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Guest Blog: Making the Most of the SD-WAN Business Case

Tom Nolle Headshot
By Tom Nolle
November 26, 2018

I don’t think there are many new technologies as easily justified as SD-WAN.  While the benefits of SD-WAN vary depending on the specific vertical market a prospective user represents and the scope of current and planned connectivity, my modeling says that it’s reasonable to expect SD-WAN to cut network costs by 50% or more.  One enterprise CFO told me succinctly “It’s a slam dunk”, so why is optimizing the business case important?

One enterprise CFO told me succinctly “It’s a slam dunk”

The obvious reason is that nobody wants to leave potential benefits on the table just because they’ve justified their project.  If saving 30% or 40% or even half is good, saving more would be better.  The less obvious, and better, reason is that not considering all the benefits of SD-WAN means you’re not considering either the full scope of its impact or the full requirement set that should guide your selection of a product or service.  That’s what I want to talk about here.

Let’s start with the obvious.  SD-WAN generates direct savings for users who replace some or all of their MPLS VPN connections.  Most enterprises I’ve talked with aren’t looking to displace MPLS in more than a few marginal sites, though.  That means that for most users, the big benefits of SD-WAN are found elsewhere.  Not every SD-WAN product or service can deliver these benefits, which is why it’s important to think beyond direct network cost savings to get the most from SD-WAN.

The first of these non-connection-cost benefits is the productivity improvement that SD-WAN VPNs bring.  By getting all company facilities on the VPN, all employees have equal access to company data and applications.  The problem of small branch offices ending up as enclaves for “second-class IT citizens” not only reduces productivity, it can harm a company’s reputation with customers or suppliers served primarily from those offices.  My research shows significant productivity gains come from leveling the information-and-application playing field across all offices.

These two benefits are why most attempts to build an SD-WAN business case will succeed, but they’re not the end of the story.  Other benefits of SD-WAN are helpful today and likely to be compelling in the future.  All of them stem from two fundamental shifts—the dependence of businesses on the Internet and the need for agile, explicit, connectivity in the form of “network-as-a-service” or NaaS.

VPNs used to connect sites, and the real mission for business networks today is to connect people, meaning employees, partners, and customers, with dynamic and scalable hybrid cloud applications.  It’s the Internet that created this transformational shift in network roles, but the Internet works on a model of presumptive connectivity.  Businesses want connectivity without the presumption, the ability to regulate who connects to what, in a way that doesn’t add layers of complicated security tools.  They want to connect people and resources, not fixed physical sites.  The simple way to describe what businesses want is “network-as-a-service”.

NaaS delivers connectivity as needed and where needed.  Because it links resources and users directly with each other, it adapts dynamically to the way information flows within a business and outside to customers and partners.  NaaS can fully exploit the agility of new computing options, from virtual machines and containers to public cloud, hybrid cloud, and multi-cloud.  This is what enables an SD-WAN that supports NaaS to make every worker, contractor, partner, as productive and effective as they’d be if they were sitting in the data center next to a business’ repository of information.  That productivity gain is the largest of the benefits a NaaS-ready SD-WAN can deliver.

The right SD-WAN implementation will at the same time and without additional overhead or cost, include explicit connection security and agility.

What SD-WAN does is create connectivity for all, including people who aren’t in sites where MPLS is affordable or even available.  The right SD-WAN implementation will at the same time and without additional overhead or cost, include explicit connection security and agility.  With a NaaS-ready SD-WAN, every worker, partner, customer, and resource connects in a mesh as policy permits, no matter where they are or how they move around.  That’s the universal source of SD-WAN benefits.  Whether you have MPLS or not, replace some or all of it or supplement it, the connectivity benefits that SD-WAN can offer will make the business case.

It’s our growing commitment to the Internet that drives this.  Not only has the Internet broadened our notion of who is part of “our network”, it’s also created web browsers and apps that are both tools for entertaining consumers and building front-ends to business applications.  Some argue that SD-WAN creates a dependence on the Internet, but what company today isn’t already critically dependent on the Internet?  SD-WAN exploits and controls what’s already a commitment virtually every business has already made, and will be expanding in the future.

Whether you have MPLS or not, replace some or all of it or supplement it, the connectivity benefits that SD-WAN can offer will make the business case.

The vast majority of possible connections the Internet could facilitate aren’t necessary.  Many present major risks to security and compliance.  Despite this, the Internet is going to be an even larger part of how every business works, buys, and sells.  If you adopt SD-WAN simply to lower access/connection costs, these risks will grow and so will the cost of addressing them.  Your applications will become more agile, more scalable, and if you adopt SD-WAN simply to lower access/connection costs, you’ll have to glue on extensions to your networking plans to keep the moving parts connected.

That doesn’t have to be the case.  NaaS is the model of the network of the future, and NaaS is available to SD-WAN buyers who choose 128 Technology or buy an SD-WAN managed service based on it.  We’re in a new age of networking already.  SD-WAN technology, like all network and computing technologies, has to address the demands of that new age.  Those demands include optimizing access network costs, but that’s just table stakes for networking’s new age.  Things like cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and highly integrated business relationships with customers and partners will expand on these demands.  The network will have to keep up.

It pays, quite literally, to get SD-WAN right.

CIMI Corporation has developed a report on the details of the SD-WAN business case and the impact of each of the benefits that either SD-WAN adopters or CIMI Corporation’s buyer-driven service benefit model have validated.  When you review this report, remember that features of SD-WAN products and services vary widely, and that only the most feature-rich, particularly in Naas capabilities, will deliver the full potential of SD-WAN and realize the full set of benefits it promises.  It pays, quite literally, to get SD-WAN right.