3 Ways Feds Can Make the Most of SD-WAN

A familiar technology can boost network reliability when traffic volume is high.

Agencies shifting from dedicated multiprotocol label switching links to internet connections are quickly bumping into an old technology with a new name: SD-WAN, for software-defined wide area networks.

SD-WAN technology can be invaluable in offering a high-quality user experience across lower-cost and lower-reliability circuits.

Here are a few tips to maximize SD-WAN.

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1. Make Sure Your Equipment Tests Network Quality 

SD-WAN appliances at the edge of branch offices can help smooth out rough spots when internet circuits become congested or unreliable. By transparently redirecting traffic away from a failed link, SD-WAN minimizes the impact of a circuit outage.

IT managers should look beyond this basic capability, though, and choose SD-WAN devices that can test link quality and detect congestion or packet loss as well as an outright outage. This helps preserve the user experience while IT teams initiate repairs.

Another SD-WAN feature set — path selection, prioritization and bandwidth management — helps make use of multiple links by steering and managing corporate applications over one path and less important traffic over the other. That keeps YouTube viewers from affecting performance of critical line-of-business applications.

SD-WAN devices should be able to report on link reliability and quality. Charts will prove invaluable when it comes to negotiating service-level agreement credits or discounts or to justify changing service providers.

2. Use Data on Network Traffic to Set Policies 

SD-WAN appliances are very traffic-aware, especially when steering traffic or performing in-line compression or encryption. To handle prioritization and bandwidth management, they will go deeper than normal devices in identifying applications.

SD-WAN turns that knowledge into detailed reporting, generates NetFlow or IPFIX data or both and gives unequaled visibility into what is happening in branch offices.

IT managers should ensure that SD-WAN deployments make use of that valuable data, give help desks and support teams access for troubleshooting and problem-solving, and allow security teams to use it to set network policies and identify offenders. Network teams will also find it very useful in capacity planning and network performance monitoring.

3. Combine Multiple Functions in Single Devices 

Just as firewalls and VPN devices merged into a single appliance 15 years ago, SD-WAN devices and unified threat management firewalls are also moving together. As the leading WAN optimization/SD-WAN vendors get more comfortable with firewall feature sets, all-in-one devices are coming to market.

IT managers should zoom out when selecting SD-WAN devices and make sure that network, security and application teams all have a say in device selection and deployment configuration. It’s not just a question of deployment and acquisition costs.

Combining these multiple functions in a single device, rather than stacking switches, routers and firewalls, creates an opportunity for network optimization that doesn’t exist when each device stands alone.

Lance Pettiford
Apr 06 2018