Best Practices for Deploying SD-WAN in Distributed Enterprise Networks

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, the dependence on cloud-based services and applications has reached unprecedented levels. As a result, traditional Wide Area Network (WAN) architectures have come under increased scrutiny, as they struggle to efficiently handle the dynamic and high-bandwidth demands of modern enterprises. Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) technology emerged as a game-changing solution that promises enhanced agility, cost savings, and improved performance across distributed enterprise networks.

SD-WAN is revolutionizing the way WAN services are deployed and managed, offering a more flexible and intelligent approach to routing traffic across the network. In contrast to traditional WANs, which often rely on complex, hardware-centric infrastructures, SD-WAN simplifies network management through software-defined policies. This enables organizations to dynamically route traffic over multiple pathways, including broadband internet, MPLS, and cellular, ensuring optimal performance and reliability.

The adoption of SD-WAN is particularly advantageous for distributed enterprises with multiple branches or remote offices. These organizations face unique challenges, such as ensuring consistent application performance, securing data across various endpoints, and managing bandwidth costs. SD-WAN tackles these challenges head-on, providing a scalable, secure, and efficient way to connect disparate locations to the applications and services they rely on.

However, deploying SD-WAN in a distributed enterprise network is not without its complexities. It requires careful planning, consideration of various technological and business factors, and a strategic approach to implementation. This article aims to guide IT managers and network architects through the key considerations and best practices for rolling out SD-WAN across large, distributed enterprises. By focusing on leveraging Internet breakout, defining Quality of Service (QoS) policies, enabling security, and managing the network at scale, businesses can unlock the full potential of their SD-WAN deployment, ensuring a seamless, secure, and efficient network that supports their evolving needs.

Understanding SD-WAN

Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is a transformative approach to managing and optimizing a wide area network (WAN). It automatically determines the most effective way to route traffic to and from branch offices and data centers. The core advantage of SD-WAN lies in its ability to use any combination of transport services, including MPLS, LTE, and broadband internet services, to securely connect users to applications.

Traditional WANs often struggle with the dynamic requirements of today’s cloud-based applications due to their reliance on static, hardware-based architectures. This not only makes them less flexible and more complex to manage but also significantly increases costs, especially when scaling. In contrast, SD-WAN introduces an agile, software-driven management layer that can dynamically adjust to varying network conditions, ensuring optimal performance and reliability.

SD-WAN offers a range of key features that set it apart from traditional WAN solutions. Dynamic Path Selection enables SD-WAN to intelligently route traffic across the best available path based on current network conditions, ensuring high performance and reliability without manual intervention. As an example, broadband bonding whereby all available paths are simultaneously utilized is one of the most advanced forms of dynamic path selection. Centralized Management is another hallmark of SD-WAN, simplifying the management of WAN resources through a cloud-based control plane, reducing the complexity and overhead associated with traditional WANs. Zero-Touch Provisioning (ZTP) is also a common feature, allowing remote deployment of new branches or network devices without the need for on-site IT personnel. Additionally, many SD-WAN offerings come with integrated security features such as encryption, firewall, and network coding capabilities, providing robust security at the edge of the network. Finally, by enabling the use of lower-cost internet links with the performance and reliability of more expensive MPLS connections, SD-WAN can significantly reduce WAN costs.

The architecture of an SD-WAN network consists of three main components. SD-WAN Edge appliances, which can be physical or virtual, are located at branch offices, data centers, or in the cloud, and are responsible for traffic handling and enforcement of security policies. The SD-WAN Controller is a centralized management platform that oversees traffic flow across the network, making intelligent path selection decisions based on predefined policies and real-time network conditions. The SD-WAN Orchestrator, often part of the controller or a separate component, provides the user interface for configuring, managing, and monitoring the SD-WAN.

Distributed enterprises stand to gain significantly from deploying SD-WAN, enjoying enhanced agility, improved application performance, and increased bandwidth at a lower cost. Moreover, SD-WAN’s centralized management and orchestration simplify the operational complexity associated with managing a WAN spread across multiple locations, making it easier to adapt to changes in business needs or network conditions.

Understanding the fundamental principles and capabilities of SD-WAN is crucial for IT managers and network architects. By leveraging its dynamic path selection, centralized control, and built-in security features, organizations can ensure their network infrastructure is robust, agile, and capable of supporting their current and future business objectives.

