Monitoring and operating a global SD-WAN requires the right skills and resources, opening up the market for managed SD-WAN providers. After design and rollout, it’s mostly in 24×7 monitoring and Operations where managed SD-WAN needs to score high to satisfy the steep demands of digital business stakeholders. Automation can boost Operations significantly. But it’s not only technology that matters. The culture of the Operations organization can add remarkable value on top.
SD-WAN made our lives easier. In particular, it gave us flexibility and visibility. It helped us build networks that enable business in the digital space. But to make sure the digital business is not only enabled, but can completely rely on SD-WAN, you need to operate and monitor your SD-WAN 24×7. Standardization, automation, as well as the Operations organization will make the difference when it comes to the reliability of your SD-WAN.
More than ever, the WAN is a heterogenous environment. Sites are getting more diverse (from point of sales to branch office to production site), infrastructure and applications are moving to the cloud, and legacy data centers are still hard to get rid of. To operate in such a landscape, it is crucial to keep the hardware and software variety to a minimum. Tasks like applying a firmware upgrade or rolling out a security patch can become a headache, when the infrastructure consists of too many different hardware and software components. On the other hand, it can be a walk in the park when the WAN is identically deployed in all forms and sizes of branches, data centers, and clouds. And standardized deployments allow standard workflows which enable automation, a corner stone of operational efficiency.
SD-WAN platforms built for homogenous WAN deployments pave the way to automation. Deploying a new site, replacing a faulty device, or applying a global configuration change becomes much easier and less error-prone. But it doesn’t stop at change management; incident handling can jump on the bandwagon as well. And when it comes to incident handling, good monitoring is half the battle. Just like security features – which became integrated part of many SD-WAN products in the mean-time – monitoring should be an integral part of your SD-WAN solution, with agents monitoring the hardware or the cloud hypervisor, the operating system, core components like the routing engine, built-in security features like a firewall, etc. Agents might even become active components and apply fixes in real time. Or – if there’s no easy fix – gather and prepare information for your Operations engineers. And if the agents do a good job, your engineers will only be left with the interesting bits.
Your SD-WAN will change. New sites will be added, others will move, new features will be enabled, configurations will be changed, patches will be applied. To keep your SD-WAN reliable, constant tuning and improvement is needed. To achieve this, friction-free collaboration between Development and Operations is a must. Just like developing automation fuels efficiency in Operations, Operations can also be fuel for innovation in development. It basically means to apply a DevOps methodology to WAN operations. Fixes will be applied quicker, new tools developed faster, and automation pushed in the operationally relevant areas.
If you are lucky enough to migrate to SD-WAN – and chances are high that you are – then make it not just a technology replacement. Make sure to pay enough attention and efforts into how your SD-WAN will be operated. Use standards, leverage automation, and aim for close collaboration, communication and integration of operators and developers. Build a DevOps culture to achieve an agile but sustainable SD-WAN on which your digital business can fully rely.