Top Questions to Ask When Writing a SD-WAN RFP?

8 Sep 2020 by Michael Kriech

To write or not write an SD-WAN RFP? That is the question. In all seriousness, an SD-WAN request for proposal (RFP) must include comprehensive questions that dive into vendor service features, capabilities, architecture, cost-savings, and proof of concepts (PoCs).

When it comes to new technologies like SD-WAN, IT departments and enterprise network teams must write their software-defined WAN RFP in a way that encourages vendor and service provider transparency across a multitude of features within the SD-WAN marketplace. In this article, I will discuss the key questions that your business must include in writing their SD-WAN RFP.

Unmanaged or Managed SD-WAN Considerations

The most common consideration in purchasing from a vendor or SD-WAN provider is the approach. Will you be selecting do-it-yourself (DIY) or a fully managed SD-WAN solution? This is a distinction that your business will need to determine right away as it impacts on-premise equipment and network connectivity options.

Just a few years ago, IT Departments would typically default to the telecom carrier or network service provider for their wide area network (WAN) edge devices and infrastructure. This included relying on the provider to deliver the equipment such as routers and switches from networking vendors such as Cisco or Juniper. However, the landscape has changed with SD-WAN and the platform is now the main consideration. This represents a shift from connectivity being the primary consideration.

In writing your RFP, it will be important to carefully consider available platforms that consist of both hardware and software applications. We will dive into this subject in more detail later and cover key questions to ask.

How to Start Writing Your SD-WAN RFP? Determine Requirements

There’s no doubt that SD-WAN offers a broad set of features, which can have a positive impact on your application performance, optimization, and security posture. The creation of a feature matrix is often an ideal place to start when writing your RFP. This provides a great starting point for your team as to the features that are most important to your business and technology stack.

Here are a Few SD-WAN Features to Consider:

Dynamic Routing – This is a feature that ensures that traffic uses the best path possible depending on the business need. For example, mission-critical or delay-sensitive applications.

Quality of Service (QoS) – This SD-WAN feature assesses the granular application treatment across the user profile. This includes application type and business demand.

Link Steering & Remediation – When an outage occurs, failover conditions are usually set as up or down. SD-WAN offers enhanced capabilities to sense packet loss and increased latency or jitter. This allows SD-WAN to make intelligent route selection based on circuit performance.

Application Performance Monitoring – Certain SD-WAN vendors offer detailed packet analysis and monitoring to assess traffic at the application and user levels. This can be extremely helpful in shaping your enterprise network.

Next-Generation Security – For many IT Departments and business, cybersecurity is a top priority. This is especially true with the network. Many SD-WAN vendors offer next-gen firewall services as a part of their SD-WAN solution offerings. Some do not.

Network Function Virtualization (NFV) – This is an important feature in most SD-WAN platforms. NFV simply asks whether the WAN edge device is available has virtualized capability within a cloud-based environment.

Zero-Touch Deployment – This is a feature that many businesses find extremely helpful. Zero-touch simply means that your IT team can turn-up services without needing to interact with physical hardware or networking gear. This results in fast and efficient delivery of SD-WAN services at the edge.

Automation & Orchestration – A major benefit of SD-WAN is the quick and effortless installation of services using a management GUI. Make sure to evaluate the different automation and orchestration GUIs to find one that is user friendly and reliable.

WAN Optimization – Even though WAN optimization is typically delivered as a separate service offing, SD-WAN technologies frequently offer the ability to optimize and cache network traffic.

Recommended SD-WAN Service-Based Questions to Ask

You’ve created your service feature matrix, discussed important technology and business drivers, and now you’re ready to organize your SD-WAN RFP into standard RFP sections. However, let’s first start by asking the right questions!

What is the SD-WAN vendor's elevator pitch? 

Requesting an elevator pitch means that the vendor understands and has a high-value proposition. We are the only SD-WAN provider that can… [or] our SD-WAN platform provides… Common pitches include cloud-based NFV, global support, domestic vs. International footprint, network optimization, next-gen firewalls and granular QoS.

Does the SD-WAN vendor sell a stand-alone service?