Pre-Deployment Considerations

Deploying SD-WAN in a distributed enterprise network is a strategic move that promises to enhance network efficiency, improve application performance, and reduce operational costs. However, to fully leverage the benefits of SD-WAN, organizations must carefully consider several key factors before implementation. This section outlines essential pre-deployment considerations to ensure a successful SD-WAN rollout.

Assessing network requirements is a crucial first step in the pre-deployment process. Organizations should evaluate their bandwidth needs, taking into account both current and anticipated future requirements to ensure the chosen SD-WAN solution can scale accordingly. Reliability and redundancy are also critical considerations, as the network must maintain business continuity during outages or degraded service periods. Additionally, assessing the security posture of the network is essential, especially for industries subject to stringent regulatory compliance. SD-WAN solutions with integrated security features can simplify compliance and enhance overall security, albeit possibly lacking some best-in-class security features. Therefore, it is important that the SD-WAN solution supports transparent deployment configurations alongside dedicated third-party security solutions. Finally, prioritizing applications based on their criticality to business operations will guide Quality of Service (QoS) policies and ensure that critical applications receive the bandwidth and performance they require.

Choosing the right SD-WAN solution is another key consideration. Organizations should evaluate SD-WAN vendors based on their ability to meet specific network requirements, scalability, customer support, and the comprehensiveness of their feature set. The chosen solution should easily scale up or down based on organizational growth and evolving network demands. Furthermore, the level of support and maintenance services offered by the vendor should be carefully considered, with a focus on Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that match the organization’s requirements for uptime and response times.

Network design is a critical aspect of SD-WAN pre-deployment planning. Organizations must decide between a hybrid WAN approach that combines MPLS and broadband or an internet-only approach. A hybrid WAN can offer the best of both worlds, leveraging MPLS where necessary and broadband internet for less critical traffic. Site-to-site connectivity is another important consideration, including the use of cloud gateways, with native options built on the cloud providers and the integration of existing network infrastructure into the SD-WAN design. Redundancy and failover strategies should also be designed with high availability in mind, including redundant appliance deployments and considerations for active-active, or active-passive automatic failover.

Finally, creating a comprehensive implementation plan is essential for a successful SD-WAN rollout. Organizations should consider a phased approach, starting with less critical sites to validate the configuration and policies before deploying network-wide. Ensuring that IT staff is adequately trained on the new SD-WAN solution is also crucial, which may involve vendor-provided training. Leveraging SD-WAN’s centralized management tools for ongoing monitoring and management is also important, with plans for integrating these tools with existing network management systems.

By carefully addressing these pre-deployment considerations, organizations can create a robust foundation for their SD-WAN implementation. This strategic approach not only ensures a smoother rollout but also maximizes the benefits of SD-WAN for distributed enterprise networks, paving the way for a more agile, secure, and efficient network infrastructure.

Leveraging Internet Breakout for Efficient Traffic Management

One of the key advantages of deploying SD-WAN in distributed enterprises is the ability to leverage Internet breakout at the branch level. This capability significantly enhances the efficiency of traffic management by allowing internet-bound traffic to directly exit and enter branch offices without the need to backhaul through a centralized data center. This section delves into the concept of Internet breakout, its benefits, and strategies for secure and efficient implementation.

Internet breakout refers to the routing of internet-bound traffic directly from the branch office to the internet, bypassing the traditional centralized routing through a corporate data center. This approach is made possible by SD-WAN’s intelligent path selection capabilities, which dynamically determine the optimal route for traffic based on predefined policies, real-time network conditions, and application requirements.

The benefits of Internet breakout are numerous. For solutions that do not provide native cloud gateways on the same cloud provider of interest, direct internet access reduces latency for cloud-based applications by eliminating the detour through a central data center, resulting in improved user experience and productivity. By avoiding the need to route all traffic through a central data center, enterprises can significantly reduce bandwidth requirements and associated costs at the central site. Direct internet access also enables branches to quickly and easily access cloud services and internet resources, increasing the organization’s overall agility. Furthermore, reducing the reliance on central data centers simplifies the network architecture, making it easier to manage and scale.

