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The CIO’s Guide to SD-WAN

Author: John Burke, CIO & Principal Research Analyst

SD-WAN is a potential game-changer for wide area networking—on the same level as server virtualization, which transformed data centers over the last 10 years. SD-WAN combines the use of multiple active branch links, intelligent direction of traffic across those links, and centralized, policy-driven management of the WAN as a whole. The ability to leverage multiple lower-cost services (including Internet and 4G wireless) as well as traditional services like MPLS holds the promise of transforming IT’s relationship to the WAN and the WAN’s relationship to the business.

Transformational potential is not enough. IT has to build a compelling business case for making the transition. The base of the case must be cost. Nemertes has developed and validated an SD-WAN cost model that enables enterprise users to build that business case. The short version? SD-WAN deployments can cut millions from large WAN service bills. But connectivity is not the only avenue by which SD-WAN can drive savings; by providing cheaper and more transparent and automatic failover when WAN links fail, SD-WAN can reduce branch WAN outages and troubleshooting costs by 90%.

For IT and networking professionals the message is clear: now is the time to take a close look at your WAN architecture, with the aim of identifying locations that could benefit from higher bandwidth, lower rates, increased reliability, or all three. Model the cost of sticking with the current architecture and compare that against at least two SD-WAN solutions. If the SD-WAN numbers show significant potential savings over time, build a business case based on them, as well as other operational savings and any business value assigned by the business lines to faster branch turn-up.

IT staff should:

  • Assess the amount of failover-only bandwidth they are paying for now
  • Assess their demand curve for WAN and Internet bandwidth: determine how the connectivity profile for typical locations is likely to evolve in the next few years based on existing IT strategies for UC, collaboration, etc.
  • Model the cost of using the current architecture for three to five more years.
  • Evaluate and model costs for at least two in-net or overlay SD-WAN solutions
  • If the SD-WAN numbers show significant potential savings over time, they should build a business case on them—but don’t leave out any other operational improvements they expect to realize.
  • Look for quantification of the business value of agility in starting new branches or delivering new services more quickly; business units may have built a significant portion of the business case.


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