Most discussions on the benefits of software-defined WANs (SD-WANs) tend to focus on how the technology enables a network organisation to reduce or eliminate its spend on expensive MPLS circuits.
Clearly that is an important benefit, yet SD-WANs have other key benefits, as many early adopters of the technology will attest.
Recent discussions with an IT professional who is currently rolling out an SD-WAN solution highlighted the benefits of better performance, better visibility and the reduced cost and complexity that comes from removing routers from one big name vendor.
The IT pro is a director of information technology at a leading provider of technical product solutions for the automotive industry. The company manufactures electro-mechanic and electronic equipment. It has 12 major sites located in five continents, a work force of about 1,500 employees and annual revenues of roughly $US500 million.
Prior to implementing an SD-WAN, the company had the routers at each site, MPLS links into its larger sites and site-to-site VPNs for backup at those larger sites. Some locations, such as Tunisia and Indonesia, did not have MPLS connectivity because it would have cost thousands of dollars per month at each site.
One of the issues with the previous WAN was that in those sites that had multiple links in an active–passive configuration, the network suffered from slow failover from the primary link to the backup link as the network organisation had to reconfigure the router manually whenever the primary link failed.
One of the primary factors that drove the IT director to explore alternative WAN solutions was the company’s decision to move from having an ERP system in each region to having a single consolidated data centre. He felt the need to implement a WAN with higher performance and availability than the exisitng WAN.
The director explored both managed SD-WAN and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) solutions from multiple providers. The idea of a managed SD-WAN solution appealed to the company because adopting it would have meant no upfront costs.
However, he explained that they rejected the managed SD-WAN solution because after two years it would have cost more than the DIY solution that they adopted. He also explained that they choose a carefully selected SD-WAN solution in part because it was less expensive than alternative DIY solutions, and in part because it included functionality, such as optimisation, that the others didn’t.
director conducted a three-month pilot of the solution in those locations where he had a strong IT staff. At the end of the pilot, the company began a tiered rollout of the new solution. To date, the it has been implemented in nine of the company’s 12 major sites. As part of implementing the solution, the IT director removed the routers and is now using the SD-WAN solution as their edge device. According to him, “Any time I can eliminate network hardware it makes my life easier.”
The IT director is very pleased with the overall results of implementing the SD-WAN solution. According to him, “I am impressed with how well the solution works. It works as advertised, which is a welcome change.”
The company doesn’t begin to implement its new ERP system until later this year so it isn’t possible to quantify the performance impact of SD-WAN on that system. However, the IT director is convinced that the chosen solution has already improved application availability.
According to him, when compared to their previous WAN the SD-WAN is “definitely more solid”. He added that now when an MPLS link fails, the new solution seamlessly fails over to the backup link which allows the company “to get product out the door.”
The IT director was also very pleased with the new levels of visibility that he has into his network traffic. He said, “It’s unbelievable how much more visibility I have. I have reporting that I have never had before that enables me to track down rogue users and to isolate a device that is taking up too much bandwidth.”
He added that not only does he now have great visibility but that “the visibility tools came at no extra cost.”
By Jim Metzler, Silver Peak