To ensure secure and efficient Internet breakout, several strategies can be employed. Implementing advanced security measures is crucial, as Internet breakout exposes branch offices to the internet. Integrated firewall within the SD-WAN appliance can provide essential perimeter security for direct internet access. Application-aware routing capabilities of SD-WAN should be utilized to identify and route critical or sensitive applications through secure or high-quality paths, while less critical applications can use direct internet access. Integrating Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB) solutions with SD-WAN can enhance security for cloud applications by providing visibility, compliance, data security, and threat protection. End-to-end encryption protocols, such as IPsec, should be implemented across all SD-WAN connections to protect data in transit between branch offices and the internet or cloud services. Finally, local Internet breakout policies should be defined to specify which types of traffic can use local internet breakout based on the destination, application type, user, or content category, ensuring that only appropriate traffic is routed directly to the internet.

To illustrate the benefits of Internet breakout, consider a retail chain that has adopted cloud-based applications for inventory management, sales processing, and customer relationship management. By implementing SD-WAN with internet breakout at each store location, the chain experienced a noticeable improvement in application performance and customer service response times. Additionally, the company reduced its bandwidth costs by 40% by eliminating the need to backhaul internet-bound traffic to the central data center.

Leveraging internet breakout in an SD-WAN deployment offers distributed enterprises significant benefits in terms of application performance, cost savings, and network agility. By adopting a strategic approach to internet breakout, with a strong emphasis on security and efficient traffic management, organizations can fully harness the advantages of SD-WAN technology.

Defining Quality of Service (QoS) Policies

Quality of Service (QoS) is a critical component in the deployment of SD-WAN, ensuring that critical applications receive the bandwidth and performance they require, even under challenging network conditions. This section explores how to define and implement QoS policies within an SD-WAN framework to prioritize traffic and maximize network efficiency.

QoS policies are especially important in distributed enterprise networks where bandwidth is a precious resource, and application performance can directly impact business operations and user experience. By allowing network administrators to classify network traffic, prioritize certain types of traffic over others, and allocate bandwidth accordingly, QoS policies ensure that the most critical applications and services receive the resources they need to perform optimally.

Traffic classification is a key aspect of implementing QoS in SD-WAN. SD-WAN solutions can identify applications based on their traffic patterns and characteristics, enabling granular control over application traffic and allowing administrators to assign priorities based on the criticality of applications to the business. QoS policies can also be applied based on users or groups within the organization, ensuring that critical teams or roles have the bandwidth they need. Additionally, traffic can be classified and prioritized based on content type or destination IP addresses, providing flexibility in handling different types of network traffic.

Once traffic has been classified, QoS policies can be used to prioritize different types of traffic. Real-time applications such as VoIP and video conferencing require higher priority to prevent latency and jitter, which can severely impact the quality of calls and meetings. Similarly, business-critical applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) should be given priority to ensure they perform optimally, supporting day-to-day business operations. On the other hand, lower priority can be assigned to non-time-sensitive traffic, such as backup data transfers or file sharing, ensuring they do not congest the network during peak hours.

Bandwidth allocation is another crucial aspect of QoS in SD-WAN. SD-WAN technologies allow for dynamic allocation of bandwidth based on real-time network conditions and the priorities set in QoS policies. Policies can specify minimum bandwidth guarantees for critical applications, ensuring they always have the resources needed for optimal performance. Conversely, maximum bandwidth limits can be set for less critical applications to prevent them from consuming too much bandwidth.

To effectively implement QoS policies in SD-WAN, organizations should start by understanding their business priorities and the applications that are most critical to achieving those objectives. They should then map out traffic flows to identify where the most important traffic originates and where it needs to go. SD-WAN’s advanced features, such as deep packet inspection (DPI) and application-aware routing, should be leveraged to enforce QoS policies more effectively. Network performance and the impact of QoS policies should be continuously monitored, with adjustments made as business needs evolve or new applications are deployed.

To illustrate the importance of QoS policies in SD-WAN, consider a financial services firm that relies heavily on real-time trading applications. By implementing SD-WAN and defining QoS policies that prioritized trading application traffic over the network, the firm ensured that traders experienced no latency or jitter during trading hours. This directly contributed to the firm’s ability to execute trades more quickly and efficiently than competitors.

