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SD-WAN Pain Points to Avoid

The adoption rate of SD-WAN has been steadily increasing over the years as more and more organizations realize the benefits it offers. A Gartner report indicates a significant increase in SD-WAN adoption. According to the report, the global SD-WAN market grew by 75.1% in 2020, reaching $2.4 billion. The report also predicts that the SD-WAN market will continue to grow at a CAGR of 18.6% over the next five years, reaching $5.3 billion by 2025.

These numbers indicate that SD-WAN adoption is on the rise, and more organizations are recognizing the benefits it offers over traditional WAN solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated the adoption of SD-WAN as more businesses moved to remote work, which increased the demand for secure and reliable network connectivity.

With benefits such as improved network performance, enhanced security, cost savings, and increased flexibility it’s easy to see why more organizations are making the transition to SD-WAN. While we have seen these benefits come to fruition in SD-WAN implementations we have also found some common pain points to look out for in your own SD-WAN implementation.

Pain Point 1 – A lack of thorough pre-planning

There are many areas to consider prior to procurement ranging from finance to device management.

1. Understanding how you are going to pay for the appliances

It’s likely your finance team prefers OpEx or CapEx. Changing these midstream often means starting from scratch as some potential managed services partners will only operate under one model and not the other.

2. Who should own what?

There are a variety of demarcation points that you can choose either to “bundle” under one provider or decide to keep separated and dispersed among providers.

As you meet potential providers you will find there are specialists in certain areas that don’t have the expertise to own the whole solution while others will need to own the entire solution to be successful.

If you are comfortable managing multiple providers, you can create a best of breed approach that can outperform or be less expensive than a single sourced approach but you have weigh those benefits against the complexities of managing multiple vendors: who do I call when there is an issue? who owns the problem?, etc.

3. Do I want a single or multiple telecom providers?

Often, we see clients who prefer to source their circuits from hundreds of last mile providers for carrier diversity and better pricing. There is a trade-off though that many don’t consider up front…the cost of invoice and contract management.

Each new provider in the mix creates an exponential increase in complexity. Buying from a single source provider means there will be a price premium but at some point the cost of managing hundreds of carriers can exceed the price premium paid by single sourcing.

4. Who is managing the appliances?

Co-management is a common favorite for enterprises but don’t underestimate the complexity of good change management in this process. When multiple teams, companies and individuals are making changes where downstream impacts are very real you need a good process for managing, tracking, and approving changes.

It would be great the blame the provider for everything, but an undocumented change from your team often makes finding the root cause more difficult and delays the time to restore critical business functions.

You also must ask yourself, is the provider I am using to manage the environment the same partner I bought the appliances from? Because the answer to that question can change the license types and tiers that need to be purchased ensure long term success.

Pain Point 2 – Not having a right sized plan up front

It’s easy to say we are going to underbuy licenses for an appliance and limit throughput but when, not if, you need to right size your capacity due to seasonal peaks or a growing business this leaves you open to questions about why you didn’t plan better. Often the budget to right-size is harder to achieve later in a project than planning well up front.

Conversely, budgeting for growth is a great idea but licensing every location the same can cause unnecessary over-spend. Does your firewall at every location need the same features as the ones in your data center? Likely not so it’s important to understand what a location is to your organization.

With the myriad of changes (your previous router, firewall, and circuit costs) coming into play it is easy to leave one of them “light” and miss purchasing a critical license or component that puts the project success at risk. For example, in a project with a UTM firewall based edge appliance not buying the appropriate license leaves your investment without a key success component and leaves your network vulnerable.

Defining project scope, tiering your locations, and aligning to your project goals are critical to ensuring your project doesn’t turn into a rocket ship that is so heavy it can’t leave the launch pad. Conversely, leaving items out of scope to “come back to later” risks creating business issues that leaves leadership wondering “What did we spend all that money on?”.

Remember that a transformative migration of your total network is best done once rather than “upgrading” every 3-5 years because the tangible benefits were left on the editing room floor the first time around.

Pain Point 3 - Not all designs are created equal

Moving from enterprise centralized internet ingress/egress points to edge-based internet requires you to look closely at the type of sites and the kind of protections the data and users require in your new standard. Going to a no edge firewalling standard sounds great until someone needs to access a data center at a site and you don’t want to traverse the cloud firewall.

Having an edge firewall does mean you have SD-WAN. The same can be said for having multiple connections at each site. The magic of SD-WAN is if you lose a single connection it doesn’t impact the end user experience so don’t fall for overly simple designs disguised as SD-WAN.

Paint Point 4 - Appliances don’t all do the same thing even if they are called the same thing

Some are souped up routers, others support BGP, and a few support closed MPLS. The point is you need to look deeper at capabilities to truly understand what you are buying. They all work with internet circuits but what if your network doesn’t have internet access locally and you deploy an appliance that requires internet access to configure and manage?

Not understanding your network topology and connectivity strategy can make those brand new SD-WAN devices into very expensive bricks. You also need to take a forward-looking approach to evaluating appliances and capabilities. Understand what you must swap out to embrace new technologies and what appliances evolve with you as you continue to move towards your ideal network state. This can optimize your long term spend and performance of appliances.

Paint Point 4 – Not understanding the role of MPLS in SD-WAN

SD-WAN doesn’t mean no MPLS BUT it also doesn’t mean it includes MPLS. The days of a “standard” MPLS, where most companies had roughly the same technology, has changed.

We are in an era where your network is built based on your business requirements. This requires you to know your risk and performance tolerance by traffic type so you can shape your network appropriately. There are ways to have private traffic or a private backbone even when all your circuits are internet based. SD-WAN requires you to think differently about design.

With more of your critical business applications migrating to the cloud networking changes are required but the same basic principles apply: where are my users, where are the applications and data they need to access, and how fast do they need to get there? You may be reluctant to give up your MPLS based network for fear of inconsistent latency. The good news is you don’t have to. MPLS can live in your SD-WAN environment allowing you to have the benefits of both: the guaranteed latency brought of MPLS but also the control and routing of traffic offered by SD-WAN.

Pain Point 5 – Overestimating your cost savings

At Eclipse we see up to a 90% reduction in cost per Mb by migrating to SD-WAN but be careful not to overestimate the savings either. SD-WAN doesn’t mean you can cut your network budget in half no matter what you are promised.

It’s more important to focus on priorities such as: redundancy, resiliency, capacity, security, and who manages what before determining what cost savings can be realized. Savings on “hard” costs can evaporate quickly by increased soft costs for your IT team to manage your new SD-WAN environment without careful planning. It’s easy to fall in love with simple calculations like my MPLS costs “X” and my internet circuits cut that cost in half. Don’t fall for these overly simplified financial models. It’s important to gather all your costs, understand what your new project costs are, and begin building a better reality for your company.

All this have your head spinning? Don’t worry we can help make sense of it all. Contact us and we can help you get on the right path to transform your network in a way that saves money but also creates tangible benefits for your business.


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