Unpacking SD-WAN

Aug 20th, 2019

By Louis Jardim, Chief Operating Officer, Turrito

Why is SD WAN cheaper today than previously? What are the key drivers of this technology?

Lets take a step back and discuss SD WAN and its purpose from a South African context. The Telecoms market has evolved drastically where best of breed architecture such as MPLS is now becoming redundant due to cost reductions in last mile links. A couple of years ago, bandwidth was quite expensive, and customers wanting to adopt a SD WAN Topology could not due to the cost to deploy large Internet pipes. The ISP market has also become extremely competitive where bandwidth costs have dropped by 40% over the last couple of years making bandwidth affordable for customers to look at alternative architectures such as SD WAN.

There is a notion in the market that SD WAN is a cheaper technology than existing MPLS networks. This is not the case, as SD WAN architectures cost the same as an existing MPLS network, however clients are able to get much larger bandwidth on the SD WAN topologies. Bandwidth is one of the main drivers why clients look at SD WAN topologies as clients have the ability to get route internet based traffic over these large bandwidth pipes instead of expensive MPLS links.Another reason why clients look at SD WAN Topologies is manageability of their own WAN architecture.

With a central provisioning system, clients have the ability to make critical changes to multiple devices in a single instance through this interface. In the past with MPLS architectures, clients did not have much control in managing their WAN where ISP’s would lock routers down and clients did not have the ability to make changes. With SD WAN Architectures client have the ability to make changes and prioritize applications over their SD WAN devices. It also gives clients visibility where they are able to see application performance, bandwidth consumption in real time.

SD WAN Topologies also allow clients to migrate from MPLS in a phased approach. We are seeing clients opting for a hybrid, where VOIP & critical applications are routed over MPLS and all other Internet & cloud based traffic is being routed over the SD WAN device. Having both these architectures gives clients a migration path to a fully-fledged SD WAN Architecture.

There is also a misconception, that SD WAN Topologies are not secure and have security concerns. This is not the case and also one of the key drivers of migration to SD WAN Topologies as SD WAN devices provide two functions, one being the Firewall component which secures all connections to enterprise and cloud applications. The 2nd function that the SD WAN provides is the ability to dynamically route traffic over multiple links and opting for the best performing link in real time. Through this, critical applications will always receive the highest priority over the MPLS or SD WAN bandwidth provisioned.

What investments must companies make to shift to SD WAN? What are the cost implications going forward?

We recommend to clients that migrating to SD WAN should be done in a phased approach. Instead of migrating all sites to SD WAN Topology, clients should look at hybrid options, where MPLS should be augmented with Broadband using a SD WAN architecture.

The biggest investment would be resources, to ensure that they have the necessary skill to support, manage and interpret the SD WAN device. As simple as it is to deploy, manage and interpret, engineer’s skill require a level of skill to manage these SD WAN devices.

As mentioned earlier, there is this misconception that migrating to SD WAN Topologies is cheaper and more cost effective. This is not the case, as SD WAN and MPLS costs are equitable, however, clients do benefit in increased bandwidth when opting for Broadband options terminating on SD WAN devices.

Besides annual licensing costs, and investment to up skill IT staff these are the two major investments when migrating to SD WAN Topology.

Why is SD WAN less complex as a solution today?

As with any new technologies, there is always the fear component where clients are too afraid in adopting early in new technologies. SD WAN is also evolved considerably, where SD WAN devices can be supported and managed by skilled IT staff. With SD WAN topologies, engineers do not have to be Cisco guru’s to understand routing and prioritization of traffic over these devices. With SD WAN engineers also have the ability to self manage their network where they can get increased visibility of applications or traffic traversing their network.

How can companies implement it and leverage its benefits?

We recommend that the clients migrate to SD WAN Topologies in a phased approach. Instaed of re-inventing the wheel, clients should use SD WAN to augment their current MPLS Architectures. This serves two purposes, namely off loading non critical business traffic ie: www to a cheaper and more cost effective Broadband Big Fat Pipe and secondly keeping critical traffic such as real time VOIP and latency senstive applications on the MPLS.

Clients can see immediate benefits migrating to SD WAN Topologies such as:

  • Increased Security on applications accessing cloud based systems
  • Increased Bandwidth opting for Broadband Big Fat Pipe options
  • Network visibility and understanding and viewing application performance in real time
  • Ease of Management where IT Staff have the ability to make changes and deploy new policies via a central orchestrator over multiple sites.

What are the misconceptions around SD WAN today?

The biggest misconception around SD Wan Topologies is that customers think that SD WAN is a MPLS replacement. This is not the case, as I have mentioned earlier that SD WAN Architectures should be used to augment MPLS architectures, hence we strongly believe that clients adopt a hybrid approach.

The 2nd misconception, not all SD WAN Solutions is the same. Not all SD WAN solutions offer the same functionality specifically features and firewall functionality. Clients need to understand what their purpose of wanting to migrate to SD WAN and opt for a SD WAN technology that meets these requirements.

Another misconception is that customers think that SD WAN does WAN optimization. There is a major difference between the two whereby WAN optimization focuses on reducing bandwidth and optimizing bandwidth where SD WAN gives more bandwidth and does application based routing on the best performing links terminating on the SD WAN Device.

What is needed to maintain this setup?

Once the SD WAN Device has been deployed its fairly easy and inexpensive to maintain. Ensuring that the devices run healthily and are running the latest firmware, not much maintenance to be done. The central orchestrator is the most vital component as all rule sets, prioritization etc live on this platform.