It’s important to know whether or not SD-WAN providers offer a standalone service or if they have other capabilities such as network connectivity and security solutions available. In many instances, a vendor might be known for a specific capability that primarily drives their sales activity. However, vendors may also offer valuable competencies outside their core offerings, such as firewall provisioning.

Does the SD-WAN vendor provide support for third-party circuits?

This is an important consideration. Does the SD-WAN vendor provide third-party circuit support? A major benefit of SD-WAN is the ability of the enterprise to use multiple circuit types and providers in building their SD-WAN or hybrid network architecture.

Many businesses will migrate from MPLS networks to internet-based services. In this scenario, network teams may need to run double connections for a certain period of time. In fact, an MPLS Network may still be a component of hybrid network architecture. This may require the business vendor’s WAN edge to terminate private-based services.

Does the SD-WAN vendor meet your global support and coverage requirements? 

If your business requires International internet connectivity, you will need to assess the SD-WAN vendor’s point-of-presence (PoP) coverage and IP footprint to understand the impacts it may have on application performance. Certain providers operate a substantial global network which includes specific PoPs for private and public internet traffic. SD-WAN focuses on application performance, but latency and jitter often arise when deploying International, global network services.

SD-WAN Vendor-Based Questions to Ask

What are the SD-WAN vendor’s unique solution features? 

Certain SD-WAN vendors are known for their features or specialties. For example, this may include wireless deployments, security, out-of-the-box configuration and installation, 4G/5G access, and cloud support. Determine which service features are relevant and assess them against your business requirements.

How does the SD-WAN vendor deliver its architecture? 

The promise of SD-WAN technologies is to provide an architecture based on WAN edge devices with access to a software management servers. Alternatives to consider in an NFV deployment are where the technology is based on x86 virtualized instances. Does the solution have the capability to mix and match NFV and hardware options?

Can the SD-WAN vendor be separated from connectivity?

Certain vendor services offer an option with SD-WAN and connectivity built-in specifically for use their software-based capability. This includes dedicated SD-WAN private network, PoP locations to drop off traffic to the regional Internet Service Provider (ISP), or straightforward public IP connectivity. Can the SD-WAN solution be separated from connectivity or will you be pigeonholed into a specific method?

Does the SD-WAN vendor offer a proof-of-concept (PoC)?

Demoing SD-WAN platforms and having the vendor help you build a PoC is an excellent way to determine the capability and performance of the SD-WAN solution. Certain SD-WAN vendors offer demo hardware for a period of time, frequently with pre-sales resources and engineering to assist with network configurations.

What is the cost associated with the vendor’s SD-WAN product?

A major benefit of SD-WAN is the associated cost-savings. This is especially true when migrating from an MPLS network. IT Departments and networking teams can expect a certain amount of cost reduction relating to their network infrastructure. The key is to realize how these cost-savings are provided by the SD-WAN vendor. Can the vendor highlight their solution cost-savings versus competitors and other WAN solutions like MPLS?

Need Help with Your SD-WAN RFP?

Datacenters.com has developed a “digital RFP” to help with configuring and selecting the right SD-WAN vendors for your network infrastructure. It’s called the IGNITE Network Project Platform and you can check it out by clicking here.

In addition to providing online SD-WAN configuration and a list of SD-WAN vendors that are intelligently matched to your WAN requirements, Datacenters.com offers white glove “concierge” services from internal network solution engineers and architects.

That’s not all. You can actually complete your RFP online through IGNITE Network Projects and receive “direct from provider” proposals and pricing for your SD-WAN solution. This allows for side-by-side comparisons of SD-WAN vendors, services, and pricing.

Get started by clicking here and start building your SD-WAN solution now!

Author

Michael Kriech

Michael brings twenty-three plus years of IT and telecommunications experience to Datacenters.com. With a wide range of expertise, Michael assists his clients in determining the best solutions needed for their technology roadmap. As information technology infrastructure evolves, Michael continues to suggest and present comprehensive, stable, and scalable solutions. This helps clients take advantage of the best and latest technologies that support company objectives while freeing up time to concentrate on core competencies. With a passion for helping organizations meet their goals, Michael is willing to go the extra mile to support his clients. A Navy Veteran and proud husband and father, Michael and his wife (Jessica) spend their spare time raising puppies as a volunteer for Canine Companion for Independence (CCI).

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