The top 10 criteria for selecting an SD WAN vendor
Published: December 18, 2019
SD WAN adoption is expanding at a fast clip as organizations prepare their networks for the future by leveraging the flexibility and ease of software-defined network management. The SD WAN market will reach $2.2 billion by 2020 and jump to $2.75 billion the following year, according to market researcher Futurium.
Companies turn to SD WAN for a number of reasons – cost effectiveness, ease of deployment, flexibility, central management and intelligent network capabilities. SD WAN lets network administrators manage multiple connections, including MPLS, Ethernet, dedicated internet and LTE (soon 5G), and adjust network traffic to avoid bottlenecks to accommodate peak traffic demands. These capabilities all add up to increased business agility and worker productivity.
While the benefits of SD WAN are clear, companies should tread carefully in selecting an SD WAN provider. As with previous technology adoptions, some inaccurate misinformation exists about what SD WAN can actually accomplish. So in selecting a vendor, your organization must be realistic about what SD WAN can deliver. It’s best not to focus on which vendor to choose but on how to select the provider that best suits your organization’s needs and goals.
Why SD WAN Vendor Selection Matters
What makes vendor selection so important? A vendor’s depth of experience and breadth of services has a direct impact on the planning, deployment and management of an SD WAN solution. The joint decisions a company makes with its vendor early on can seriously affect future performance. The process should start with a needs assessment by the vendor to determine the quality of the existing network. SD WAN can help a company get the most out of a network but cannot fix it. Like GPS, which can lead drivers to their destination but cannot fix the roads, SD WAN cannot fix a network’s “potholes.”
For instance, SD WAN can’t fix poor network connectivity. A business running Unified Communications (UC) with heavy videoconferencing use may have an underperforming network because it lacks the bandwidth to support the application. Performance degradation can also happen from frequently accessing some cloud-based applications. A good vendor will identify and address these issues before proceeding with an implementation plan.
The underlying connectivity is as important as a solid foundation is for a building.
Through an assessment, a vendor can identify a network’s weak points, bottlenecks and root causes of issues and then propose a plan to address them. The solution might be to add bandwidth with a new MLPS line, a dedicated internet circuit or some other option. Whatever the problem and solution may be, it’s critical to address it upfront so the SD WAN solution ultimately performs as expected once deployed.
Other vendor selection considerations include experience. While there’s a perception that implementing SD WAN is a simple as sending a box to a customer and plugging it in, in reality it takes more effort than that. Deploying SD WAN involves setting policies, connecting devices, configuring systems, and making sure everything is properly secured and compliant with any applicable regulations.
The portfolio breadth also matters. Companies should take into consideration what solutions the vendor delivers, including UC, IP telephony, video, collaboration apps, and its experience with other applications, such as Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM). The more services a vendor delivers, the better it is for the customer because dealing with one vendor is easier than managing multiple providers.
Vendor Selection Criteria
Network planners and corporate decision makers looking to deploy SD WAN should work off a set of criteria that helps determine a vendor’s capabilities and whether they fit with the company’s strategy. Here are 10 criteria for selecting an SD WAN vendor:
The performance of the network and the applications running on it has a significant effect on user productivity. A good vendor will address both, first by recommending bandwidth improvements when needed, and second, by ensuring application performance. To maximize the user experience, the vendor should offer application-aware routing. This capability tracks when and where applications use specific services so they can be optimized. Another important capability is the offloading of internet-bound traffic, which ensures WAN services remain available for real-time and mission-critical apps to improve traffic flow.
2. Visibility and Control
Visibility into all areas of the network, including servers, applications, web-based solutions and users is critical to managing the network, ensuring application performance and securing the complete environment. Without visibility, it’s virtually impossible for managers to get the control they need to run a modern network. This is especially true if the network consists of a hybrid environment distributed over hundreds or thousands of locations. A vendor that provides full visibility helps to enable quick troubleshooting and help prevent network outages.
