With more than 20 vendors claiming to offer Software-Defined WAN or SD-WAN solutions, the choices may seem overwhelming. Adding to the confusion are the recent acquisitions of several smaller vendors.

SD-WAN helps network administrators and IT leaders who are looking to drive agility, reliability, and cost savings within their organizations.

“The lack of agility caused by legacy networks is a primary problem solved by an SD-WAN,” according to Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research. SD-WAN technology provides intelligent path selection across MPLS, broadband, and LTE, improves cloud connectivity, and streamlines branch network access. It works by separating the management plane from the control plane to centralize management and orchestration.”

Technical Criteria

With so many vendors to choose from, it’s important to focus on key technical criteria, including ease of management, service orchestration, performance optimization, remote deployment, cloud connectivity, end-to-end visibility, and embedded security.

Ease of Management

The SD-WAN solution should be simple and easy to manage. Therefore, centralized network management that can be deployed either in the data center or cloud-based is an absolute must.

The SD-WAN management interface should provide a complete, at-a-glance view of the entire enterprise network including secure SD-WAN gateways in the branch, datacenter, and cloud, as well as wireless access points and wired LAN switches in remote business locations.

Using the management console, you should be able to quickly and easily design, deploy, and modify your deployments and services. You should be able to expand network endpoints with zero additional operational overhead using intuitive, cloud-centric workflows and business-intent based policies.

Service Orchestration Across Hybrid WANs, Cloud Networks, and Wired and Wireless LANs

An effective SD-WAN solution provides software-defined and business policy-based orchestration across the entire network – spanning hybrid WANs, cloud networks, and branch wireless and wired LANs. With service orchestration, operational efficiency is improved and OpEx lowered accordingly.

Centralized, policy-based management allows you to set consistent, unified policies across regions and clouds. The policies can be expressed in the easy to understand language of business – apps, users, locations, etc. – rather than the technical aspects of routing.

Automated path control should be available to provide path selection based on application type, business priority, and path quality as determined by available bandwidth, latency, jitter, or packet loss.

Note that not all vendors support service orchestration across cloud networks and wired/wireless LANs equally.

Performance Optimization

An SD-WAN solution that integrates full-featured WAN optimization is preferred. WAN optimization helps improve application performance over diverse types of broadband and MPLS, further reducing MPLS costs. This is especially important for business-relevant SaaS applications such as Office 365.

Application acceleration reduces the number of network- and application-based transactions across the WAN for faster response times and end-to-end throughput. To accelerate the wide variety of applications in use by your organization, fully featured SD-WAN solutions should be able to automatically identify, classify, and optimize at least 1,000 applications over any network.

Remote Deployment

Using the management console, network engineers should be able to design, deploy, and change deployments quickly and easily, globally orchestrate network services based on business policies, and have new services up and running in minutes.

Your SD-WAN should also provide zero-touch provisioning to branch and remote locations without requiring skilled personnel at the branch locations. Using centralized policy rules, your SD-WAN appliances should be able to come online automatically, configure themselves, and be up-and-running in minutes.

Cloud Connectivity

You should also have automated single-click connectivity securely and transparently links your branch offices to your Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or other public clouds, eliminating the need for on-site IT or manual configuration of devices.

SimplePay, a payment processor in Australia, deployed SD-WAN on AWS. Rob Gillan, CTO of SimplePay, said of their SD-WAN deployment, “There’s no truck roll, there’s no staff needed, it literally is one of the simplest deployments I’ve ever been involved in.” Sitting at his desk using a management console, Rob Gillan can turn on AWS anywhere in the world, provision it, and 10 minutes later the network is connected.

End-to-End Network Visibility

The SD-WAN solution should offer integrated tools that provide end-to-end visibility. It should provide continuous automatic monitoring of network events, site, and tunnel status, as well as including report-based usage and availability data about your overall network, specific sites, servers, all applications, and users.

With the information integrated visibility provides, you should be able to quickly make informed decisions, monitor and troubleshoot performance issues, and take action as needed. Using early notifications, you should be able to proactively manage your performance and ensure service levels are met.

Embedded Security

The SD-WAN solution should make it easier to secure your network and limit attack surfaces so that a breach at one branch does not infect others.

It should offer support for centralized embedded security, firewalls, access points, and switches to help simplify and consolidate the overall management of equipment, especially at the branch and other distributed locations. Look for solutions that include these capabilities as well as the ability to integrate with third-party CASB or on-premises firewalls.

In addition, look for network segmentation that allows you to determine traffic paths for each application and type of data depending on business priority and security needs. That way, if a breach does occur, the impact is limited to the specific network segment.

No Shortage of Options

With so many choices, it’s important to validate vendors according to key technical criteria such as ease of management, service orchestration, performance optimization, remote deployment, cloud connectivity, end-to-end visibility, and embedded security, so you can select the SD-WAN vendor that best meets your needs.

There are also non-technical criteria to consider. Referenceable customers, experience with large-scale deployments, flexible pricing models, and company health are all areas to explore. What is most important is that you have a partner in your SD-WAN vendor who will guide your deployment and invest in your future success.

About the Author

Steve Brar is the Director of Solutions Marketing for Riverbed. In this role, he leads the marketing strategy for Riverbed’s Application Performance Platform and cross-portfolio solutions. Steve has been with Riverbed since 2014. Prior to joining Riverbed, Steve led product marketing for HP’s campus networking product lines. At HP he  held engineering, product management roles, and product marketing roles. He has more than 12 years of experience in the networking industry. Steve graduated with a BS  in Computer Science & Engineering from the University of California, Davis. He is currently based in San Francisco, California.