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SD-WAN – Is it right for your business?

Simon Clayton, Solution Architect at O2, considers the business case for SD-WAN, and whether a managed solution delivers the optimum benefits.

As this year has demonstrated so effectively, organisations need greater networking flexibility, control and resilience as they adapt to new ways of working on their pathway towards digital transformation. Software-defined networking in a wide area network, more commonly known as SD-WAN, could be part of the solution, and if you believe the hype then you are probably excited that it will apparently solve almost all of the major networking challenges that you are ever likely to face.  

Do you need it? 

It’s been called the most disruptive networking technology of the last two decades, with good reason, but it’s really important to understand that it won’t suit every business. For example, businesses with a fairly static network may not see the key benefits of the technology, such as Application Aware Routing, local internet breakout on-the-wire or Zero-Touch Provisioning. Nor will it solve every network challenge you have. SD-WAN faces some of the same challenges as traditional WAN, and if your underlying connectivity is poor then there’s a good chance network performance will be poor too.  

However, SD-WAN delivers a step-change in control, visibility and agility, and that’s what is most attractive to the businesses I speak with. Businesses with peak network demands (for example, IP telephony and interactive video call spikes) will benefit from the ability to prioritise and control critical applications. E-commerce businesses will benefit from the added visibility across the entire network to react to any capacity issues, within the limits of the underlaying network access. Also, businesses that need a rapid turnaround on new sites will benefit from the extra speed and agility at the edge. 

You’re sold? 

Increasingly I meet with customers who are sold on the general benefits of SD-WAN, and want to know what the next steps are that they need to take. In the USit’s often positioned as a straightforward, in-house implementation. In my opinion, however, it should be anything but a DIY project. Migrating to SD-WAN shares many of the same requirements as any other wholesale IT change, and during the transition process you are likely to need a proof of concept, verification of your chosen approach, testing and validation. 

I believe that a managed SD-WAN has three key advantages, and can prevent many of the challenges you’re likely to face with a DIY or co-managed solution: 

1. People and skills 

A fully managed solution from a single supplier addresses many of the issues around recruiting and training appropriate in-house talent. For example, there is no need to manage multiple service providers and multiple IT disciplines (access, mobile, cloud, transport, security, etc.) to ensure full coverage. Nor will you have to try to integrate existing teams or put systems in place to foster close collaboration between them. 

Then there’s the issue of managing the SD-WAN. Which team or teams are really looking after it? Where are the points of demarcation? Who is responsible when something goes wrong? A managed solution removes these headaches altogether 

2. Why the underlay is critical 

The underlay is critical to the effective delivery of an SD-WAN solution, especially in instances where critical traffic is being routed around the network.  

Moving to SD-WAN is not about replacing an existing network technology, like MPLS (multi-protocol label switching), because this is the underlying connectivity infrastructure. That’s why at O2, we begin each SD-WAN implementation with a consultation piece. Where an existing network technology is in place, we ensure that its design is fit for purpose, and that it will enable you to meet your business and operating objectives, now and in the future.  

As we move to new working models, incorporating a greater reliance on remote teams, and increased connectivity – with IoT and 5G key to our economy – it is critical that you have the right underlying technology to make your network work. A single supplier managed solution will include the design, deployment and management, resulting in a technology that you know is fit for purpose, and that has been built with your business objectives in mind.  

3. Security and risk 

Another key risk is security. It’s possible that some SD-WAN deployment models will open up new entry points into your network. They could provide routes in for malicious cyber-attacks. A managed SD-WAN reduces your need to manage security at multiple access points – giving you peace of mind that you have a secure, controlled and often guaranteed service, all managed by your service provider. 


Next steps 

If you’re ready to consider the additional automation and performance that SD-WAN delivers then we are very keen to talk with you. We have published a white paper that will help you, which you can download here: 

I love discussing all aspects of networking technology, so do connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter. 

Check out our new researchInsights – How business and the workplace is changing. 

Share your opinions on SD-WANs using the hashtag #O2Opinions.


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