With SD-WAN’s popularity, it has gained a silver bullet quality. It does provide a great service by dynamically routing over the best available network (whether MPLS, Internet, or both) for workloads at remote sites. SD-WAN is the first step for many businesses toward a new kind of network infrastructure that’s agile and programmable, where software can take on manual IT tasks.
But SD-WAN has its limits. It’s not a performance monitoring tool, so while it may be a way to improve performance, you won’t get metrics back about potential sources of trouble across your network. It’s also important to remember how new SD-WAN technology products are. Do you know if the features promised by your provider are actually ready today? What’s the roadmap for the next year or two? Will the company still exist then?
SD-WAN adoption should come with a lot of considerations. We don’t need to take the cliff metaphor too far — the landing won’t be that tough if you do it right. One of your reasons for adopting SD-WAN technology is likely to get better remote network performance and reliability. SD-WAN can be an integral step towards better performance and will, in many cases, improve baseline performance of apps over your network.
Regardless of the size of your SD-WAN deployment, you should be measuring success holistically. There are various methods and metrics to measure better remote user experience, and you’ll find the way that works for your business. Some options are measuring the reduction in help desk or service tickets, whether in-house or with providers. Another good choice is measuring average capacity for your most critical applications to see if it improves, or set other performance benchmarks to follow before and after SD-WAN adoption.
But these are still just details in the big scheme of things. What about actual network visibility and a continuous look at end-user experience?
What Your SD-WAN Parachute Should Look Like
Even with this SDN future approaching, the network is still your responsibility. Simply outsourcing the execution of routing logic to a third party doesn’t magically solve all of your network performance problems. We sometimes hear from our customers that they expected SD-WAN to be a performance monitoring tool, or at least a “don’t make performance worse” tool. It isn’t, though, and it can be pretty disappointing to discover that after implementation. SD-WAN fills an important role in today’s network infrastructure — namely taking manual routing tasks away from IT. It’s also an accessible stepping stone for many businesses moving toward software-defined infrastructure.
The biggest missing piece, if you try using SD-WAN technology for monitoring, is application context. Adopting an SD-WAN tool should in itself improve performance. But it cannot tell you if a slowdown is due to an application issue. You still won’t have actual network visibility with SD-WAN. This becomes particularly challenging when you’re managing problems at remote locations, where there are no IT team members to get a firsthand look at the issue.