What is the Interaction between WAN Management and SD-WAN Adoption?
Latest Post in the WAN Series
This is the eighth and last blog in a series of blogs on the topic of the evolving enterprise WAN that is based on a survey that was completed in May 2016 by 110 network professionals. The previous blogs were:
- What’s Driving Change in the WAN?
- The Limitations of the Current Branch Office WAN Architecture
- How well do SD-WANs Support the Forces Impacting the WAN?
- When will SD-WANs be Broadly Adopted?
- Where do Users Want WAN Functionality Hosted?
- Which SD-WAN Implementation Options do Users Prefer?
- Will Adopting new SD-WAN Solutions Cause Users to Switch Vendors?
This blog will focus on the state of WAN management in general and it will discuss the interaction between WAN management and SD-WAN adoption.
Managing WAN availability is not that difficult. Network organizations can easily determine if a WAN link is up or down, and if it is down, determining the cause of the outage is relatively easy. Identifying and remediating poor network and/or application performance is notably more difficult. With that in mind, the survey respondents were asked to rate the visibility that their network organization has into their WAN for troubleshooting problems related to network and/or application performance degradation. Their responses are shown in Figure 1.
There are many tools currently available in the marketplace that are positioned as being able to provide network organizations with all of the visibility into their WAN that they need for troubleshooting problems related to network and/or application performance degradation. However, whether it is the deficiencies of those tools or the troubleshooting processes used by network organizations, less than one out of seven network organizations has all of the visibility that they need to effectively troubleshoot problems. In addition, roughly half of network organizations report having visibility into their WAN that either has frequent gaps or that is barely adequate.
The adoption of SD-WANs has the potential to further complicate the task of WAN management. One of the reasons for that is because SD-WANs introduce a new device into the WAN which must be managed. That device is referred to as a controller and its role is to support the central management of policy that enables network-wide policy definition and enforcement. One of the management challenges associated with the controller is that under heavy load the controller can add excessive delay. Another challenge is that the communications between the controller and the end devices must now be managed.
Another reason why the adoption of SD-WANs has the potential to further complicate the task of WAN management is that many SD-WAN solutions feature the dynamic load balancing of traffic over multiple WAN links. Hence, network organizations that are trying to troubleshoot performance problems with an SD-WAN have a new challenging question they will need to answer: Which link or links did the traffic transit and how did that change over time?
At least in theory, the adoption of SD-WANs has the potential to improve WAN management if the provider of the SD-WAN solution or service or an independent management company was to provide new tools with better insight than is currently available. However, most network organizations are not very optimistic that that will happen. For example, only 7% of the survey respondents indicated that they thought that providing better visibility would drive their organization to implement an SD-WAN.
SD-WAN adoption has the potential to provide many benefits including hard dollar savings. However, SD-WAN adoption may not be a good idea if it further erodes the ability of a network organization to troubleshoot network and application performance problems.
In order to realize the potential of SD-WANs to improve WAN management, network organizations must aggressively investigate the management capabilities of SD-WAN providers as well as independent management companies. Below are a few questions that network organizations should ask potential vendors in order to start that investigation.
1. Describe the capability of your management solution to:
- Enable rapid root cause analysis.
- Report on the quality of the end user’s experience potentially on a per-application basis.
- Baseline applications and network and identify anomalies that may be leading indicators of degradation.
- How your solution performs monitoring of network and application performance.
- The level of visibility that your solution provides into the performance of applications and services acquired from a cloud provider.
- The type and extent of analytics that is part of your solution.
3. What functionality does your solution provide to enable a company to implement and support SLAs for varying types of applications?
4. How does your solution ensure the quality of delay sensitive applications such as voice and video over both private WAN links and public broadband links?
5. How does your solution provide event correlation and fault management?