Have you ever bought a new pair of shoes, and found they didn’t fit properly? They looked great in the store, but after a few good ‘walkabouts’, you developed blisters, and aches and pains from hip to heel. Shoes that don’t fit well can affect performance, stamina and well-being.

An error in choosing the right SD-WAN approach for your enterprise can have similar repercussions. An ill-fitting SD-WAN can leave your company with inadequate application reliability, and unproductive and frustrated users.

What SD-WAN Should Offer

SD-WAN technologies are enveloped into a software-based and automated network management solution. The intended benefits are to remove complexity, rigidness, unreliability, proprietary hardware constraints and high costs associated with traditional corporate WANs.

SD-WAN is an incarnation of software-defined networking (SDN) architecture, and in some cases, includes network functions virtualization (NFV). When done right, SD-WAN can ease connectivity to cloud, SaaS, and enterprise data centers. It is managed using software orchestration with end-to-end network and application visibility, and centralized control functions using business policies. The key point being, software controls everything. Every SD-WAN solution has different features and capabilities, so if you’re interested in SD-WAN for your company, it’s important to find the right fit.

Generally speaking, SD-WAN network configurations are stored and managed centrally, and edge devices are programmed quickly and easily. The buzzword for this is “zero-touch”. SD-WAN touts benefits like, simplified management, with hardware infrastructure and administrative overhead greatly reduced. For large enterprises, this means IT is liberated from numerous and tedious tasks of manually troubleshooting WAN problems, and can focus on more strategic projects. Smaller companies with limited network engineering know-how, can now benefit from highly sophisticated network infrastructure.

Know Your SD-WAN Provider’s Genealogy

SD-WAN solutions come in many flavors, including traditional networking vendors, WAN optimization vendors, and pure-play solution providers. The history of the SD-WAN vendor, the company’s past direction, and how their products have evolved, can speak volumes about their SD-WAN approach. A company’s history will determine the SD-WAN functionality and architecture, and how effective it might be in meeting an enterprise’s needs.

Trying to Make it Fit

Can you imagine if Nike tried to reposition their top basketball shoe as a top of the line sandal to ride the summer fashion wave?  While we would understand the drive to enter a hot market, the limitations of the product would be pretty evident.

WAN optimization vendors, and to a lesser degree, link bonding vendors, have repositioned and transformed their products to fit the rising interest in SD-WAN, by adding software-defined functionality.

Their business model has always been selling stand-alone edge hardware appliances, and now virtual software, with support contracts. These are essentially appliance-based management overlay solutions that enable virtual link connectivity across their edge devices. These SD-WAN solutions support a mix of hybrid (aggregated MPLS circuits and broadband links), and Internet only WANs that are controlled with software and centrally managed.

Because these solutions are not purpose-built SD-WANs from the ground up, their overlay components may lack important capabilities to customize or develop new virtual services. They may also add unwanted complexity when provisioning, configuring, doing change management, troubleshooting, and monitoring.

Pure-play SD-WAN Solutions

Like Nike’s Air Jordan shoe that gave rise to the great basketball shoe boom, pure-play SD-WAN solutions might have an advantage over solutions that are evolving from stand-alone products. For example, if the SD-WAN is purpose-built from the ground up with SDN and NFV, chances are the deeply integrated solution will be more efficient and adaptable.

If you look at the pure-play SD-WAN solutions, you will notice many have their own managed cloud-based networks. They are purpose-built to support today’s cloud and SaaS environments that rely upon the Internet for access. By having their own network and controlling its operations, they can have complete control beyond the last mile, with built-in support for cloud and SaaS-hosted applications.

With software driving the network, and NFV replacing the many diverse physical network devices with virtual equivalents, diverse functionality can be dynamically chained together. This delivers cost-efficiencies and flexibility to easily and efficiently adapt network utilization, policies and other functions to best meet the company’s needs. These benefits can apply to deployments, scaling, and creating new services.

Life on the Edge

If an SD-WAN vendor does not have global cloud infrastructure, they won’t have points of presence (POP) around the world that are optimized to support cloud/SaaS service connectivity. Rather, their products strictly run over the public Internet and/or MPLS networks, putting them in a position of continuously chasing latency and packet loss problems.

These SD-WANs may be best suited for regional connectivity. Applications traveling across the public Internet are difficult to fully optimize, and have limited control and visibility. These SD-WAN solutions act simply as a navigator at the network edge, while still inheriting some of the shortfalls associated with legacy networks.

SD-WANs that are built for the cloud can accommodate the high demands of enterprises migrating applications to the cloud and SaaS. They typically include connectivity with strategically placed gateways located in POPs around the world.

According to a recent McKinsey & Company survey, over the next three years, enterprises will make a fundamental shift away from building IT to consuming IT. This shift began within the data center, and is rapidly expanding to the network, ala SD-WAN as-a-Service.

SD-WAN delivered as a fully managed service can have many additional advantages. For example, there is no need for the enterprise to negotiate multiple network contracts with various service providers. A managed SD-WAN service can bundle everything into one contract for all branch sites. This means organizations won’t be required to purchase a hodge podge of routers, WAN optimizers, and security devices. And there is no need to negotiate multiple service provider contracts and manage them.

Like wearing a great pair of shoes, purpose-built for the occasion, getting the right SD-WAN for the many, and ever-changing enterprise needs, is all about getting the right fit.