SD-WAN Operational Support Challenges

Planning for SD-WAN Support Challenges

The same features that make using a software-defined network (SD-WAN) so attractive bring a unique set of network operations challenges to be managed within organizations. The complexity of utilizing this solution requires upfront planning. This article examines some of the support challenges.

What can a SD-WAN network do? 

A well-designed SD-WAN network can:

  • Simplify network management
  • Improve application performance 
  • Lower the cost of ownership
  • Reduce downtime and performance issues due to improved network availability and utilization
  • Increase security
  • Reduce human error when applying changes to multiple branch locations

In short, an SD-WAN solution helps the organization make the most of its network resources to minimize downtime and improve application performance. 

How does it work?

With an SD-WAN, branch locations are connected to larger networks using multiple connection types, including MPLS, broadband, LTE, and soon 5G mobile. SD-WAN makes intelligent decisions regarding traffic routing to the Internet and provides the optimized route to the traffic destination. However, the complexity of this solution drives the need for upfront planning to ensure that resulting operational support challenges are identified and managed appropriately.

Key to realizing SD-WAN advantages is upfront planning to ensure that daily operational support challenges are identified and managed appropriately. 

Depending on the deployment model, SD-WAN may combine Internet connections from different ISPs. In this case, the SD-WAN branch router and orchestrator are typically owned by the network provider rather than the ISP.  This leaves a need for the organization to identify and manage ISP/circuit issues 24x7. In addition, the more complex software-defined routing nature of SD-WAN appliances requires a full understanding of the types of traffic (and the critical applications) that can impact the service at a specific location. This knowledge permits successful troubleshooting of packet flows that are causing your services and critical applications to perform poorly.

SD-WAN Operational Support Challenges

Monitoring and event handling—particularly for ISP/circuit issues—provide some of the biggest challenges to the daily support of an SD-WAN network. Good visibility into the SD-WAN network and effective 24x7 issue management will keep all your locations connected reliably to the Internet and to the corporate network.  

Often the bandwidth available at a branch location is limited to the types of ISP services available. A good NOC support framework and experience allows for a quick response to events for a variety of network configurations. In a recent example, INOC engineers used an SD-WAN orchestrator to quickly identify video streaming traffic from a WiFi-connected cell phone that was consuming the limited bandwidth provided by the site’s DSL and cellular Internet connections. While the business-critical applications were still working well, users connected to the site’s public hotspot were complaining of poor service. With an understanding of data flows, the NOC engineers applied rules to the traffic flow for quick de-prioritization of the video traffic, restoring normal hotspot use.

Consolidation of Event Data

In environments with multiple SD-WAN appliances from a single or several vendors, the collection and consolidation of event data can be quite challenging. Each SD-WAN platform has its own orchestration and management tool with its own API and language. Trying to collect event data into a single view can require integration and development expertise, and thus can be quite challenging. Yet success and efficiency require this consolidation into a single interface or view.

At INOC, we consolidate alarm feeds from multiple sources into a single view and portal. This allows the correlation of multiple events into single-incident tickets. Several SD-WAN vendors are integrated with INOC tools (including vendors like Cisco Viptela, VMware VeloCloud, Silver Peak, and others). Additionally, INOC engineers are trained on multiple SD-WAN solutions and have experience resolving issues unique to this new technology. 

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