How to Build Visibility on the SD-WAN

The enterprise is converting traditional WAN architectures to more flexible software-defined (SD-WAN) entities, largely due to their improved performance and flexibility when dealing with cloud- and IoT-facing infrastructure.

SD-WAN is also said to provide much greater visibility than standard WAN offerings. This is due in part to the need for fine-grained management capabilities for diverse users and workloads. But how, exactly, should this visibility be orchestrated? And what should the enterprise be watching?

According to P&S Market Research, the SD-WAN market is expected to jump from $676 million last year to more than $9.6 billion in 2023. The market will consist largely of solutions and services encompassing infrastructure, control and overlay platforms, but also carrier-based and CSP offerings. Visibility plays a crucial role in all of these implementations, particularly when it comes to extending security beyond the data center firewall. At the same time, visibility can also keep costs under control and optimize resource consumption on both the overlay and underlay portions of the network.

For networking companies like Cisco, the WAN has traditionally been one of the biggest blind spots. The fragmented nature of most WAN architectures makes it difficult to get timely and accurate information regarding what is happening and where, in order to troubleshoot performance-degrading issues, or to circumvent them altogether. This is why the company has added two key modules to its intent-based networking portfolio: the SD-WAN vAnalytics tool that can drill down into virtual networks to provide forecasting for application and bandwidth planning, plus the Meraki Insight system that helps optimize user experiences by peering into WAN and SaaS application interactions.

Meanwhile, SevOne has released its new SD-WAN Monitoring Solution that allows MSPs to dig deep into multi-tenant, multi-vendor environments to improve deployment and operations of large-scale deployments. The system provides real-time and historical visibility into the entire network delivery path, including local Wi-Fi, campus infrastructure and software-defined data centers. At the same time, it can drill down into individual tenant configurations and their network service architectures. It also helps ease the transition from MPLS to SD-WAN by allowing both to be monitored from the same interface.

This is a crucial step because, as ACG Research’s Stephen Collins points out, the health of the underlay is often just as important to performance as the virtual networking overlayin SD-WAN environments. When the underlay is MPLS or some other leased service like Carrier Ethernet, this is not too much of a problem, because the provider should be able to extend at least some visibility into its offering. But with many organizations choosing to run SD-WAN over standard Internet to save costs, visibility becomes much more problematic due to the high number of peering and transit networks the workload is likely to encounter. At the moment, however, there is a distinct lack of tooling for end-to-end topology management on the Internet, meaning that the enterprise might have to opt for higher bandwidth connectivity or use pre-selected peering and transit arrangement s for key applications and destinations.

Of course, it’s very difficult to manage what you do not own. Even leased services are limited by what the provider allows you to see. And in complex networking environments, the enterprise is often left with the claims of multiple providers all shifting blame to one another.

SD-WAN alleviates part of this problem because the enterprise can focus on higher-level service and data performance rather than the nuts and bolts of the network. But there are times when those nuts and bolts come apart and service degrades or is cut off entirely. In these instances, the best remedy may be the ability to quickly shift the load to another provider.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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