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SD-WAN – What Are You Waiting For?

Leslie W. Cothren, IT Director, Universal Mental Health Services

“The best decision of my career.” Many times over the past three years, I’ve uttered those words to colleagues, business associates, friends, and at conferences when I’ve been asked or have been discussing my decision to transition the WAN (Wide Area Network) services of my employer over to SD-WAN (Software-defined Wide Area Network).

As IT Director for a company, I am faced with option after option, sales call after sales call, and many decisions on a daily basis. No day is ever the same, which has made my career truly diverse and interesting. Often, as an IT Director, I am presented with new technologies. Lots of those opportunities come thru sales channels, such as at a conference. SD-WAN came to me, in early 2016, at a conference.

There was a lot of buzz around the product and vendor. I dropped a business card, and it could be said that the rest is history. At that point, the company had a mixed bag of telecommunications vendors, connectivity, firewall devices, and security protocols. One of our largest telecommunication expenditures was our MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) services that covered our headquarters and four other locations. The other sites were connected via various VPN (Virtual Private Network) connectivity.

The vendor I chose to work with for our SD-WAN services had a unique proposition. We could improve our security, reduce costs, consolidate our network, remove disparate equipment, and bring all of our connectivity under one pane of glass for ease of management. My initial thought of “tell me where to sign” turned into “the best decision of my career”.

Over the next few months, we slowly rolled out the services across the 10 locations. I began changing the Internet Pipes from MPLS and other more expensive connections to lower cost options. The SD-WAN service I selected had built in firewall and security services, so I also immediately pulled out old security equipment. Gone were the days of logging into disparate devices to do firmware updates and verifying that the device was still under maintenance with the vendor. Also gone were the days of having to make sure the devices were not considered “end of life” with the manufacturer.

I immediately embraced the opportunity to clean up the WAN infrastructure. The change and the benefits were immense and unique. If I wanted to make a firewall change, I could do it instantly across the cloud-based platform across all of our locations with the click of a mouse. Need to block a website? Done. Need to open a port for a phone system issue? Done. The SD-WAN vendor, although relatively new to the market, really had thought of almost everything.

One of the true benefits of SD-WAN is the ability to combine the bandwidth and reliability of having multiple broadband connections in each location across the network. This took longer to implement, due to finding a second vendor, working out contracts, and making sure the correct service was selected, but with time came this functionality. As we’ve added services, such as a cloud-hosted voice solution, I’ve continued to reap the benefits of utilizing SD-WAN. I’ve perfectly positioned the network for greater things to come.

 Functionality, redundancy, resiliency, security, ease, cost-savings. All words I now associate with “the best decision of my career”. All words that any IT professional hopes to embrace at the end of any project. All words that make my life as an IT Director better. All words that beg the question, “What are you waiting for?”

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