QoS policies play a vital role in ensuring that SD-WAN deployments meet the needs of distributed enterprises. By effectively classifying, prioritizing, and allocating bandwidth to various types of network traffic, organizations can ensure optimal performance of critical applications, thereby enhancing overall business operations and user experience.

Scalability and Management at Scale

Implementing SD-WAN across distributed enterprise networks introduces unparalleled flexibility and efficiency. However, as the network scales, managing the increased number of WAN resources without compromising performance or security becomes an important task. This section discusses strategies for effectively scaling and managing large-scale SD-WAN deployments.

As the number of nodes within the SD-WAN increases, so does the complexity of configuration management, policy enforcement, and traffic routing decisions. Ensuring consistent security policies across a wide array of endpoints, each with potentially different local requirements, presents a considerable challenge. Additionally, achieving end-to-end visibility and maintaining control over the network traffic becomes more challenging as the network expands, potentially impacting performance monitoring and troubleshooting.

To address these challenges, organizations should leverage SD-WAN’s centralized management capabilities to simplify the configuration, monitoring, and management of the network. A single pane of glass interface can provide comprehensive visibility and control, facilitating easier deployment of policies and configurations across the network. Automation also plays a crucial role in scaling SD-WAN deployments. Automated configuration and zero-touch provisioning (ZTP) enable rapid deployment and integration of new sites into the network without the need for specialized IT personnel on-site.

Network segmentation is another effective strategy for managing large-scale SD-WAN deployments. By breaking down the network into manageable sections, organizations can enhance security through microsegmentation and simplify management by isolating potential issues to specific network segments.

To ensure optimal performance at scale, organizations should implement dynamic path selection and application steering, allowing the SD-WAN solution to automatically route traffic based on application needs and link performance. Bandwidth management practices, including the use of QoS policies, should also be employed to prioritize critical applications and ensure they perform reliably, even as the network grows.

A real-world example of successful SD-WAN scalability and management can be seen in the case of a global retail company that deployed SD-WAN to connect its hundreds of stores, warehouses, and data centers worldwide. By utilizing centralized management, the company was able to rapidly onboard new locations, enforce uniform security policies, and manage the entire network through a single interface. The use of segmentation allowed the company to tailor network performance and security settings for different types of sites, while automated self-driving algorithms preemptively identify and resolve potential network issues, ensuring seamless operations across all locations.

Scaling an SD-WAN deployment across a distributed enterprise network requires careful planning and the adoption of strategies that ensure manageability, security, and performance. By leveraging centralized management, automation, segmentation, and advanced analytics, organizations can effectively manage their growing network infrastructures, capitalizing on the agility and efficiency that SD-WAN offers. As businesses continue to expand and evolve, the ability to scale and manage SD-WAN deployments will be critical to maintaining a competitive edge in the digital landscape.

Monitoring and Optimization

The dynamic nature of SD-WAN, with its multiple paths and intelligent routing capabilities, necessitates continuous monitoring and optimization to ensure network performance meets business needs. Now let’s look at the practices and tools necessary for the ongoing monitoring and fine-tuning of an SD-WAN deployment, ensuring it remains efficient, secure, and aligned with evolving enterprise requirements.

Continuous monitoring in an SD-WAN environment is critical for several reasons. Performance management is essential to ensure applications are performing optimally and meeting service level agreements (SLAs). Security vigilance is necessary to detect and respond to security threats in real-time. Cost control is crucial for managing bandwidth costs effectively by understanding traffic patterns and making informed decisions about transport methods. Finally, troubleshooting is vital for quickly identifying and resolving network issues, minimizing downtime.

To implement effective monitoring practices, organizations should leverage the analytics and reporting tools provided by the SD-WAN solution for insights into network health, traffic patterns, and application performance. End-to-end visibility across the entire network, from branch offices to the cloud, is essential for monitoring the performance of critical applications and services. Real-time alerts should be configured for performance thresholds and security incidents to enable rapid response to potential issues. Establishing performance baselines for network and application performance can help identify anomalies and trends over time.

