cloud connectivity could be the answer, simplified by SD-WAN. 

SD-WAN introduces a network overlay that lets you respond to changing business needs with speed and flexibility. Company-wide policies can be distributed from a central management portal, providing SaaS applications, users, and locations with better network performance as the situation demands. 

Unfortunately, many organizations have become locked into traditional networks, and struggle to design, deploy, and manage cloud-connected architecture. This article sets out a useful approach to the big decisions associated with moving to an SD-WAN model—and as you’ll see, they’re not all decided in the IT department. Let’s get started. 

Switching to SD-WAN: the advantages

The emergence of cloud applications has been driving organizations to re-think their traditional network infrastructure. It’s true SD-WAN is ideal for this—a private network overlaid on public networks, with data flowing securely within an encrypted virtual structure. But suitability for cloud isn’t the only driver of SD-WAN. Let’s look at some others.  

  1. The growth of SaaS goes hand-in-hand with cloud connectivity—thanks to a basic law of economics: success in business comes from doing what you’re best at, and buying in what you’re not. Relying on outsourced applications like Office 365, with millions of users (or even your own custom applications within a datacenter) is a great reason to adopt SD-WAN as your new network model—cloud, SaaS, and SD-WAN are complementary. 
  2.  You’ll also find next-generation technology is betting heavily on SD-WAN. While older technologies like MPLS work well, they’re dependent on specific hardware setups to get the most out of them. With the technology world exploding into a mass of different devices and form factors, SD-WAN’s flexible implementation—a network defined in software—makes a better choice for connecting all users, across all devices.
  3. Automation is another buzzword: the drive to reduce human workloads by moving the “busywork” into efficient, machine-run processes. Again, the flexible nature of an SD-WAN helps business processes—which may span different applications and data sources—come together on a level field, where they can be rolled out, connected, and managed centrally. 
  4. While it’s not a tech term, the move to ROI is perhaps the biggest factor of all. Because when your business network is flexible, adaptable, and connects your people and processes seamlessly, it delivers higher return—and for today’s CIO, IT infrastructure is no longer a cost, but an investment. SD-WAN can make it perform. 

There are more positives to get started—but these are the biggest. Let’s look now at the choices to be made along the way. 

Getting started with SD-WAN: the steps 

Assuming you’ve made the early choices—the decision to adopt SD-WAN itself, the technology you’ll use to do it, and the team that’ll manage it (whether in-house or an outsourced MSP like Expereo) there’s a certain sequence of steps to take next. First up involves your general architecture. 

Step 1: determine the architecture 

There are several ways to sketch up a functioning architecture for your SD-WAN—but among the best is to think on two levels: high and low.  

Your high level design starts with a prioritized list. First list the individual applications you’ll use on your SD-WAN—in many cases, they’ll be apps already in use within your organization—and rank them in order of importance. Obviously, mission-critical come first (those your business can’t function without) then business-critical (those that increase efficiency and effectiveness but aren’t core). Next, work out where those applications reside—in the cloud? Your own datacenter? At head office? This gives you insight into what capacity is needed where. 

All this info feeds into your low level design. This is more of a resourcing exercise than a discovery process. How many people need your most critical applications, and where they’re best placed to answer those needs. In days gone by, the critical metrics were server speed and disk capacity; now, it’s more burst bandwidth and network latency.  

Obviously you’ll get much of your info from network statistics and reports—but don’t forget to ask real people about their experiences, too. Your SD-WAN isn’t simply a replacement; it’s an improvement. Now onto Step 2. 

Step 2: Real-world testing (aka Phase Zero) 

With your SD-WAN set up, it’s time for phase zero: testing a limited number of locations (at Expereo we often find that means 4-5) on the new network and making sure all applications and data connections are working as planned. On the basis nothing ever goes totally according to plan—this is where you find out where the gaps are. Phase Zero testing is standard practice for us; it should be for you, too. 

With apps relevant to each location deployed and an initial set of users using them, it’s time to watch and learn for a while. Even 4-5 locations will give you deep insight into how the final rollout should look, with the right resources allocated to every site and user across the organization. And when you’re confident, it’s time for Step 3. 

Step 3: mass rollout: the master plan 

With careful attention to Steps 1 and 2, the third phase should be straightforward: it’s where you roll out all applications and sites to the rest of your world after testing them at a smaller scale. There’s a useful acronym here: QoE. 

QoE means “Quality of Experience”, and it measures (more accurately, estimates) the satisfaction of actual users with the SD-WAN. Note this is different to QoS, Quality of Service. QoE isn’t about hard metrics like speeds and feeds, but about whether the network is genuinely answering the needs of real people on it.  

 It’s a “softer” measure than QoS, but there are still numbers you can gather. The smoothness of each application in use; the seamlessness of login and authentication; how people feel it performs at busy times like the 9am switch-on. In general, if your users are happy and productive, you’re ahead. 

Future steps: life cycle management 

Of course, work doesn’t stop when the rollout’s complete. Ongoing monitoring against parameters and objectives lets you keep the good times going, in a process of continuous improvement. This perhaps is where SD-WAN’s flexibility carries your greatest advantage.  

If bandwidth to one site is squeezed, or an application elsewhere is underperforming, it can be resolved without replacing hardware—often from a single dashboard. And with features like Expereo’s Cloud Acceleration offering a way to optimize performance automatically, you’ll find numerous ways to make your SD-WAN even better. 

SD-WAN success is step by step  

There’s little doubt SD-WAN is the future—and we hope this article has given you an initial checklist to get started. As acknowledged experts in private networks with a public underlay, Expereo has built and maintained SD-WANs for hundreds of global businesses. Why not ask about joining them? 

Hein Pattyn

Product Officer SD-WAN, SASE & Security

With over 15 years of experience in promoting AAN, SDN, SD-WAN and SASE to global enterprises, Hein is Expereo's global SD-WAN and SASE Product Officer. His expertise lays in bringing to market SD-WAN and SASE services.

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