Network security cannot be treated as an afterthought. Businesses should work with an SD WAN vendor that prioritizes security in delivering the service. SD WAN typically features secure tunnels with encrypted traffic, thereby providing a critical layer of protection. But a vendor should add security layers such as 24/7 monitoring, managed firewalls, automated threat detection, alerts and remediation. Security should be centrally managed, policy-based and easy to integrate with all network assets to ensure maximum protection at all points of the network.
In reviewing the attributes of SD WAN providers, you should consider the extensibility of their solutions. Keeping in mind future growth needs, network planners should research how easy the vendor makes it to add new capabilities. As technologies evolve and new applications become available, they bring new opportunities for a company to innovate. If the SD WAN solution doesn’t provide enough extensibility for innovation, it can ultimately affect a company’s growth and competitiveness.
5. Central Management
Centralized management goes hand in hand with visibility and security for a well-maintained, secure environment. A central administrative console simplifies management and provides a direct window into the entire network from which administrators can control traffic, set and change policies, make network adjustments and orchestrate services. With SD WAN, administrators can opt to virtualize all of the services at smaller sites so they can run everything from the management console. This not only simplifies management but also reduces expenses by eliminating the need to deploy hardware at sites where virtualization can do the job.
6. Global Orchestration
Orchestration simplifies and accelerates network provisioning, deployments and changes to accommodate innovations globally across the infrastructure. In the context of SD WAN, orchestration makes it possible to automate network tasks, monitor the performance of network services, and troubleshoot problems with minimal, if any, disruption to users. In most situations, issues can be addressed without costly truck rolls, thanks to software-defined, rules-based network management. But should a site visit become necessary, it helps to work with a vendor that can respond quickly regardless of geography.
7. Remote Deployment
Using network functions virtualization (NFV) in conjunction with SD WAN allows your organization to deploy services across a distributed network from a central location. This is what makes it possible to eliminate infrastructure hardware at some locations. Virtualization and software-defined policies allow administrators to provision and deploy new services across all sites, which simplifies implementations and reduces operational costs.
8. Bandwidth Requirements
Too often, bandwidth requirements are overlooked in infrastructure projects. To avoid this mistake when deploying SD WAN, you should work with a vendor that assesses current needs and projects how much more capacity a company will need once the new services are online. Some sites may need more bandwidth than others or use different types of connectivity. Whatever the scenario, a good SD WAN provider will address bandwidth needs upfront, not as an afterthought.
9. Premises vs. Cloud
Most environments are becoming hybrids that combine on-premise with cloud-based workloads, so it’s important to have the architecture and tools that can handle both. Thanks to the technology’s versatility, SD WAN solutions can operate on premise or in a cloud – or a combination of both. Which option a company chooses really boils down to specific needs and their existing infrastructure.
SD WAN eliminates much of the hardware controls of legacy, hardware-based networks, making it more cost-effective. It also gives companies better control over their network management budgets and replaces capital expenditures (CAPEX) with operational expenditures (OPEX). Naturally, the price of the SD WAN solution itself varies from one vendor to another. Network planners and corporate decisions makers should research carefully how solutions are priced and what functionality they include in order choose their best option.
SD WAN offers your organization a multitude of benefits. The technology infuses intelligence into hybrid networks that combine connectivity technologies, such as MPLS, public IP and fiber. Through centralized administration and control, SD WAN selects the best path across available network connections for applications, enabling your organization to make better use of different types of network connections. As such, SD WAN provides a cost-effective way to optimize network and application performance, which leads to enhancements in user productivity and customer experience.
However, realizing the benefits of SD WAN requires a thoughtful, methodical approach to choosing an SD WAN provider. If a vendor pushes the narrative that combining broadband with SD WAN is all your organization needs, that vendor is more focused on selling a product than providing a solution to fully meet a company’s needs.
Therefore, it is critical that network planners and decision makers carefully research vendors against the criteria discussed in this document. In so doing, your organization significantly increases its chances of leveraging all of the benefits an SD WAN deployment can provide. Combined with a quality hybrid core infrastructure to deliver desired business outcomes as well as optimal application performance and the best end-user experience well into the future.
Learn more about Verizon’s Virtual Network Services – SD WAN.