Our SD-WAN journey has been an exciting one but also one with many “D’oh” face palm moments along the way.

We began researching SD-WAN four years ago, spent a lot of time in the US with what, back then, were emerging vendors and began working out how we might bring the technology into the corporate market in Australia.

I remember working our way through over 20 vendor workshops with the team. Some vendors had a viable product and others just had a PowerPoint deck and a concept back then. However, we found a few really great pure play start-ups who we began testing with and a couple have gone on to be consumed by the big players of the industry and are now the leading technologies in the industry.
We locked in on one vendor, Velocloud, back in the early days and became huge fans not just of their technology but also of their people and culture. I still remember when the Velocloud team suggested we move to the pub to finish negotiating our first agreement with them. We knew we had found our cultural fit when that happened!

So, we started building out our network. We made the call that if we were to deliver a corporate grade SD-WAN solution, then we would need to invest in the solution. We built our own Gateways, Orchestrator instances and invested in integrating the solution into our core systems to allow for monitoring and redundancy right through the solution. If we were going to offer SD-WAN to businesses, it had to have all the same rigour and resilience that we have become accustomed to with MPLS networks.

What have we learned so far?

1.
This approach to networking is fascinating and transformative, we have learned more about how our customers use their networks (and so have they) in the last four years than we had learned in the previous 20 years with MPLS. The visibility and control this type of network provides to customers is spectacular.

2. No matter how much we and a customer may think we know what they need in a network, three months after an SD-WAN network is implemented, we both realise what they really need and have to make changes. This has led us to providing two solutions – firstly, we offer Proof of Concept trials at no charge to customers to help both us and them understand what is going on in their network, click “here” if you want to explore this with us. Secondly, we have kicked off a review program of customer networks. Our team complete a review of the network deployed and flush out what we could do better now that we can see everything going on inside the customer’s network.

3. 4G (and soon 5G) into SD-WAN is both a blessing and a curse. It is a brilliant alternate path to terrestrial carriage, but boy can the cost blowout if you haven’t thought through the configuration. Through many tests and deployments (read mistakes) we now have a great handle on how to maximise the use without the nasty cost implications.

4. System integration into a Telco or Managed provider isn’t easy. Creating an effective model for monitoring SD-WAN sites took a few attempts to nail down. When you have a single edge that could have multiple carriage accesses of differing grades connected, the monitoring and fault mapping is hard. It has really taken us three years to get this to a point where we can effectively fault diagnose and manage ticketing for SD-WAN sites. In an MPLS world you just looked for “Hard down” situations and monitoring was very binary – is the site up or down? Now you have more information to diagnose poor performance in a link or in an application and flag remediation options; however, you must build the systems and integration to bring this to life. It’s one thing to have someone run their eyes over the vendor tool and spot a problem but when you get into the thousands of sites this just doesn’t make sense anymore – you need systems doing it for you.

5. Vendor consolidation is well underway. SD-WAN technology is maturing into a dominant approach while traditional MPLS networking is now on the descending side of the product life cycle. The question is not whether to move but when to make the shift. The positive news is this technology can be deployed as a hybrid solution integrated with MPLS or as a standalone replacement. Having deployed both approaches many times, we believe we have unique expertise in managing this and would love a chance to talk to your business about how we could help.

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