SD-WAN Savings: Fact or Fairytale?

As children, we love fairy tales for their happy endings. As we become adults, however, we realize that happy endings aren’t always guaranteed. Sometimes, good ideas end up with bad results or, more often, no result at all. IT professionals are very familiar with this concept. For years they’ve been promised that with each new technology their problems will disappear, only to find that they’ve simply traded in one set of problems for another.

Which brings us to software-defined wide area networks, or SD-WANs. Hyped by many as the happy ending to the headache known as high-cost multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) networks, SD-WANs have been pitched as everything from magic cost-reducers to instant cloud-enablers. But how much of that is true and how much is fairy tale? Let’s take a look at five tales that are being told about SD-WAN solutions today.

#1: SD-WANs are risk-free

There’s certainly some truth here. If you were to replace your entire MPLS network with an SD-WAN, you would save money, maybe even a lot of money provided you ran all your connections over the Internet. But chances are that you’re not going to rip and replace your MPLS network for an Internet-only model. Why? Because a a conversion from tried and tested MPLS to SD-WAN is a major IT undertaking. It represents significant costs and potential downtime or business interruption, which creates risk.

Our guidance here is to identify the level of security you need before choosing an SD-WAN solution. Does your business operate in an industry with stringent security requirements? Do you have applications with unique security needs?

#2: One-size-fits-all pricing is designed to fit everyone

The key to saving money with SD-WAN is to get what you pay for—and to pay for what you use. MPLS networks are inefficient in large part because they don’t allow you to easily scale bandwidth up and down. Instead, you’re expected to buy enough MPLS bandwidth for worst-case contingencies and “eat” the cost the rest of the time.

SD-WAN solutions sometimes do the same thing by making you pay for more licenses than you really need. We don’t think that’s right, which is why we offer our customers consumption-based licensing that only charges you for the licenses you use. Just like in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we give you several options, including pay-as-you-go pricing models, flex up/down licensing, and multiple service tiers—all without having to lock into long-term contracts to find the right fit. Given the dynamic nature of networks over the last few years, it’s no wonder that many companies find fixed SD-WAN plans unbearable.

#3: SD-WANs are about reducing pork, not bringing home the bacon

In the story of “The Three Little Pigs,” we’re reminded that quality matters, especially when building something that may very well be attacked from the outside. On the surface, an SD-WAN offers better economies of scale than a traditional MPLS network. That doesn’t mean, however, that companies should try to build the cheapest SD-WAN they can.

Instead, view SD-WAN as an opportunity to cost-effectively increase bandwidth to branch offices, improve the quality of experience (QoE) for your users, and get more value from cloud-based services. Building a better network through SD-WAN technology can do something even better than saving you money: it can increase top-line revenue through enhanced productivity and happier customers. And that’s much smarter than grasping at straws to cut costs.

#4: All SD-WANs are the same—you don’t need to know what’s under the hood

Those performance and productivity benefits won’t just magically happen once you buy an SD-WAN solution. You need an SD-WAN solution that is application aware—i.e., one that can look beyond bits and bytes to analyze network traffic and see what’s actually running on the network. With this insight, companies can then prioritize traffic, create policies around latency and security, and ensure that critical applications get the critical attention they need.

Not all SD-WAN solutions are application aware. In fact, studies found that only one in five companies saw improved application performance and QoE after installing a basic SD-WAN solution. Like a certain famous girl in a red riding hood, don’t be afraid to ask questions or you could be in for an unpleasant surprise. (If you want to peek under our hood, visit our SD-WAN solution page.)

#5: Connecting your network to the Internet will automatically boost cloud application performance

This is a myth. Let us explain: in one of his lesser-known fables, author Hans Christian Anderson wrote of a shadow that became self-aware and eventually turned on its owner. The same problem exists today, in a sense, with shadow IT. As marketing, sales, and other groups in the company increasingly bypass formal IT channels to become direct consumers of cloud applications, their shadow IT applications create both security risks and performance bottlenecks. These issues often come to light after a company has connected an SD-WAN solution to the Internet with the hopes of better cloud application performance and security—only to face more problems.

Here again, awareness is the key to improving cloud application performance with an SD-WAN solution. For example, the network team needs to be able to distinguish between traffic from salespeople logging into Salesforce.com versus users streaming cat videos on TikTok. Most SD-WAN solutions don’t provide the kind of granular drill-down needed to identify traffic at the user and session level. You don’t want to live in fear of your own shadow IT. Buy an SD-WAN solution that helps you make enlightened choices for cloud application connectivity.

Find your happily ever after with Extreme Networks

All joking aside, moving to an SD-WAN can transform your network performance, productivity, security, and save you money too. But there is no magical wand that waves over your business simply because you’re moving to a software-defined network architecture. The right solution and the right partner are necessary if you plan to write a happy ending to your SD-WAN migration.

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