SD-orchestration: SD-WAN and application performance management

Avatar for Gary AudinBy Gary Audin|Jun 23, 2020|7:30 am CDT

Today, the mean-time-to-change is the business driver. Competitive advantage is being defined by an enterprise’s ability to pivot in response to the rapidly changing world. And the IT network drives speed-to-change. After all, network management capabilities dictate the rate at which a company can implement and deploy the latest cloud collaboration applications, new connections, and artificial intelligence technologies.

SD-WAN has recently redefined network management, making companies more responsive with software-defined service orchestration (SD-orchestration). But what benefits do investors get from SD-WAN, and how are the latest solutions contributing to more agility? Let’s take a deeper look at SD-orchestration.

SD-orchestration: The OSS alternative

SD-WAN’s network orchestration provides an alternative to the legacy operational support system (OSS), delivering a more agile environment for performance management. The OSS may require hardware and manual processes for management, which adds extra cost, introduces human configuration errors, reduces security, and slows the provisioning of new links and services. Alternatively, SD-orchestration uses software for management, separating the network services from the network components or hardware. This allows IT teams to reduce the time and effort required to integrate a new service or device. Moreover, it enables them to program the behavior of the network, so they can automatically configure it based on their service expectations and rule-based policies.

SD-WAN also makes real-time service provisioning possible. This is helpful particularly in situations when companies have an aggressive acquisition strategy that requires new sites to be up and running quickly. It can also be helpful in light of COVID-19, when companies need to transition to virtual models quickly and deploy unified communications and video conferencing for large numbers of remote employees or groups.

SD-orchestration is critical because it helps IT teams resolve some of their biggest challenges:

  • Locating and mitigating poor service quality, troubleshooting user issues remotely
  • Gaining insight into network operation and performance, collecting clear actionable metrics on network performance
  • Making bandwidth usage and user installations more efficient
  • Reducing manual intervention and services that require a “truck roll”
  • Notifying IT of failures or outages and documenting system changes

Six elements of orchestration and the origins of SD-WAN’s best features

SD-orchestration provides capabilities across six general areas that encompass some of SD-WAN’s most desirable features. But before we can explain those, we should first cover what brings SD-orchestration features all under one roof: centralized management. SD-WAN offers centralized management from a single dashboard or online portal with a single pane of glass. This is where IT teams access the SD-orchestration features, configuring and managing the network exactly how they want it. The portal is also where you view network and application performance data for your entire WAN.

From one system, you can access these six elements of SD-orchestration:

Authorization: providing users different levels of administrative privileges, permissions and network access

Authentication: verifying identity and determining whether a user or device really is who or what they declare to be–this can help with Zero Trust strategies

Control: the power to add, modify, and restrict an action

  • Application-Based Routing: also known as traffic steering, this tool makes use of all network paths (both private and public) and prioritizes how bandwidth is allocated, automatically assigning resources based on your prioritized list of applications, users, and locations
  • On-Demand Bandwidth: Modify port bandwidth globally across both public and private connections–better still, preemptively schedule bandwidth adjustments as needed
  • Policy orchestration: Appliance configuration is done on the management portal and pushed out to all SD-WAN appliances, saving IT from programming every device individually

Monitoring and Recording: observing or checking the status and progress of IT resources over a period of time–this also tracks what super-users or super-admins have done or not done

  • Change History: historical records show the activity of administrators and super users, making it easy to verify actions taken
  • Link Monitoring: Connections are monitored with data stored for future analysis–plus the management portal aggregates data received from all SD-WAN appliances and makes it available for analysis

Auditing and Reporting: conducting a systematic review of the state and status of IT resources and providing an unbiased and secure account of the findings

  • Portal Analytics:
    • A unified view of analytics for WAN edge devices, the network, and application performance
    • Geographical maps showing the status of every link in your global network, traffic patterns, flow direction, bandwidth utilization, and recent changes
    • Real-time and point-in-time historical comparisons across multiple links
    • Bonus Features: some providers offer Shadow IT discovery tools that expose a list of all cloud applications running on the network so teams can take remediation efforts–some even include virtual network assistants that make suggestions on how to optimize security and network performance

SD-orchestration: How you deploy SD-WAN can impact success

Orchestration requires people, and one of the most important decisions enterprises make is the choice of SD-WAN deployment model. Do-it-yourself or self-managed SD-WAN approaches can be intimidating for those that may not have the experience or IT resources for implementation and ongoing management. Even with today’s modern application-based routing and a virtual network advisor inside the SD-WAN portal, orchestration is not a one-and-done effort. SD-WAN still requires ongoing performance management. And when SD-Branch strategies use broadband or public internet access, firewalls require additional people and 24/7 attention for security monitoring. Do you have the resources to do this alone or would you prefer a managed service to assist you?

There’s another reason orchestration success is affected by SD-WAN deployment. Orchestration is not immune to your deployment model decision, because the configuration and management portal runs on a server. If you go with a self-managed DIY solution, you’ll have to manage that server yourself, perform upgrades, and fix problems. Also, if you lose that server, you lose access to your data.

With a managed solution, the provider will likely host the server in their own data center or cloud. They’ll also have the responsibility of handling upgrades and ensuring that it stays available. Another advantage of using a managed SD-WAN service, such as Masergy’s, is that they can jump in and “see” your WAN if you want them to, which can aid in troubleshooting when necessary. This is especially true when your IT staff is impacted by events like COVID-19.

If you go with a managed solution, here are some things to consider:

  • Find out whether you get your own server instance, or if you’re sharing it with multiple customers in a multi-tenant fashion
  • Ask about service level agreements for outages–if you lose access to the portal, you could lose your reporting and configuration data
  • See what level of visibility and control is offered in the portal—solutions with one unified view (and one login) will be easier to manage with everything in one place
  • Ask which control features are available to you and which ones are reserved only for the provider’s network operations center. Shared equal control will result in more flexibility for migrating from a co-managed model and then to a fully managed service

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