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What to consider when integrating SD-WAN and ITSM tools

We haven't really heard a lot about SD-WAN integration with IT service management. But getting SD-WAN to work with existing ITSM tools is a big priority for enterprises.

When IT organizations implement a software-defined WAN product, they usually enjoy improved visibility into their networks and the applications that run on them. In fact, the latest research from Enterprise Management Associates found enterprises consider integrated visibility and monitoring the most valuable feature in their SD-WAN products.

Native visibility, however, will take you only so far with SD-WAN. Most enterprises have a large and complex portfolio of IT management systems already installed that support their existing processes and policies. While SD-WAN products offer good visibility through their own management consoles, enterprises need to integrate SD-WAN with the rest of their tools for end-to-end IT service management (ITSM).

This requirement explains why so many network performance management (NPM) vendors and SD-WAN vendors have announced integrations over the last couple of years. NPM tools can improve overall visibility into the network by extracting the network activity metrics that SD-WAN products collect.

Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) has observed significant integration activity between NPM and SD-WAN vendors, but the rest of the IT management market has been relatively quiet on the subject of SD-WAN. This silence is a problem, because enterprises have a robust set of integration requirements.

Based on a survey of 305 WAN decisions-makers at distributed enterprises, EMA's research report, "Wide-Area Network Transformation: How Enterprises Succeed with Software-Defined WAN," found that ITSM is the top integration priority for SD-WAN. Fifty-five percent of enterprises said they require their SD-WAN technology to integrate with their ITSM tools.

Many enterprises also require SD-WAN to integrate with security incident and event management (34%), compliance management (34%) and multi-cloud orchestration (32%). In contrast, only 30% require SD-WAN to integrate with their NPM tools, making NPM technology only the sixth most important SD-WAN integration priority for enterprises.

How ITSM should play with SD-WAN

Fifty-five percent of enterprises said they require their SD-WAN technology to integrate with their ITSM tools.

ITSM tools define, enable and track the workflows and processes an IT organization uses to deliver IT services. They often include asset management, configuration management and service desk capabilities.

SD-WAN can supply valuable data to ITSM tools, but ITSM can also formalize the processes and workflows network teams need to follow when managing and operating SD-WAN. After all, most SD-WAN products are overlay technologies that abstract existing network infrastructure and services, including WAN transport, branch routers and other third-party network functions.

Additionally, the network is only one layer in a complex stack of technologies that comprise IT services, including data center infrastructure, public cloud, security and more. In most enterprises, the ITSM tool set sits at the nexus of all of these elements.

Despite this need for ITSM integration, few SD-WAN vendors are active in this area. If you Google the two acronyms together, you won't find much information on the topic. EMA found a few SD-WAN companies that have identified ServiceNow -- a leading ITSM tool vendor -- as a partner, but detailed information on the nature of these partnerships is scarce.

SD-WAN integration: Evaluate data collection

SD-WAN vendors usually publish open APIs to support integration with IT management systems. Most enterprises find these APIs useful. EMA's research found only 22% of enterprises think their SD-WAN vendor's APIs are particularly challenging to work with.

The quality of data that SD-WAN products make available through these APIs is a little more suspect, however. When EMA asked enterprises to name their top challenges when integrating SD-WAN with their IT management systems, their biggest complaint was the fact that SD-WAN data lacks insight into the WAN transport layer (32%).

Next, 29% of respondents said SD-WAN products lack insight into the hardware on which they run. And 25% complained SD-WAN data wasn't granular enough. For instance, an SD-WAN product might collect metrics every five or 10 minutes, but IT managers want to collect data every 30 seconds. Unfortunately, shortening those metric intervals might degrade the overall performance of the SD-WAN product.

EMA recommends enterprises evaluate the data collection specifications of an SD-WAN product before purchasing. They should identify the IT management systems that will need data from SD-WAN, define the data requirements of those ITSM tools and evaluate how vendors match up with their needs.

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