How to Design an SD-WAN Proof of Concept
Developing an SD-WAN proof-of-concept strategy gives you the time and flexibility to take the technology for a test drive and finely tune the solution.
Digital transformation has done great things for business. However, as demand for collaboration and deeply immersive applications grow, the demand on bandwidth grows. Businesses must prioritise applications which can provide all stakeholders with the seamless experience they require to be productive wherever they are working.
These pressures are pushing companies to look at solutions such as SD-WAN. Unlike traditional WANs which push traffic – including cloud traffic – to a central hub for security, SD WAN creates a virtual WAN which enables users to enjoy a faster, more productive and secure experience.
However, SD-WAN solutions can be complicated and difficult to implement. With many digital transformation projects failing, businesses are understandably wary. What you need is a proof of concept to show what it can do for your business and how it will work in practice.
A proof-of-concept model allows you to see if it will solve all the problems you’re experiencing, such as a poor experience with SaaS applications or a lack of visibility. You can explore the value it adds to your company, how users experience it and if it can indeed do all the things you hope – all without any interruption or risk to existing business operations.
You can also model various scenarios or models, to see which approach works best. This allows you to analyse the results and pick the best solution. Here are a few tips to help you plan your POC.
Evaluate your existing situation
The first step involves exploration of your current SD-WAN readiness. This involves looking at your existing system and setting it against your current business objectives. What do you want to achieve? Is the current system fully delivering and what areas need to be improved? This enables you to set your goals and decide what you need from an SD-WAN.
Find your provider
There is a growing number of SD-WAN providers out there. Each is different and will offer their own strengths and weaknesses. Which one you choose will often depend on the goals and objectives you set out in step one. By browsing the market, you can select a list of providers that you’re seriously considering for the job. Each of them should be willing to provide their CPE to test both in a hardware and virtual format. Once you have that in place, you can set about developing your plan.
Developing an SD-WAN plan
Putting a good plan in place will give you the best possible foundation from which to get started. First you should define your expectations. Drawing on your analysis of your current set up as well as the promises of providers, you can create a requirements document which sets a benchmark for what you want to achieve.
It is also a good idea to view this as a short-term exercise, rather than just an add on to your existing operations. While you do not want to distract from day-to-day jobs, you do want to focus the minds of your stakeholders to ensure best usage of the technology and short-term investment.
Look at which stakeholders need to be involved and make sure everyone has a way to record their experiences and deliver feedback. Different departments will inevitably have different criteria, depending on what they need from a system. It’s important that you have a way of measuring if each department’s criteria have been met.
With your plan in place, you need to set up a testing lab and deploy your test. You should set up a series of live trials, evaluating traffic needs, performance requirements and a clear ranking methodology through which you can evaluate the technology. You want a test to be as realistic as possible, replicating all the most important aspects of your operations and critical business traffic.
Redundancy and resiliency
One common gap with POC testing is to miss analysis of what happens if something goes wrong in a scenario. Every system needs to have clear redundancy measures in place which kick in if there is a network problem. This test should not just be about evaluation of a system’s performance when all goes well; it should assess how well operations can continue if things go wrong.
Making the decision
If you’ve done the groundwork properly, identified your requirements and goals, you should be able to record a clear scoring system for how to solution meets your needs. This might include a score for different aspects such as speed, usability, security and redundancy. This can give you a clear record of where the solution performs well, where it might be lacking and how it matches with your requirements. At this stage you can discuss any remedial action that can be made to the design to correct performance.
Following a successful proof of concept, providing all has gone well you can embark on your transformation project already armed with the knowledge that this system – more or less – can deliver on your expectations. This, in itself, will dramatically increase the likelihood of your digital transformation project being a success and obtaining management buy-in and support.