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Blog · 03 Dec 2021

How to avoid common pitfalls when choosing your SD-WAN

With so many SD-WAN variants on the market today, how can organisations identify the SD-WAN that will deliver on its transformational promise?

Kostas Rigas
Head of SD-WAN portfolio, BT

The new normal of hybrid working has seen an increase in the adoption of cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technology, as well as the need for more stringent controls around cybersecurity.

There’s now huge potential for transformation, but these key components depend on networks that are reliable, scalable, secure and flexible.

So how do you create these type of networks that are so fundamental to progress?

SD-WAN is the simple answer, but choosing the right SD-WAN approach for your organisation is a complex process with many paths and pitfalls. Read on to find out what you need to know to help make the right decisions.

Successful SD-WAN needs a fresh perspective

Start by recognising there’s confusion over the definition of SD-WAN. At the moment, SD-WAN is unstandardised, so it can be defined in any way that’s convenient to a vendor, user or observer. For some it can mean minimal functionality added to existing edge devices, for example an edge router or WAN acceleration box. For others it’s a transformational tool that spans the entire network.

The way through this confusion is to focus your thinking on what your organisation would like to achieve with SD-WAN, and work from there. See SD-WAN as an ‘anchor service’ rather than a ‘point product’. Don’t view SD-WAN as a tactic to solve a couple of immediate or urgent needs, because that may blind you from other future benefits. Things that could be critical for you and important for closing security gaps and vulnerabilities created as a result of updating processes. Keep your perspective wide and focus for long-term success and functionality rather than short-term expediency.

Look to gain broad capabilities and more elegant solution architectures that can truly transform and simplify networking, for decades to come. Think about achieving better routing for your important applications, meeting additional bandwidth demands, improving the performance of your priority applications, and integrating security. You’re aiming for the scalability, agility and flexibility to customise your solution to your organisation’s changing business needs.

Five hallmarks of a long-term, transformative SD-WAN solution

To realise SD-WAN’s full potential, look out for solutions with the following five critical characteristics:

  1. A separate control plane (that can be known as the controller or orchestrator) and a data plane that allows for intelligent automation and optimisation across a myriad of functions such as security, configuration and traffic optimisation.
  2. Automated and intelligent security configuration and encryption that’s context aware and runs from network edge to edge.
  3. Automated and intelligent traffic steering to make optimum use of multiple physical WAN resources.
  4. Automated routing configuration to increase setup speed and eliminate errors and security holes or omissions.
  5. Context awareness that takes into account user role, application needs and priorities as well as underlying network conditions.

Critically, these are not independent characteristics. There’s significant synergy among them, creating a combined result that’s superior to the sum of the parts, while also being less costly than that sum. Security, too, must be included in this mix at the design stage, rather than being bolted-on at a later stage. If it’s to be effective, it needs consistency among these components. The consistency that protects you from changing and evolving threat landscape, plugging vulnerabilities and gaps as they emerge.

So, how do you bring these characteristics to life in a SD-WAN deployment that will have both short- and long-term transformative benefits for your organisation?

Partnering you to success

Here at BT, we’re uniquely positioned to help you on your SD-WAN journey, because we’re one of the few partners who can focus on your network and security hand in hand. Our experienced specialist team can support you through your network evolution with the skills, systems and processes you need, bridging any knowledge gaps you may have to deliver the agility and control associated with SD-WAN and Network Function Virtualisation services. And our managed SD-WAN service and roadmap continues to evolve as we add more capability and scope from the marketplace. As the technology evolves, we’ll remain at the forefront of development to translate the breakthroughs into meaningful benefits for your organisation.

Our ambition is to be your single port of call for SD-WAN innovation and implementation. Experience shows that organisations that try to integrate multiple vendors can end up with higher operational costs, higher maintenance costs and lower levels of agility and automation. Plus, it takes a considerable amount of time to orchestrate different solutions and vendors so they work together effectively, and it stretches skills and resources needed.

As a network pioneer, we’ve taken our extensive experience of deploying new technologies, like SD-WAN, and distilled this knowledge into blueprints to help customers transform their infrastructure. Our blueprints dive into specific details around what you’ll need when deploying SD-WAN to make it a success.

If you like to find out more, please download our blueprint here.

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