SD-WAN was, by far, the technology of the year in 2017 – a truly transformational approach to wide-area networking. Software-defined networking, virtualization of network functions, and the ability to decentralize the security architecture (and Internet accessibility) while maintaining centralized administration, offer organizations the ability to simplify overall network management while improving ROI. Nitel launched its SD-WAN product in April of 2017 and has seen a great response to our comprehensive solution. However, like many providers, we learned a lot over the past year. This blog post will explore four lessons we learned while implementing SD-WAN solutions.

  1. Every solution is unique. When we launched our SD-WAN product, the assumption was that network designs would be fairly standard, even if the access circuits incorporated within the different sites varied. With most sites having broadband and dedicated Internet circuits, we assumed having a wireless backup or needing to establish a gateway between legacy MPLS locations and SD-WAN locations would be the biggest variables.However, while having a wireless backup or configuring a gateway between network sites does add complexity, those aren’t the only variables to consider. Additional requirements encountered thus far include:- Stacking on-premise third-party firewalls in-line with the SD-WAN service
    – Providing remote VPN access solutions
    – Providing site-to-site VPNs between SD-WAN locations and third-party SaaS providers
    – Challenges with capturing complete and accurate customer application data
    Given the breadth of unique scenarios encountered while designing an optimized SD-WAN network, networking experts need to have a deep understanding of how all the puzzle pieces fit together. With networking experts like Nitel on your side, we’ll ask the probing questions that allow for the implementation of a solution that truly optimizes your customer’s network performance.
  2. Design, configuration and implementation of SD-WAN solutions is complex. Building off our first point, customer requirements are unique, regardless of their industry or company size. Our team has found that designing an optimal network, configuring SD-WAN CPE and successfully implementing the services at each branch location is complex.
    One cause is working with the SD-WAN software itself. Initially SD-WAN vendors touted that improving the performance of your network was as easy as plugging Internet circuits into their boxes and flipping on a light switch. However, the reality is that a robust and dynamic SD-WAN solution involves the configuration of dozens of intricate functions within the software. Even for the most seasoned networking engineers, gaining a full understanding of SD-WAN software functionality, how it can be utilized within the overall network design, and successfully implementing the solution for a customer requires a steep learning curve.Another common challenge is working with distributed networks consisting of access circuits provided by multiple vendors.
    Luckily, Nitel’s networking experts are experienced in designing, implementing and managing multi-vendor distributed networks and have developed a deep understanding of how to successfully utilize SD-WAN to create an optimally designed solution. While many service providers prefer to take conservative approach to design options, Nitel’s willingness and capability to support almost any multi-location network design provides customers the greatest flexibility when implementing unique and complex network designs.
  3. Security at the network branch is critical. One of the biggest value propositions of an SD-WAN solution is utilizing low-cost broadband circuits to complement or augment MPLS or DIA connectivity. The SD-WAN software allows customers to locally drain low-priority Internet traffic, freeing up bandwidth resources on the higher cost MPLS or DIA circuits at branch locations for business-critical applications. In doing so, customers increase the risk of exposing the edge of their networks to threats and attacks. Thus, securing the branch locations with a next-generation firewall solution that can filter out malicious files, prevent access to high-risk websites and eliminate incoming traffic from untrustworthy areas of the world is crucial.
    We’ve found many customers with existing Internet access circuits at branch locations have invested a significant amount of capital on existing next-generation firewall solutions which they prefer to maintain. However, other customers who brought in new broadband and DIA circuits to either augment or replace their MPLS connectivity typically required a new next-generation firewall solution at branch locations. A key benefit of Nitel’s SD-WAN offering is that these customers could simply layer integrated next-generation SD-Security functionality onto their SD-WAN services.
  4. SD-WAN vendor solutions are still evolving. Customers have network requirements that are unique to their business, even within the same industries. SD-WAN vendors are continuously modifying and adding functionality to their solutions to support the many networking needs of the global business community. Software updates are coming fast and furious with updated versions being released every six to twelve months. An SD-WAN solution implemented today could have well over a dozen features that were not available less than a year ago.
    With software functionality modifications comes consistent updates that must be monitored and implemented. For an already over-burdened IT director, not only managing the influx of software updates, but learning what new functionalities are applicable and how to configure them seems to be an impossible task. Having a fully managed SD-WAN solution like Nitel’s can relieve some of the stress and help your customer successfully transition from a legacy network to a next-generation software-defined networking solution.

Software-defined networking and SD-WAN offer a lot of exciting opportunities to improve the management and performance of business networks in an efficient manner, but it has a long way to go in terms of standardizing and simplifying implementation. The industry itself is in the early adopter’s stage and the concepts are new for all stakeholders – particularly end users. As a result, it can be a challenge for over-burdened IT directors to keep up with troubleshooting, updates and the other tasks that may require their attention. Working with a team of experienced experts like Nitel can help relieve this stress.

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