The Importance of Network Documentation for SD-WAN Adoption

SD-WAN (Software Defined Wide Area Networking) is reshaping the way networks are built and operated, decoupling networking hardware from its control mechanisms and introducing software automation to unlock performance, reliability, and scalability with commodity connectivity.  SD-WAN is not a new concept, but adoption of SD-WAN continues to grow rapidly.  According to market research firm TeleGeography, operators of WAN networks that had installed SD-WAN on all or part of their networks grew rapidly from 18% in 2018 to 47% in 2022, with just 5% in 2022 indicating they don’t plan to adopt SD-WAN.  Market forecasts from analysts agree, with Gartner forecasting revenues in the SD-WAN market of $5.3 billion for 2023, growing to more than $8 billion by 2026, according to reporting by SDXCentral.

An explosion of circuits

Introducing SD-WAN into your network has well documented benefits, but it introduces some new challenges as well – often, challenges that aren’t recognized until they become bottlenecks for the Networking team.  I met recently with Network Engineers from a Fortune 500 F&B company, who’d undergone an SD-WAN transformation of their network over the last several years.  Their network spans corporate offices, manufacturing facilities, warehouses and distribution facilities, retail locations, even theme parks.  And adopting SD-WAN across their complex footprint certainly gave them more flexibility and control – but it also introduced an unexpected new complication: a booming circuit footprint.

With rapid growth in the commodity circuits deployed across the company’s sprawling network footprint came many challenges – especially for lifecycle management, real-time troubleshooting, and other processes that require a clear view of the details of every circuit, and the ability to reason about the overall footprint and trends.  A lack of network documentation led to longer recovery times from failures, challenges in budgeting and planning, slow spin-up of new circuits and network endpoints, and a ton of wasted time chasing down circuit and contract details across a mess of disconnected sources like Excel spreadsheets and emails.

The benefits of network documentation

The Networking team realized they needed to get control of the situation by implementing a robust system for documenting the details of their exploding circuit footprint, in order to get the benefits of their SD-WAN investments without introducing untenable operational complexity and drag for their team.  They needed to capture circuit details, from configuration metadata to support escalation contacts, so they could ensure both local and corporate IT staff would have a seamless experience in managing circuits, IT planning, contract management, budgetary planning, reporting, and especially troubleshooting.

Solving the problem with NetBox

The team turned to NetBox, with its purpose built models for documenting and managing all elements of modern enterprise networks.  NetBox includes robust models for circuits, circuit providers, terminations, and the like – along with models of pretty much every other network element you could imagine.  This enabled the team to move away from disconnected data sources like Excel spreadsheets that were always stale, and leverage NetBox’s models, UIs, and APIs specifically built for documenting networks as the Network Source of Truth, streamlining data management and accessibility.  The outcome?  The time taken to resolve operational issues plummeted from days to just a few hours.  Our conversation underscored a pivotal lesson: While SD-WAN offers big benefits, it’s essential to pair it with comprehensive network documentation to fully harness its potential.

Taking control of your complex network

The lesson from this F500 team isn’t unique.  Networks are becoming more complex – not just because of the introduction of SD-WAN, but tied to major tech trends from cloud computing, to distributed teams, to the explosion of devices on the network, to the rapid shift toward SaaS and connected applications.  All of these trends and more drive criticality and complexity in the network footprint, and Networking teams need leverage.  Documenting your network in a purpose built Network Source of Truth like NetBox eliminates confusion, speeds lifecycle and remediation processes, and is the foundation for effective network automation.

It’s easy to get started.  Spin up a NetBox Cloud trial or drop us a note, and our team will help you identify the best way to get started documenting your network in the world’s most widely used network source of truth, NetBox.

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