Article: SD-WAN: Always the best answer?
by Andrew Shoop
Andrew Shoop is a Consulting Architect at Fulcrum Technology Solutions. Shoop has been a part of the Networking team since 2013.
Talk of SD-WAN is everywhere in the world of networking. A host of vendors tout the merits of their products: how it’ll save you Capex, reduce headcount, improve your reliability, fortify your security, enable your business to move everything to the cloud, or other similar claims. Can SD-WAN deliver on these promises? The answer, like most other aspects of IT, is that it depends on your business.
SD-WAN sales and marketing folks will assemble a litany of strawmen as to why their solution is clearly superior to classic networking. Most of these revolve around curious hybrid of a dated model from the early 2000s, where network engineers manually make each change on every device, with an – let’s call it optimistic – assumption that security, application control, and traffic management policies in an organization can easily be centralized with a minimum of site-specific configuration. Yes, an SD-WAN solution brought into an environment with no centralized management and cookie-cutter sites will certainly bring an array of benefits.
But how many organizations does that description fit? Most mid-sized organizations and virtually all larger enterprises already have some centralized network management, configuration control and monitoring solution. Other organizations have a network that has grown organically and needs to support what some SD-WAN vendors term “unusual topologies” – in many cases it’s not just data center, corporate HQ and branch office. Still others need the flexibility to add new acquisitions into the corporate network as seamlessly as possible, without forcing one particular architecture or another.
On the flip side, when sites truly do have predictable networking needs that fit into company-wide templates – as many do – SD-WAN can be much easier to deploy, with some vendors offering a “low-touch” model. The reduced price of hardware has potential to lower sunken costs. If designed for it, SD-WAN can make it substantially easier to insert security services in a dynamic fashion – quarantining a site during a malware outbreak, for example.
It’s not black and white. Both SD-WAN and classical networking are able to do many of the same things if properly designed, architected and operationalized. Both can use Internet circuits to supplement or replace private networking, with substantial savings on telecommunications circuit costs. Both can send business critical traffic over a priority path. Both can connect to an array of cloud providers. Both can support a defense-in-depth security model.
The key is knowing what your organization wants and needs and mapping the solution’s capabilities to those requirements – not just jumping on promises of cost savings made by a vendor.
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