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Network transformation can be risky, complex, and time-consuming. Advances in network technologies often put downward pressure on the prices of existing infrastructure and services. Digital transformation could involve rethinking traditional business models, working arrangements, and employee access to core business applications, as well as improving network agility and resilience. To say the least, it covers a lot of ground.
Savvy customers can take advantage of a hybrid approach by maintaining some legacy services like MPLS in the medium term while deploying less expensive Internet access where needed. This allows the business to take advantage of cost reduction on new services and deprecation of legacy network services to achieve optimal financial results. Additional benefits include the significantly lower risk profile due to no need to physically migrate services and faster realization of cost savings.
For those who live in the world of network services, digital transformation has become a catalyst for the evolution of enterprise wide area networks (WANs). Legacy WANs were often designed around branch architectures and data center-centric hubs. With the dramatic increase in cloud-based applications, this architecture pattern no longer meets business needs.
Enterprise WANs are rapidly evolving to accommodate:
- Secure and near-instantaneous access to cloud-based enterprise applications
- An increasingly decentralized workforce that relies heavily on IP voice and video collaboration tools
- The need to reconfigure devices and security policies faster and more flexibly with much lower management overhead
Expensive and cumbersome router-based architecture in today’s climate
One of the main enablers of digital transformation is software-defined wide area networking (SDWAN). Legacy WAN architectures are primarily router-based. Hardware is tightly coupled to software; the “data plane” and the “control plane” of the network reside in the same box. While being at the forefront of network architectures at some point:
- Router-based networking is cumbersome and increasingly unable to meet the needs of today’s enterprise networks
- Router configuration changes are time-consuming and require specialized knowledge; therefore, it is expensive to run and maintain and can be error-prone
SD-WAN is a virtualized software service that creates a separation, or abstraction, of the control plane from the data plane. This separation creates an SD-WAN overlay (control plane) and a transport underlay (data plane). A single instance of the SD-WAN overlay can handle multiple transport underlay technologies, and the overlay is independent of underlay technology and vendor. This enables the creation and management of so-called hybrid networks composed of a mixture of transport technologies such as MPLS, dedicated Internet access and broadband and wireless connections.
The SD-WAN control plane, or orchestration layer, provides:
- Application-Aware Routing
- Optimized WAN performance
- Prioritization of traffic on several modes of transport
- Improved analytics
- Anomaly isolation
- Simplified font management
- Accelerated Network Setup
Additionally, SD-WAN enables more efficient access to cloud-hosted applications without having to redirect Internet traffic to corporate data centers or compromise security. The SD-WAN overlay, which can be hosted in the cloud or on-premises, provides centralized management through a single window. This reduces the complexity of network management and generates operational gains.
The business case supporting enterprise WAN transformation can be compelling, but you need to do your homework.
SD-WAN takes enterprise migration away from expensive legacy WAN technologies, primarily MPLS, by leveraging:
- Low-cost internet-based transport for remote site connectivity
- Internet-focused strategies for local breakthrough
- Access to resources hosted in the cloud
SD-WAN also maximizes the utilization of bandwidth resources, which can reduce the overall bandwidth needed at a particular site or moderate the rate of increase. Dual-redundant active/passive MPLS circuit configurations are extremely inefficient and expensive. With an SD-WAN solution, the passive MPLS circuit can be replaced with a dedicated Internet connection at a lower cost. Improved application recognition enables lower-cost routing, which is especially beneficial for non-latency-sensitive applications, such as email or web browsing, that can be routed through the secondary Internet connection. Additionally, as enterprise networks become more decentralized, with applications residing in the cloud and accessed more directly, the need for large and expensive headend MPLS and dedicated Internet ports in data centers should decrease, in some cases, significantly. Depending on the solution chosen, SD-WAN can reduce ongoing maintenance and management costs and the complexity of legacy hardware by consolidating the functions of firewalls, WAN accelerators, VPNs, and IDS/IPS into one. single edge device.
Erosion of revenues from transport services
Traditional Tier 1 telecommunications providers are seeing their revenues eroded as enterprise customers turn to Internet aggregators to provide connectivity that can be centrally managed by the SDWAN solution, regardless of the actual provider of the data connection. ‘access. This dynamic is helpfully putting downward pressure on the prices of legacy transport services, allowing savvy enterprises to save money as incumbents struggle to stop, or at least delay, WAN technology migrations.
Achieving cost reductions on the integrated foundation of legacy services can deliver savings faster without the added risk and complexity of circuit and service migrations. At least in the short term, some companies will continue to offer a combination of residual MPLS and new Internet connectivity (or other means of transport). Here, the optimal financial results for the transport underlay are achieved by combining new lower-cost transport services with optimized legacy MPLS pricing. That said, many companies are moving away from MPLS altogether, but it depends on their specific needs and appetite for transformational change.
The total cost of ownership of the SD-WAN solution must be considered when evaluating the benefits of choosing different WAN transport options, and there are serious pitfalls to avoid.
Beware of overreaching: It is essential to document a holistic set of requirements that does not exceed the scope of the solution. Specifying a larger feature set and more functionality than required can result in higher costs with software licenses and the required SD-WAN appliance. Similarly, with some solutions, these charges are directly related to aggregate bandwidth and throughput.
Managed service vs DIY: Your choice of management will also be a major cost driver, whether deploying a fully managed solution or a version of a DIY or co-managed model. SD-WAN is a complex technology. It’s not the “plug-and-play” solution that much of the trade press might lead you (or your CIO) to believe. The current trend in the large enterprise space is towards using a more fully managed solution. However, the price and scope of managed solutions can vary significantly.
Taking into account additional adoption costs:Often overlooked at the outset, your analysis must also consider the cost of implementing shipping, deployment, commissioning of the chosen solution, and alignment of facilities with circuit provisioning and disconnections. Most large SD-WAN deployments benefit from additional specific SD-WAN expertise from the solution provider or managed services partner. Field resources (your own or those of a third-party provider such as your managed services partner or an implementation specialist) and additional project management resources will be required. Either approach should include both internal and external costs in planning and benchmarking.
Consider procurement programs: Some companies may lack internal resources or prefer to focus on other aspects of their business strategy; they could seek out a competitive sourcing program to do the due diligence for them. The company wants to ensure that it has selected the right solution, optimizes costs and has the structure of the offer and the scope of support and services required. Sourcing programs can source the vendors and solutions that best match the company’s technical, business, and financial requirements and objectives.
Look beyond the main provider: It’s important to avoid the default position that leads some companies to explore the technology only with their main incumbent WAN provider. This may ultimately be the best way to go, but we have often seen suboptimal results from such an approach.
Separate or modular RFPs are needed to make the most of the transformational opportunity offered by SD-WAN—one for SD-WAN solution, management, and implementation, and one for network transport . Whether it’s bundled providers (SD-WAN + transport) or pure-play SD-WAN solution providers, managed network service providers, legacy carriers or transport aggregators, it’s the best way to engage and exert maximum leverage over the range of vendor alternatives that might meet your needs.
Originally posted by AOTMP® November Insights Magazine.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.