If you were to believe some of the more extreme marketing hype, you might think SD-WAN is the silver bullet for all of your WAN-related woes. But like any technology solution, the actual benefits and possibilities of SD-WAN will depend heavily on a number of factors unique to your organisation. It’s a complex technology, after all, and by no means an off-the-shelf product.
But if you are looking to enhance the performance and management of your network estate, SD-WAN is certainly an area worth considering – because it can be a very powerful solution for multi-site enterprises. And that means building a use case for your business, which is a task all by itself.
Often, departments across the business have different priorities, while stakeholders like the CIO or board members have varying levels of understanding about what a solution can actually deliver. Complicating matters further, there’s always a pressure to show exactly what the ROI will be. Even when (as is the case for SD-WAN) a solution is relatively new to market, making it incredibly difficult to judge over the long term.
So, what are the key considerations when building a use case for SD-WAN?
Establish the need
Before you build a use case for SD-WAN, assess what sort of service your business actually needs. Not all SD-WANs are created equal, and investing in SD-WAN isn’t as straightforward as picking a box off the shelf and plugging it in. The solution should be exclusively tailored and designed to meet your organisation’s individual needs.
For example, if you have significant IT resource and the right talent on site to manage SD-WAN, you might be seeking a DIY solution. But if your resource is limited – or if you have any uncertainties around monitoring, hybrid working, or central ticketing – a Managed Service could be a better fit.
You’ll also need to think about whether you just need an overlay, or if your underlying connectivity also needs a rethink. Some vendors only provide a CPE router function SD-WAN, leaving users to supply their own connectivity. If you’re looking into SD-WAN because you want more agile bandwidth, this will only be possible if the SD-WAN central controller can also control the underlay.
This is a key consideration. It’s all well and good investing in SD-WAN, but without the right foundations in place, you won’t be able to realise the benefits of your new investment. It may well be the case that you could glean more value from investing in a new underlay, like MPLS.
Work out what benefits you’d like to see
In our digital-first world, all enterprises need well-managed and reliable connectivity. That makes SD-WAN an appealing prospect. But when you’re building your use case, you first need to take a hard look at what benefits you’re actually seeking.
Do you want to improve workflow, or do you need a connectivity solution that can support your growing reliance on cloud applications? Are you hoping to reduce costs, or are you primarily motivated by a growing need for network flexibility?
Instead of a direct benefit, it could even be that you’re being questioned by senior stakeholders on why you aren’t already embracing this hot new trend. And in many cases, it’ll be a combination of the above. Whatever it is, keep a clear view of the benefits you’re hoping to achieve – and interrogate these carefully with your potential vendor.
Set (realistic) expectations
It’s a classic problem for any new and much-discussed technology: many vendors have somewhat overhyped the possibilities, so it’s vital that you understand (and can relay to your stakeholders) what SD-WAN won’t necessarily do.
For example, many think it will be a huge cost saver. While it certainly can improve efficiencies and reduce costs over time, you shouldn’t expect to see huge savings in the short term. And again, in terms of an initial investment figure, SD-WAN should always be tailored to an individual organisation.
This means it’s very difficult to pinpoint an exact figure until you’ve invested the time in building a strategy – and if you’re looking for a DIY solution, there’ll be many cost considerations that aren’t immediately obvious to users.
Delivering on the promises
The need for robust, reliable and well-managed network services is evident in all modern enterprises. What’s less clear for many IT decision makers is how exactly SD-WAN can deliver on its many promises, given that the solution is still in its infancy.
Essentially, it’s a case of staying realistic and carefully assessing the possibilities, as well as holding vigorous discussions with vendors to assess what the best solution is for you. In doing so, you can build a realistic use case for SD-WAN, helping you to take advantage in the most efficient way.