Strategies for network optimization include application performance tuning, where insights gained from monitoring are used to adjust QoS policies and prioritize business-critical applications, ensuring they receive the necessary resources. Path selection optimization involves continuously evaluating the performance of different network paths and adjusting routing policies to optimize for cost, performance, or security as needed. Bandwidth management entails analyzing traffic patterns to identify opportunities for bandwidth optimization. Cutting-edge SD-WAN solutions are capable of optimizing most aspects of traffic engineering with no or minimal human intervention. Nonetheless, regular review of network policies and configurations is necessary to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest business requirements.

SD-WAN’s ability to adapt to changing network conditions is one of its strongest features. Monitoring tools can provide the data necessary to enable SD-WAN features that automatically adjust traffic routing based on real-time performance metrics, ensuring optimal application performance. SD-WAN solutions should be able to leverage built-in predictive analytics to foresee performance issues before they impact the network, allowing for preemptive and automated adjustments.

Continuous monitoring and optimization are foundational to the success of an SD-WAN deployment. By leveraging the rich data and adaptive capabilities of SD-WAN, organizations can not only maintain but continually enhance network performance, security, and efficiency. This proactive approach ensures the network infrastructure evolves in step with the enterprise, supporting its objectives and growth. As businesses continue to navigate the challenges of an increasingly digital landscape, the ability to effectively monitor and optimize their SD-WAN deployments will be a critical factor in their success.

Conclusion

The journey to deploying SD-WAN in distributed enterprise networks marks a significant leap toward achieving unparalleled agility, efficiency, and security in today’s digital-first business environment. As we have explored through various sections of this article, SD-WAN stands out as a transformative networking technology that addresses the complexities of traditional WAN by introducing dynamic path selection, centralized management, and integrated security features tailored for the modern enterprise.

The outlined best practices for deploying SD-WAN provide a strategic roadmap for organizations looking to optimize their network infrastructure. These practices range from leveraging Internet breakout for efficient traffic management and defining robust Quality of Service (QoS) policies to enabling zero-trust security frameworks and managing the network at scale. The real-world case studies included in this article illustrate the tangible benefits achieved by organizations across different sectors, showcasing the versatility and impact of SD-WAN solutions in addressing diverse network challenges.

Several key takeaways emerge from this exploration of SD-WAN deployment in distributed enterprise networks. First and foremost, strategic planning is essential for a successful SD-WAN deployment. This involves thoroughly understanding business needs and aligning them with the right SD-WAN features and capabilities. Security is also a cornerstone of SD-WAN deployment, and integrating zero-trust security principles within SD-WAN not only enhances the network’s defense mechanisms but also ensures secure access in a perimeter-less enterprise environment. Continuous optimization is another crucial aspect, as leveraging the analytics and automation capabilities of SD-WAN for ongoing monitoring and optimization ensures that the network remains resilient, agile, and aligned with business objectives. Finally, the scalable nature of SD-WAN allows organizations to future-proof their networks, readily adapting to evolving business requirements, cloud adoption trends, and the increasing demand for remote connectivity.

As organizations navigate the complexities of digital transformation, the adoption of SD-WAN presents an opportunity to redefine network infrastructure for the digital age. By embracing SD-WAN, enterprises can not only achieve operational excellence and cost efficiency but also enhance user experiences and foster innovation. However, the transition to SD-WAN requires a strategic approach, informed by best practices and insights from those who have successfully navigated this path. Organizations are encouraged to partner with experienced vendors, invest in training for IT teams, and adopt a phased deployment strategy to ensure a smooth transition.

In conclusion, deploying SD-WAN in distributed enterprise networks is not merely about upgrading network technology; it’s about embracing a strategic asset that empowers businesses to thrive in an increasingly connected and cloud-centric world. With the right approach, SD-WAN can unlock new possibilities for network agility, performance, and security, driving businesses forward in their digital transformation journeys. As the business landscape continues to evolve, the adoption of SD-WAN will undoubtedly play a critical role in shaping the future of enterprise networking, enabling organizations to stay ahead of the curve and capitalize on the opportunities presented by the digital era.

 

 

Jay Akin, Mushroom Networks, Inc. 

Mushroom Networks is the provider of Broadband Bonding appliances that put your networks on auto-pilot. Application flows are intelligently routed around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss. Network problems are solved even before you can notice.

https://www.mushroomnetworks.com

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