Robert Sturt

By: Robert Sturt on November 8th, 2018

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How to complete SD WAN vendor comparison?

Perhaps you’re sitting down in the near future to evaluate SD WAN solutions and try to choose a winner (and some losers) for your business? In this article, we talk about some of the considerations when embarking on SD WAN vendor comparison. If this is the case, you’re no doubt overrun by sales people, marketing materials, and a bevy of new terminology, creating a Gordian knot for you to sort out and sort through.

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Editors note:

You may have seen one of our recent article that recommended you try to familiarise yourself with the “minimum features that define an SD WAN solution”, keep it in front of you, and let it help to guide you in your search for the right fit. Today, let’s dig a little deeper into the 4 (more specific) areas you’re going to need to consider when evaluating UK SD WAN products.

These are perhaps, going to help you focus your efforts AFTER you’ve settled on a base set of features you think you’re seeking.4 areas - SD-WAN products

First is what we’ve already talked about.

There are TONS of potential features offered across the SD WAN landscape, and there are many more than I’ve mentioned, here, or in previous articles.

From all of these features, you (as a business) need to figure out a way to refine them down to some sort of hierarchy. Perhaps you can throw them into buckets from “must-haves” to “solves a business challenge” to “would be handy” to “would take it if they threw it in for free”.  I have even seen some features when evaluating technology solutions that I would categorise as “I WOULDN’T take if they threw it in for free” (I’m sure we all have).

The features you can’t live without will largely dictate the solutions that can (and can’t) fit into your initial selection grouping.

The second area you need to consider is “Exactly what business challenges do we expect this SD WAN deployment to address?”

The second area you need to consider is “Exactly what business challenges do we expect this deployment to address?”  In fact, if you’re on the verge of evaluating SD WAN solutions, I’d wager you’ve already identified some of these challenges.  I’m suggesting you should look deeper.  If you’re going to make this leap, then look for other business challenges this solution can address.  Perhaps you want to make sure that your Unified Communications traffic will always take the path with the lowest loss/latency/jitter profile. 

Perhaps it’s very important to you that this SD WAN implementation is going to enhance your security position between branch offices. After all, many of them are very good at building full meshes of strong IPsec tunnels and doing endpoint security at every location.

Maybe your primary consideration is getting resiliency for all of your sites.  Another customer doing these evaluations, may be almost entirely concerned with trying to make the cloud application performance better at all of their branch locations.  And finally, I suspect most businesses evaluating SD WAN solutions are hoping to make their connectivity spending more efficient at the branches. These are just a few of the business challenges that SD WAN solutions CAN address, you’ll need to define what you need out of your solution before you can ever know whether it can deliver. 

Have you come up with a plan to try to capture or calculate the return on investment you intend to get from this solution?

Now, I understand that as the IT decision maker, that ROI formula might seem like it falls to the business office staffers to sort out.  I’m asking you to consider it from your departmental perspective. 

  • Where is your time spent today?
  • How many hours do you lose each week, month or year to failed connections?
  • What about problematic connections (ones with high latency, or occasional loss that lead to lots of user complaints)?
  • How much loss is too much loss on a link?
  • Does that differ for links in Metro areas versus those in rural offices?

How many different systems or dashboards do you need to log into today to troubleshoot the average problem?

You see, if haven’t clearly defined your metrics for what is acceptable and what isn’t, how will you know whether you’ve gained anything from your new solution?  You need to be able to define your goals for staff time savings, and circuit cost savings, as well as the efficiencies you expect to gain from better management abilities.  You have to be able to define these things before you can write an RFP that tells the vendor (and your own administration) what you expect the ROI will be in terms IT efficiencies.  This is your Information Technology ROI.  After all, if the whole thing is 30% more difficult to manage, maintain, and administrate, we can all be pretty certain that the end-user experience is not going to actually be better.  In most cases, a system that is MORE difficult to manage leads to worse end-user experiences in the long run.

Ethernet Services

Oftentimes this consideration is largely already defined.  Unless you’re doing this as a greenfield network (building it new from the ground up), you’ll already have a good idea exactly what circuit types, circuit sizes and circuit providers you have in place.

But if it IS Greenfield, or if you are doing this as part of a large overhaul, you’re going to need to have some idea what circuit technologies you will employ.  You might be deploying Metro Ethernet, MPLS, Cable modems, DSL circuits, LTE wireless, Microwave links, or even Satellite links to some locations.  Obviously, whenever you can, you’ll want to keep the different technology types to a minimum.

I say this largely because it keeps the number of different technologies that your staff has to be experts in to a minimum.  The same can be said for keeping the number of providers to a minimum, etc.  However, reality being what it is, most of us don’t have the luxury of building the network Greenfield and so we’ll be laying this SD WAN solution on top of our existing circuit topology.  Being able to describe this underlying topology will allow your SD WAN provider(s) to intelligently make recommendations about how to best deploy their solutions in your environment.

Finally, you need to consider just what your business IT staff is equipped to manage (or NOT equipped to manage). I’m always a bit amused when I ask about reporting capabilities/analytics and a vendor responds with something along the lines of “we have a rich API and a robust development community driven by our users”. I’m amused because I’ve never been fortunate enough to work in an organisation with a half dozen or so developers who can spend their days integrating a vendor solution into our daily workflow.

I mean, I know that those organisations exist, and I’m sure they’re nice places to work, but I’ve always needed those features to be there, and be there out of the box for the most part. In most cases, I can’t dedicate one or two FTE for the first year to writing code that leverages a vendor API to make a product work the way we really wanted it to. However, some organisations (particularly those that are shifting TOWARD a “cloud first” strategy) may have far more programmers than they have network staffers.

In fact, it may be why you’re considering an SD WAN solution to begin with. This is why I say you need to consider, at a higher level, whether you’re looking for a less-expensive (bare-bones) solution, or a more put-together “single pane of glass” solution with greatly simplified management. Your organisation might even be best served by one of the increasingly popular UK SD WAN as a service solutions that frees your network and IT staff to worry less about your network and more about your day-to-day datacenter and helpdesk needs. Just take some time to figure out what kind of solution you can (and CAN’T) manage with your current IT resources.

Whatever solution you choose, I’d suggest trying to sort out where you stand in each of these five areas first. Decide where you are in each area, and where you want to get to. Every organisation is different, and depending on the business sector you’re in, or the business challenges you face, you may have one, or more additional areas you need to consider. One thing that won’t change however, is that you should make sure that an SD WAN solution works for you, works for your business, and improves the experience for your users, and your customers.

About Robert Sturt

Robert is the Managing Director of Netify, a Network Union brand. With experience working across WAN services since 1998, Robert brings a wealth of experience based on hard won knowledge. A writer for and an experienced business strategist, Robert can bring a tonne of value to your project.