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Enterprise network teams need to build a software-defined WAN request for proposal to force vendor and service provider transparency across the multitude of features offered within the SD-WAN marketplace. In this article, we discuss the elements your business should include when creating SD-WAN RFP content.
The most common procurement consideration is whether to purchase SD-WAN from a vendor or a service provider -- essentially, DIY SD-WAN vs. managed SD-WAN. The distinction is one of whether your business requires a single point of contact across all aspects, including customer premises equipment and network connectivity.
Only a few years ago, IT teams would typically default to the telecom or virtual network operator as their WAN provider with edge devices from a networking vendor, like Cisco or Juniper. In 2020 and beyond, the landscape will change to a vendor-led model where the actual connectivity isn't the main consideration. If your business is considering a service provider, the managed SD-WAN RFP should look to understand the specific platforms that power the top one or two offerings.
How to start an SD-WAN RFP
SD-WAN offers a broad set of features, each of which could have a positive effect on your application access and performance, as well as security and optimization. The creation of a feature matrix is often the best place to start when building an SD-WAN RFP.
The following list provides a good starting point teams can use to gauge SD-WAN features for the RFP:
- Dynamic path selection. This feature ensures traffic uses the best path depending on the business need, such as mission-critical and delay-sensitive applications.
- Quality of service. QoS assesses the granular application treatment across user profile, application type and business need.
- Link steering and remediation. When a traditional outage occurs, failover conditions are normally set up as up/down. SD-WAN offers enhanced capability to sense packet loss, increased latency or jitter with path selection based on circuit performance.
- Application performance monitoring. Certain SD-WAN vendors offer detailed packet analysis to analyze traffic at the application and user levels.
- Next-generation security. Security is the No. 1 concern of IT teams, with many citing security as the main component of network transformation. Certain SD-WAN vendors build next-generation firewall services into their SD-WAN offerings.
- Network functions virtualization (NFV). Ask whether the WAN edge device is available as a virtualized capability delivered within a cloud-based environment.
- Zero-touch deployment. With this capability, IT teams can bring up services without the need to interact with physical equipment, resulting in fast and efficient deployment of services.
- Automation and orchestration. One of the key benefits within an SD-WAN environment is fast and easy installation of services using management GUIs.
- WAN optimization. While WAN optimization is typically delivered as a separate device, SD-WAN technology often includes the ability to optimize and cache traffic.
In addition to the points listed above, the SD-WAN RFP can request high-level information to demonstrate performance before moving to a more granular request for information.
Recommended SD-WAN RFP sections
An important part of the RFP process is composing the right architecture questions to present to the vendors. Below is a breakdown of questions network teams should ask when building an SD-WAN RFP.
- What is the vendor's elevator pitch? Requesting an elevator pitch means understanding the vendor's high-level value proposition. Some proposition examples include cloud-based NFV, global support, optimization, next-generation security, granular QoS and so on.
- Can the vendor sell stand-alone services? Ask the vendor if it sells the SD-WAN service as a stand-alone service or if it offers other capabilities, like network connectivity and security. In many instances, a vendor or provider may be known for a specific capability that primarily drives sales. However, the vendor might have other advantageous competencies outside this core capability, such as firewall provisioning.
- Does the service offer third-party private circuit support? One benefit of SD-WAN is the option for enterprises to terminate multiple circuit types. In a high percentage of cases, many businesses will migrate from MPLS to internet-based services. In this scenario, network teams may need to run dual connections for a period of time. MPLS can still be a component of hybrid network architecture, which requires the SD-WAN vendor's WAN edge to terminate private-based services.
- How does the vendor or provider meet the demands of global support and coverage? If your business requires international connectivity, you'll need to analyze the provider's point-of-presence (PoP) coverage to understand the effect on application performance. Certain providers and vendors operate a significant global network presence that includes specific PoPs for both private and internet traffic. SD-WAN features are focused on application performance, but latency and jitter challenges can arise when deploying international services.
- What are the provider's unique features? Certain vendors and providers are known for their specialties, such as wireless deployments, security, out-of-the box configuration and installation, 4G access and cloud support. Find out which areas the prospective provider specializes in, and gauge them against your business needs.
- How does the vendor deliver SD-WAN architecture? The promise of SD-WAN is to deliver an architecture based on WAN edge devices with access to software management servers. The alternative is to consider an NFV deployment where the technology is based on x86 virtualized instances of SD-WAN functionality. All designs have a general capability to mix and match NFV and hardware.
Outside of device deployment, network teams also need to consider the network element. While SD-WAN vendors can be separated from connectivity, some offerings provide a hybrid of both SD-WAN and network connectivity built specifically for software-based capability. The options typically include a dedicated SD-WAN private network, specific PoP locations to drop off traffic to your local internet service provider (ISP) or straightforward public IP connectivity.
- Does the vendor or provider offer a proof of concept? The proof of concept for SD-WAN is an excellent way to ascertain and determine the capability of an SD-WAN offering. Some vendors offer demo hardware for a period of time, often with presales resources to assist with configuration.
Managed SD-WAN considerations
If your SD-WAN RFP is sent to network service providers, the focus of their vendor relationships will need to be outlined comprehensibly. In some cases, providers will work with multiple vendors; in other instances, vendors will have specific capabilities. It's vital to understand the provider's experience, especially regarding any managed services, as these often include an element of professional services.
A major benefit associated with SD-WAN is significant cost savings. When moving from MPLS networks, IT teams expect to achieve a certain amount of cost reduction. The key element to consider is how these cost savings are achieved, as many options use low-cost ISP services to reduce pricing.
The question of costs as they relate to SD-WAN is often less obvious. For example, IT teams can achieve a reduction in total cost of ownership with single box provisioning for security, WAN optimization and WAN connectivity. Within an SD-WAN RFP, IT teams must analyze ISP connectivity, associated service levels and traffic performance.