Is SD-WAN promising too much?

As part of the digital transformation SD-WAN seems to be a key enabler. It is also one of the hottest growth areas for the enterprise. But is SD-WAN promising too much?

This is what Wikipedia tells about SD-WAN:

SD-WAN is an acronym for software-defined networking in a wide area network (WAN). SD-WAN simplifies the management and operation of a WAN by decoupling (separating) the networking hardware from its control mechanism. This concept is similar to how software-defined networking implements virtualization technology to improve data center management and operation.[1]

A key application of SD-WAN is to allow companies to build higher-performance WANs using lower-cost and commercially available Internet access, enabling businesses to partially or wholly replace more expensive private WAN connection technologies such as MPLS.[1]

American marketing research firm Gartner predicted in 2018 that by 2023 more than 90 percent of WAN edge infrastructure refresh initiatives will be based on virtualized customer premises equipment (vCPE) platforms or SD-WAN software/appliances.[2]

In simpler terms, some of the key features are:

  • A centralized management using a centralized controller
  • Network Analytics
  • Zero Touch provisioning
  • Quality of Service using application level awareness etc.
  • The ability to utilize cheaper internet connections instead of expensive MPLS connections
  • Dynamic path selection or split path selection
  • Security using IP SEC
  • Connect to 3rd party services like WAN Optimization Controllers, firewall and Session Border Controllers
Source: Cisco

There is no doubt that SD-WAN brings a whole set of features and capabilities that will take your enterprise network to the next level and enable digital transformation across your organization. SD-WAN is, to me, the future.
But what I can’t get my head around is the idea of replacing MPLS with cheaper internet connections.

Your applications don’t run any better than the network that carries the data. In the world of Cloud Computing your network isn’t better than your WAN access links.

Why do we think going SD-WAN with all of its cloud based components, centralized controllers, constant health monitoring of circuits, connections to 3rd party services etc. would make us able to remove the premium grade MPLS circuits with internet connections? Bandwidth alone will not cater for this. You need low latency and high reliability across your whole network. At all times. Will internet connections meet those demands? In my view, they will not.
It might be tempting to go all Internet and don’ t have to consider having ”Internet Break-In’s” for your Internet enabled sites to reach your MPLS network. Not to mention paying for all those expensive MPLS circuits. However, you are risking a whole lot more if your transformed network is not meeting the requirements of the business.

Don’t think SD-WAN will save you a lot of money because you can replace expensive MPLS with cheaper internet connections. SD-WAN will save money on network management and it will be a key contributor to your journey of digital transformation. Playing your cards right it will most likely enable new business opportunities. But don’t be that guy jeopardizing your SD-WAN success story by buying inferior WAN access links.

SD-WAN is the future for most enterprises but don’t believe everything you hear. Despite the promises from the market SD-WAN is far from a mature product. If you go into the world of SD-WAN knowing this and you do your homework and you trial it hard before you start rolling it out in your network, chances of success if very high.

…But don’t be that guy…

/Parkley

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