Six steps to a successful SD-WAN pilot program

This is part three of a four-part series to help you design your network transformation strategy and turn it into reality – moving from proof of concept tests to real world deployment. Click here to read part two.

Making the most of an SD-WAN proof of concept workshop or pilot program requires careful planning. From our experience of running hundreds of sessions every year, we've compiled some tips on how to make the process as easy and insightful as possible.

An SD-WAN proof of concept (PoC) workshop or pilot program can really help crystalize your network transformation strategy. It's a great way to get a feel for how an SD-WAN solution will work in practice and discover how network management processes can be streamlined.

1. Due diligence

To make the most of an SD-WAN PoC or pilot, you need to perform extensive due diligence upfront. This involves gathering all the relevant information about the volume of traffic and security policies in place at each site and comprehensive information on your application landscape.

What cloud and on-premise applications are in use today and how business critical are they? What trends can you see with regards to general web browsing for work and recreational purposes? Wherever possible, identify the end-users' experience and expectations when using cloud applications. How responsive do they find them? It's important to think about branch offices in some of your more exotic locations, as connectivity can be a challenge there.

2. Choose your SD-WAN service provider

Analyst rankings, such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Network Services, can give insight into how much technical knowledge each vendor has and how flexible they are. You need to determine if they are committed to offering the fullest choice of open, multi-vendor solutions. Check if your service provider has a strong co-innovation program with its vendor partners so their solutions can be adapted to your specific circumstances. Keep in mind that, as SD-WAN technology evolves, working with a service provider that is committed to the development of its product is the only way to make sure that it stays up-to-date.

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3. Look at technical constraints

Any technical or product constraints of a particular SD-WAN solution should be assessed during the PoC or pilot. Carry out a wide range of functional tests to assess different SD-WAN use cases. Multiple different types of WAN circuits (MPLS, Internet, mobile) can be provisioned and their quality and availability manipulated dynamically in order to create the ideal SD-WAN test or training environment.

You'll need to look at the topology of your network, determine whether you can prioritize certain types of application traffic to maximize performance, and check if unified communications and collaboration (UCC) solutions can be used reliably and securely – especially voice and video.

4. Think about how your SD-WAN solution will be managed on a long-term basis

A PoC or pilot is a good time to think about whether you should opt for fully-managed, co-managed or DIY deployment models for your SD-WAN solution. Look at how you'd use the SD-WAN management console in each of these scenarios. A fully-managed service can help ease contractual and incident management issues with multiple ISPs around the world. Most enterprises will also want to be able to make network changes themselves directly via a single portal that can be used to manage multiple network functions from different vendors.

6 steps to a successful SD-WAN proof of concept

5. Define your business goals

The goals for SD-WAN programs vary. Some enterprises want to dramatically reduce WAN costs while supporting bandwidth needs which are doubling or tripling. Others will place a high priority on supporting cloud or IoT ambitions, while maintaining security, to enable digital innovation. A considerable number will want to use SD-WAN to provide connectivity to newly acquired companies or sites. It's also important to define goals and success criteria for your PoC or pilot.

6. Start thinking about your migration strategy

A PoC or pilot is invaluable when defining your network migration strategy to ensure there are no surprises as you scale the service globally across all your sites. Unless you plan a big bang replacement of your entire network, you'll need to decide how your SD-WAN sites will communicate with non SD-WAN legacy sites during the interim phase.

The SD-WAN solution will need to fully support the breadth of routing protocols and functionality used by existing legacy network routers. One or several SD-WAN gateways can be placed at central locations and interact with routers connected to the legacy underlay networks, making sites connected to those networks reachable by the SD-WAN sites. The SD-WAN solution needs to scale well and have extremely robust, fully-featured routing policy control to avoid problems with latency when interlinking with legacy equipment. A carrier-grade SD-WAN gateway can provide this reliability under a pay-as-you-go model.

Achieving a rapid ROI

SD-WAN enables your business to access cloud services more reliably through greater application awareness and automated policy control, while also gaining greater control over security. Features like zero touch provisioning allow enterprises to deploy more dynamic networks faster than ever before to support their digital transformation plans. With a PoC or pilot program you can see the benefits for yourself, accelerating your deployment plans and boosting the return on investment of your network transformation.

Read the last blog in this four-part series where we review the lessons for a successful SD-WAN deployment.

For more tips on defining your SD-WAN migration path, watch our on-demand webinar or get in touch using our contact us form.

Miguel Alvarez
Miguel Alvarez

Miguel Alvarez is Director of International Competitiveness and Strategy at Orange Business. He works at the crossroads of business and innovation, building solutions that allow people to communicate and work in a better way and making sure that they make commercial sense. With the transformation towards more intelligent networks, virtualization and software-driven architectures in full flow, he believes it's more important than ever to build the right partnerships and global strategy.

Miguel holds a M.Sc. in Telecommunications Engineering from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and a M.Eng. in Engineering and Computer Science from the École Polytechnique in Paris.