Getting your SD-WAN upgrade underway

Posted on January 13, 2020

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Network upgrades are a process – they don’t happen overnight. But they don’t have to be difficult. In fact, that’s one of the key benefits of a managed service. The service provider assumes some of the risk, takes care of the bulk of the work, and via a service level agreement guarantees that the upgraded network services work as specified. 

Network upgrades are a partnership between your organisation and the service provider. And as with all partnerships, the initial tasks are shared. Tight coordination and open communications amongst all parties are essential for the successful completion of the upgrade project. Set your business up for success with our tips on getting your network upgrade underway. 

Clearly-defined goals 

What, exactly, are you trying to achieve with your network upgrade? Do you need faster throughput to support an expanding array of bandwidth-intensive applications? Are there gaps in your security profile? Is your infrastructure ageing and you want to upgrade your network? Or maybe your IT team is overwhelmed, and you want to offload some of their routine tasks to a third-party? Maybe it’s all of the above? Without knowing the outcome you’re hoping to achieve, it’s impossible to know whether you’ve been successful.  

Next, it’s important to consider what your existing challenges and bottlenecks are, along with projects in the pipeline that will impact how your network operates in the future. 

Of course, you can’t forget about your budget and people. Do you have the requisite resources available to bring the project to a successful conclusion? And do you have a realistic timeline? 

Understanding the current landscape and where you’d like to go will make the process much easier. You might consider bringing consultants on board who have experience in prepping for network upgrades.  

Network audit 

Once you have an idea of where you want to go, you need to know where you are. Your first task is to provide a snapshot of your network topology, including major hardware and software installations, upgrade schedules, traffic patterns, user metrics and maintenance and support contracts. Be sure to include on-premise, virtualised, co-location and IaaS infrastructure, virtualised branch offices, and cloud- and web-based applications.  

Ideally, you’ll have all the facts and figures at your fingertips, but often that’s easier said than done, especially with larger, more complex networks.  

What about shadow IT, those rogue programs that have been installed by non-authorised staff? Are there any new services that aren’t covered by your current security solution? Has everything been patched and upgraded with the latest versions? And don’t forget your disaster recovery planning. When was the last time you did a shut-down trial to test your back-up plans? 

Again, consultants can help with the audit. 

Strategic plan and RFP 

You know what you have, and you have an idea of what you need. Now you can prepare a request for proposals (RFP) that sets out everything in a well-conceived strategic plan. The RFP can be as specific (we need three firewalls and a maintenance contract and have a three-month window) or as nebulous (we need to future-proof our network to support proposed DX initiatives) as appropriate.  

It makes no difference if an RFP is for a managed service or an in-house implementation; the process is exactly the same. You specify your requirements and the vendor/service providers propose the solution. The more specific your RFP, of course, the more exact the proposal will be. 

Decision-making 

You’ve planned for your future network requirements, you have the budget and people (either in-house or contract) in place and you have a timeline for completion. You have one or more proposals. It’s decision time.  

If you have done your homework, identified your requirements and have well-prepared proposals from reputable vendors and service providers, you should be able to make the most appropriate decision.  

This is a good time to check references, look at development roadmaps, and ensure that the local support teams match your corporate culture. 

It’s technical, to be sure, but networks are run by people. If you have confidence in the vendor/service provider team and their proposal and can rely on them as a trusted advisor,  then the technology should work as advertised. 

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