SD-WAN: Does Your IT Team Have What It Takes?

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An earlier three-part series of blog posts examined a series of questions to ask to determine whether your company may be a good candidate to implement Software-Defined Wide-area Network (SD-WAN) technology. What the series did not cover was whether you’ve got the personnel in-house that it takes to architect and implement an SD-WAN and manage it for the long-term. That requires assessing a different series of questions. 

While SD-WAN has been talked about for years, it is still a relatively young technology that has not yet seen widespread implementation, notes Michael Lawson, General Manager of SD-WAN Solution Architecture for CenturyLink. “There’s still a lot of learning going on,” he says.

Assess, Architect, Implement

Among the requirements necessary for an IT team to effectively implement SD-WAN is the ability to assess where opportunities exist (which gets back to the 3-part series). Then, the team has to develop a strategy, design an appropriate architecture, implement all required infrastructure, and support it over the long haul.

“Once implemented, it’s not a set it and forget it,” Lawson says. “SD-WAN requires tuning, and your organization needs to learn over time how to use it most effectively for the business.”

A number of different skillsets come into play with respect to SD-WAN, including familiarity with various wide-area network services, switching, routing, policy development and security. The security angle may be the most challenging for those coming in with WAN skills, as it’s common for SD-WAN solutions to come with integrated features including next-generation firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention, malware protection and more.

Training is in Short Supply

“CCIEs [Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts] can learn it, if they have the cycles to invest while running the existing network,” Lawson says.

“Learning,” of course, translates to training, which is in short supply from anyone other than SD-WAN vendors such as Cisco, he notes. “It hasn’t reached that point of maturity yet.”

For example, Cisco’s SD-WAN training program includes two days of instructor-led training plus 7 hours of e-learning, including “5 hands-on lab exercises,” according to the course description. Before taking the course, you should have the following knowledge and skills, Cisco says:

  • Strong understanding of enterprise WAN design
  • Strong understanding of routing protocol operation, interior and exterior
  • Familiarity with Transport Layer Security (TLS) and IP Security (IPsec)

Deployment, Operations and Hiring

When it comes to deploying SD-WAN, most solutions promise some level of zero-touch provisioning (ZTP), Lawson says. “But boxes still need to be staged and shipped. A lot of it is driven by templates so it gets easier once you get up and running,” he says. “But you need to understand the logistics behind deployment. It’s a resource consideration to take on.”

Finally, there’s ongoing operations considerations, starting with whether you have enough bodies to cover 24x7 operations at all your locations, especially if they span time zones. “Can you assess ongoing performance and meet the service level agreements you put in place internally?” Lawson asks. “If you can’t meet your objectives, maybe you’re over your head.”

In terms of hiring to fill the SD-WAN need, things are slowly looking up on that front. “We’re starting to see people with SD-WAN experience on their resumes. It’s easier this year than it was last year,” Lawson says. “But we’re still on the ground floor and you’re probably paying a premium for those folks.”

Learn how Centurylink can help with your SD-WAN implementation. 


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