Your guide to a successful SD-WAN proof of concept

This is part two 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 one.

SD-WAN is revolutionizing enterprise connectivity. Once you've planned your transformation strategy, it's important to test the technology thoroughly to understand the opportunities and challenges ahead. A proof of concept (PoC) workshop in a lab or a real-world pilot can help.

SD-WAN is a real game changer for digital enterprises. Nowadays, your employees rely on cloud applications to do their jobs and interact in new ways. Their network usage has become more dynamic and needs to scale in ways never seen before. SD-WAN addresses this connectivity challenge by using a range of Internet, mobile and MPLS links with intelligent path selection − combined with centralized application visibility and control − to deliver a better end-user experience.

Once you've designed your SD-WAN strategy, it's important to evaluate your proposed SD-WAN solution thoroughly. First of all, we carry out an SD-WAN readiness assessment, taking IT teams through a structured series of questions to evaluate their cloud transformation goals, connectivity and security needs. As a next step, enterprises can run proof of concept (PoC) workshops in our Open Labs – a network of 12 Orange sites around the world – or a representative selection of their own branch office locations. Alternatively, you may wish to jump straight into a pilot program in a live environment with real-world traffic.

Evaluating your SD-WAN solution

The use of our Open Labs is proving popular, as it's quick, easy and delivers powerful insights. Over just two days, enterprises can experiment with simulated traffic traversing our network of Open Labs in Asia, the Middle East, the U.S. and Europe using a choice of Cisco Viptela, Meraki, Juniper Networks or Riverbed SD-WAN solutions.

Testing all aspects of the service

During a proof of concept, we work with you in an agile, iterative and interactive mode to carry out functional tests, looking at how zero-touch provisioning works in practice. We can assess the resilience of the solution under the stress of exceptionally high volumes of traffic and check if quality of service (QoS) can still be maintained. At the same time, your security team can configure a range of security assets – such as a next generation firewall – to support SD-WAN. It's also important to spend time using the self-ordering portal and seeing how you can orchestrate network changes with the click of a mouse.

As a first step, we'll look at whether it's best to run tests using a hub-and-spoke or a full mesh topology. The latter allows all sites to connect directly, dynamically and non-hierarchically with each other. You may wish to assess a limited number of MPLS-only sites in the trial or opt for 100 percent Internet connectivity with local and/or distributed breakouts.

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Cloud transformation is the main overarching driver for most enterprises' SD-WAN programs. The IT team will want to look at how SD-WAN can provide fast connectivity to the public cloud, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure. It's critically important to assess what the end-user experience will be like at remote branch office locations during busy times and ensure redundancy is in place for the anticipated traffic volumes. Today, virtually every business is digitally-dependent, which makes reliable connectivity more important than it ever has been before.

Day-to-day operation

Meanwhile, a PoC is an ideal opportunity for a network manager to see what it would be like to monitor the traffic and generate reports on a day-to-day basis. This intensive, short session helps teams think about how the classic network demand management processes will change with SD-WAN and SDN. Your teams will need easy-to-digest dashboards as they move from the standard "class of service" or "quality of service" approach to network monitoring to an "application-aware" and "end-user experience-driven" approach.

Alternatively, an enterprise can run a series of tests, customized to their individual needs, over a longer four-day period. For example, they may wish to simulate how a specific cloud application operates or assess multiple VPN environments. The extra two days can be used wisely to deep dive on the security set-up, looking at the use of integrated public key infrastructure (PKI) or secure controlled connectivity channels.

Open Labs vs on-premise

Both the Open Labs and on-premise PoCs are very effective uses of the IT team's time. Orange and the enterprise can sit together in one location and thrash out the precise details of what the enterprise wants to achieve.

In comparison to Open Labs PoCs, tests in a customer environment carry some risk and take a bit more time – typically one to two weeks. But it's worthwhile, particularly if you already have the appropriate test locations. Nothing beats a live test to enable teams to experience the technology in action. We build solid migration, failover and continuity plans to ensure your business will not even notice that the PoC is underway. As the saying goes, proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance.

Some enterprises choose to skip straight to a pilot, testing the Orange SD-WAN service itself over a couple of months. With a pilot, they can use their existing legacy infrastructure and Internet Service Providers (ISP) alongside the new SD-WAN solution, which means the learnings will be more relevant to their unique environment. During a pilot, work can then start on mapping out the site design to determine the optimal routing paths and LAN configurations for all sites.

Whether an enterprise goes through each step of an SD-WAN evaluation program or skips certain ones depends on the urgency with which they want to transform their connectivity and the teams that manage it. One thing is for certain, you'll never see a "plug and play" start and neither do you finish with a "fire and forget" scenario. SD-WAN is always a work in progress that constantly demands fine tuning in today's agile and fast-evolving digital world.

Read part three of this four-part series of blogs where we review the six steps to success when running a proof of concept or pilot program.

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.