Software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) is an approach to networking that allows network administrators to centrally manage increasingly complex enterprise networks using cloud-based software.
The SD-WAN market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.5% between 2020 and 2025, with large enterprises constituting the greatest share of customers using SD-WAN.
While SD-WAN enables companies to lessen the constraints of traditional WAN services and the inefficiencies that come with them, SD-WAN – while promising – comes with its own host of challenges.
Read more: SD-WAN is Important for an IoT and AI Future
Top SD-WAN Challenges
The main SD-WAN challenges that enterprises face when implementing this type of network include but are not limited to end-user experience, troubleshooting, and security. Let’s look at these three main challenges – and how to address them.
1) Disconnect from end-user experience
While SD-WAN does monitor and route network traffic efficiently from router to router, it’s still disconnected from the end-user experience of an application. As a result, it cannot detect, let alone address, an application’s performance issues at any one of the network locations.
Enterprises therefore need to track end-to-end quality of experience (QoE) KPIs, such as DNS resolution time, loading time, and packet loss. These indicators track users’ experience across the network in terms of performance and application functionality.
For instance, if your enterprise has a distributed workforce, you want to make sure your employees in Argentina are able to access Slack or Google Workspace just as easily as employees in the United States.
Routinely checking for these metrics allows your company to enforce service-level agreements with one or multiple Internet service providers (ISPs) at the location where an issue is detected. And if your distributed colleagues end up having connectivity issues, you could turn to local ISPs covering their areas to enforce the level of service you need.
With regards to having one versus many ISPs, it’s best to use one ISP to deliver network connectivity across one infrastructural backbone. With this option, you can always fall back on 4G or 5G service providers or a local ISP.
To ensure optimal network performance, regardless of opting for a singular or several ISPs:
- Establish service performance baselines for application, end-user, multicloud, and network services.
- Take an inventory of internal applications, including software-as-a-service (SaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) applications.
- Set the multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and Internet links to a reasonable size to anticipate traffic needs.
- Let the baselines guide your service level agreements with an ISP.
That said, there are several SD-WAN solutions that can help NetOps customize and configure SD-WAN to their enterprise’s needs.
Read more: SD-WAN Quality: It’s All About the Experience
2) Difficult troubleshooting
If a user is experiencing lag and slowness of an application, it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of the issue if it is indeed a network-related issue. If it is truly a problem with the network, a range of factors could be causing the disruption:
- Client technical issues
- Configuration of the SD-WAN router
- Internet and WAN links
- Local area network (LAN) problems
- Wi-Fi network outage
Therefore, while SD-WANs are great for alerting to network issues, they’re not great at providing information about the root of the problem. The data they can provide, such as data about forwarding tables on the network, doesn’t offer much in terms of which policy led to a particular path selection being chosen to direct traffic.
NetOps should therefore use site-to-site traffic analysis tools in order to track and visualize path selection.
3) Security concerns
Most SD-WAN solutions today have built-in security features. However, they are not sufficient, as they offer neither integrated security by default nor do they protect against more sophisticated cyber threats.
Users will therefore want to complement and fortify those security features, typically with secure access service edge (SASE), which protects both the cloud and edge by setting security parameters that permit users connecting to public networks. SASE methods include:
Together, SD-WAN and SASE make a strong pairing because SD-WAN handles the traffic distribution and routing across WANs, while SASE provides end-to-end cloud security for networks.
Today’s major networking vendors offer both in order to provide advanced routing capabilities (SD-WAN’s strength) and network security (SASE’s strength). Determining which method and vendor to choose will depend on the complexity of your network and the level of expertise your in-house IT team has.
Read more: The Home SD-WAN and SASE Markets are Rapidly Expanding
Challenges Are No Reason to Dismiss SD-WAN
SD-WAN enables companies to deliver services quickly to accommodate the growing demands of network users and the applications they run on the network. Though it comes with its own set of challenges, the benefits far outweigh the concerns, especially since there are solutions to work around them.
Read next: Top SD-WAN Providers and Vendors for 2022