Moving into SD-WAN: Common pitfalls and solutions

Gone are the days of businesses being able to depend on static networks to deliver a reliable employee experience. Ensuring that employees had fast, reliable connections with all software and tools prioritised and at their disposable wasn’t too difficult with a local Wide Area Network (WAN), but as we careen towards the so-called “new normal” at breakneck speed, it’s clear that the WAN is no longer sufficient.

Teams are now distributed, workers are onboarded remotely, and businesses are beginning to downsize their office space in order to accommodate a new era of hybrid, desk-based working. How can a business guarantee a consistently reliable online experience for its employees if they’re potentially spread out around the world, logging on using different devices and access points? The answer, for an increasing number of businesses, is the Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN).

SD-WAN facilitates distributed working, making it an ideal choice for businesses with offices in multiple locations and in hybrid working setups. The more efficient consumption methods of modern SaaS (software as a service) applications are designed to support this kind of flexibility and enable global collaboration. Migration to the cloud brings greater security, higher productivity, and less downtime with it, resulting in a much more agile workforce. In order for SaaS to truly shine, it needs a modern internet-centric network solution such as that offered by SD-WAN.

Just before the pandemic, less than a fifth (28%) of businesses worldwide reported to be using SD-WAN as a technology. Fast forward one year into the pandemic, as businesses were forced to grapple with the idea of remote work and accelerate their digital transformation plans, we saw the number of global businesses using SD-WAN almost double to 43%.

The SD-WAN market is now poised to grow rapidly, from US$1.9 billion as last recorded in 2020, to a staggering US$8.4 billion by 2025 – a CAGR of 34% and a strong indicator of how organisations’ relationship with the cloud is about to change. In the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region alone, analysts are predicting that the market for SD-WAN will exceed US$3 billion by 2025, making the region a central driver of SD-WAN’s continuing rollout.

But what is SD-WAN? Why is it proving so popular in areas like APAC, and what are some of the common pitfalls that businesses should steer clear of as they move toward embracing the technology?

What is SD-WAN and why is it so popular?

SD-WAN is a feature-rich technology that enables programmatically configured and managed connections between local area networks, regardless of geography. In other words, it allows businesses to leverage a variety of connectivity services, from traditional broadband and MPLS right through to LTE, and intelligently optimise traffic so that users get a reliable and consistent experience.

Businesses can even choose to prioritise SaaS-based applications for speedy delivery to certain users in what’s increasingly being called an “application-aware” approach to connectivity. Unlike traditional WAN models, which tend to be router-centric and funnel traffic based on IP addresses and ACLs, SD-WAN allows businesses to take a cloud-first approach to connectivity that puts business policy first.

It’s ideal for organisations like those in the APAC region that are increasingly embracing mobility and seeking to lessen their reliance on MPLS. The myriad benefits of SD-WAN are impossible to ignore with the technology proving so popular.

However, there’s a real risk that some of these benefits might be compromised when it’s not deployed correctly, or if it doesn’t integrate well with an organisation’s day-to-day activities and processes. Technology is changing so rapidly that customer environments, especially within the cloud, require high levels of adaptability. An incorrect deployment can put this determining quality of SD-WAN solutions at risk, which can turn into a significant drain on a company’s internal resources.

Avoiding common SD-WAN deployment pitfalls

SD-WAN is a dynamic and cost-effective solution to distributed connectivity, but a business can only reap its benefits if it’s deployed in the right way. As with many new technologies and infrastructures, it all begins with vendor selection.

Choosing the wrong kind of supplier with the wrong kind of network footprint is where some businesses tend to trip up when evaluating SD-WAN. To make the most of SD-WAN, businesses should be thinking about it as a holistic, end-to-end connectivity solution rather than a string of technical functions.

This approach should also be mirrored by whoever supplies and manages the technology. It’s important to remember that SD-WAN isn’t just about connectivity; it’s about speed, intelligence, automation, security, and reliability. To that end, integrators ought to have the know-how to be able to advise the best fitting SD-WAN technology in an objective, agnostic way.

Failure to properly assess security needs is another common pitfall. A good SD-WAN-as-a-service solution will have strong security capabilities natively woven into the service, but not enough businesses know what to look for when vetting potential suppliers. Next-generation firewalls, VPN tunnelling, and micro-segmentation of traffic should all be key facets of any SD-WAN offering.

When deploying an SD-WAN solution, it’s also crucial that businesses embrace it as a long-term investment and plan their deployment carefully in order to accurately forecast cost-saving as part of the implementation. Picture having to make changes to a global network spanning multiple regions, with some of them in potentially remote areas miles away from the nearest town or city.

With a clear deployment plan in place, including the training and upskilling of staff members, as well as the monitoring and policies on how various traffic scenarios will be handled, businesses will be setting themselves up for success when it comes to using SD-WAN to its full potential.

One of the most basic principles of economics is to do what you’re good at. With the rapid pace at which technology is evolving, ensuring smooth operations by keeping IT infrastructures fully updated needs constant expert attention, which can be a drain on a company’s internal resources.

Managed service providers can step in and use their extensive experience in the field to offer best-in-class solutions. By working together with internal IT departments on the deployment strategy, they can help avoid these common pitfalls, ensuring that their business fully benefits from the many advantages an effective SD-WAN solution brings to the table.