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SD WAN – Are Barriers to Adoption Real?

Adoption rates for SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Networks) continue to grow. A study by data analysts IDG found that SD-WAN adoption rates increased from 35 percent of respondents in 2017 to 54 percent in 2019, with predicted future adoption rates of 90 percent.

Despite this, respondents to this and many other studies found that a number of concerns and myths are holding back wider adoption. These include concerns about security, skills gaps, existing investment and cost and complexity of deployment. A lack of understanding of SD-WAN technology has also led to myths about performance in relation to voice quality.

However, BroadConnect believes that by working with the right partner, organizations can ensure a successful deployment and obtain full benefit from SD-WAN.

SD-WAN Security

Security is the number one concern for organizations considering SD-WAN according to Gartner and other analysts. Part of the reason is that traditional security solutions were not designed for the scalability, elasticity and performance requirements of SD-WAN. Using traditional solutions to inspect encrypted traffic moving within the wider network can create delays that affect network performance and reduce the potential benefits of SD-WAN. Additionally, many organizations have deployed complex multi-vendor security solutions across different environments within their networks.

As these solutions offer different levels of protection and may not be interconnected, this can open variable threat levels across the organization and increase security management complexity. One of the key benefits of SD-WAN is that it simplifies branch connectivity and enables organizations to leverage the Internet to support more efficient cloud connections from the branch. However, this also increases the potential threat area — just bolting traditional solutions onto SD-WAN is not sufficient.

BroadConnect recommends an integrated security strategy using tools that are specifically designed for SD-WAN environments. The tools should be integrated into the overall SD-WAN solution rather than considered as an afterthought and they should be managed through a single management interface. The aim is to create a single security solution that offers consistent protection for critical applications across the complete network and adapts to changing connectivity and threat levels.

Internal Skills Gaps

As SD-WAN is a relatively new technology, many organizations feel that they do not have the in-house skills and resources to deploy and manage SD-WAN. Organizations that consider adopting SD-WAN using a DIY approach will need IT staff responsible for sourcing and deploying system components, then monitoring and managing the service against service level agreements on a day-to-day basis. The IT staff will also be responsible for maintenance and upgrades as well as integration of new sites or scaling to meet growth or changing business demands.

This will require significant SD-WAN skills, knowledge and resources. As a result, the skills gap is widely reported as one of the top barriers to adoption by many industry studies. Gartner, for example, found that nearly 50 percent of businesses planning to deploy SD-WAN cited lack of familiarity with the technology as a major concern.

BroadConnect recommends using managed SD-WAN services to overcome this challenge. Managed service provides access to skilled, experienced SD-WAN professionals who manage and maintain the system and handle any upgrades so that the network is always using the latest version of software. Managed service providers offer a single point of contact for monitoring, reporting, and incident and change management of the SD-WAN solution.

In addition to eliminating the skills gap, managed SD-WAN services can also help control internal costs, improve efficiency and allow the internal team to focus on higher objectives.

Investment Protection

The traditional solution for WAN transport has been MPLS (Multi-protocol label switching) and organizations have made a significant investment in the technology. MPLS provides a predictable service for WAN transport, particularly for mission-critical and demanding applications such as voice.

Despite the high cost of MPLS, organizations may be reluctant to write off their investment in the technology. They may also be cautious about the performance of relatively new SD-WAN solutions compared to established MPLS systems and may be unwilling to risk change as early adopters.

BroadConnect believes that SD-WAN does not need to replace MPLS or other networking technology investments. SD-WAN’s intelligent software creates a network overlay that decouples control and routing functions from underlying hardware. SD-WANs are also vendor-neutral and transport-agnostic so they work with any existing network protocol.

By assessing application requirements and existing network infrastructure, an optimized solution can be designed that integrates multiple WAN connections, including MPLS and the Internet, and uses SD-WAN to make the most effective use of bandwidth and ensure that each type of traffic travels on the most appropriate route. For example, mission-critical applications might use existing MPLS while other applications and services use broadband or other types of transport. This reduces overall dependence on MPLS while improving network performance and protecting existing investment.

Ensuring Call Quality

One of the myths surrounding SD-WAN is that it cannot necessarily guarantee call quality – a critical factor for applications such as voice or Unified Communication (UC). Some vendors claim that SD-WAN can guarantee call quality by prioritizing voice or UC traffic and by monitoring and maintaining call quality.

These claims are only partially true because call quality can also be affected by issues in the underlying network that are beyond the control of SD-WAN. SD-WAN is an overlay technology and does not solve the problems associated with inadequate transport. It can only optimize applications across the transport links provided to it. For example, if the network team prioritize a number of different traffic types, voice may not get the highest prioritization and there may be problems if the network does not have the capacity to handle all prioritized traffic at peak times. Additionally, different vendors use a range of metrics to measure call quality and identify potential faults. Monitoring may not identify some, possibly critical, underlying network issues that impact call quality.

BroadConnect believes that by designing and engineering an SD-WAN solution that puts the highest priority on voice and UC traffic and monitors network components critical to call quality, SD-WAN can help to ensure consistent, reliable call quality and reduce the risk of dropped calls. The design should also take account of the existing environment to ensure that the underlying network infrastructure can guarantee the adequate latency and bandwidth performance required for mission-critical applications and services.

Deployment complexity

Some recent surveys have found respondents claiming that SD-WAN adoption would add complexity to network management. Although one of the key benefits of the technology is that it reduces complexity, respondents felt that SD-WAN’s status as a relatively new technology was the reason for their concerns about complexity. They reported that the process of moving from traditional network environments to SD-WAN could be a long complex process, particularly if they planned a DIY deployment.

BroadConnect believes that it is essential to make an SD-WAN solution as easy as possible to deploy, integrate with existing environments and manage. It’s also important to help organizations make informed decisions about the most appropriate SD-WAN solution by providing expert advice and guidance and working with clients to help build a business case and proof of concept. That will ensure that organizations have an SD-WAN that delivers the full potential benefits and reduces overall complexity.

Find out more

If you want to find out more about SD-WAN or discuss a solution for your business, please contact us now to speak to an expert – 1-877-228-6616.

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