Choosing an SD-WAN Solution: A Checklist


Your organization is no doubt facing the prospect of some form of a transformation as you:

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  • Try to migrate apps and infrastructure to the cloud, or
  • Aim to reduce the costs of networks, or
  • Plan to modernize your infrastructure to deliver better apps or services to your end users.

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And if you’ve been doing some research, you’ve probably heard about software-defined WANs (SD-WAN) as an enabling technology. But amongst all the hubbub, it can be difficult to know what’s right for you, especially since not all SD-WAN solutions are created equal. (Learn more about How SD-WAN Works.)

Here is a checklist of items that are well tested based on what most enterprises today are looking for.

#1. Simple, centralized management

Enterprises continue to grapple with legacy, hard-to-administer network appliances. These appliances were designed for closely knit, MPLS-only networks between a few branch locations and fewer datacenters. For today’s networks — when branches are spread globally and include home offices, and datacenters are increasingly cloud-based — ongoing network management based on per-device, CLI-driven workflows is simply not scalable. And let’s not mention the chances of typos leading to a downed network…

Here is the checklist for management of the SD-WAN system:

  • Allows configurations based on simple, point-and-click workflows versus CLI, with automation in the background to generate appropriate per-device commands.
  • Allows you to issue plain-language instructions based on real-world business parameters — apps, users, locations, performance SLAs, and security constraints — rather getting bogged down with network constraints, addresses, and arcane commands.
  • Offers central management for the network, end-to-end. That is, the software-defined control extends across the cloud, WANs, and branch LANs/WLANs to ensure seamless, secure application delivery from mobile user to the cloud-based app server.
  • Provides a single source of truth and insights into application and network performance and end-user experience
  • Offers one console for management of not just SD-WAN, but also of all the network services required to deliver app performance on hybrid networks (more on this below)

#2. Remote deployment puts you in charge of the branch

Every IT manager needs to deal with remote users. You need to provide all those users — employees, partners, and customers — with secure, high-performing access to applications and data, without burdening IT resources. To do that, your SD-WAN solution must:

  • Enable zero-touch provisioning of new branch locations. Anyone, regardless of skill level, should be able to connect a branch location to the network just by plugging in power and data cables, with all configuration performed remotely.
  • Provide security by offering built-in firewall and filtering capabilities.
  • Offer a mix of deployment options, including physical, virtual, and cloud-based form factors.

Proof point: SimplePay

Riverbed recently helped SimplePay unify its disparate global network with SteelConnect. Check out the case study for details.

#3. Integrated services for app performance/end-user experience

The modern enterprise network spans hybrid WANs, cloud networks, and wireless/wired LANs — and your SD-WAN solution needs to manage this distributed network as a seamless whole. To that end, it needs to:

  • Integrate critical network services like end-to-end visibility, application acceleration, security, and path steering. Note that there are tangible advantages to using a single vendor for multiple network services. For instance, with Riverbed’s app acceleration and SD-WAN integrated under the hood, app identification information is shared between the two network services. So, app identification is done just once and overall throughput is increased. Also, visibility, app acceleration, and SD-WAN come on a single box, so you spend less time in reviewing network designs.
  • Deep technology integrations with cloud vendors is important given the rate of adoption of these services. If you just have a pilot cloud project today, it will have to be full scale in a few months. That’s the direction the industry is flowing and there’s no swimming against this current. You will need a solution that makes secure connectivity to cloud providers just a click away. With practices such as DevOps gathering steam, operational overhead for cloud connectivity and performance will soon be unacceptable. But again, not all SD-WAN solutions are cloud-optimized. While most solutions allow manual deployment of SD-WAN appliances in the cloud, this process is tedious and time consuming. You need a solution that really integrates with IaaS, SaaS, and CASB providers so that extension of the network to these provides involves just a few clicks. And the network services such as app acceleration and visibility discussed above should extend here too.

#4. Services and support

If you pick the correct SD-WAN solution, set up and management should be easy. That said, often enterprises prefer professional services to jumpstart their deployment. Or, they don’t have any resources to spare but could surely use the benefits that SD-WAN has to offer.

  • Assessment and migration assistance can be helpful in optimizing your SD-WAN deployment to solve for current requirements and allow room for growth of the network. Benefits are usually quickly realized when planning and design is done based on industry-standard best practices.
  • SD-WAN is an up-and-coming technology, so you need a vendor with a strong track record for growth. While pure play solutions can provide niche capabilities like path steering and VPN automation, your end goal (for example, app performance, cloud migration, etc.) is usually larger and beyond the reach of pure play solutions. On the other hand, when going with a larger vendor, be sure that they are agile enough to respond to changing market needs. For instance, does the larger vendor have a track record of successful technology integrations?

Proof point: GHD

GHD is a professional services firm with 3,000 employees spread over 100 locations. Riverbed SteelConnect's zero-touch provisioning capabilities make it possible to efficiently administer all those branch offices. Check out the case study for more information.

Conclusion: SD-WAN: The means to an end

It makes sense to thoroughly evaluate SD-WAN solutions. Review your IT strategy and test drive the solutions. Understand the ROI. Discuss your options with neutral industry analysts like Gartner. You’ll find that even though there are several options, not too many are geared to really deliver what’s truly needed. 

See for yourself if SteelConnect meets the challenge

We believe that Riverbed's SteelConnect SD-WAN solution is uniquely positioned to solve the problems outlined here. But don't take our word for it: Our free trial should give you insight into what SteelConnect has to offer, and will help you begin the journey to taking control of your network.