How SD-WAN Provided an Alternative to MPLS – A Case Study

April 18, 2019

What’s transitioning like to SD-WAN? Ask Nick Dell. The IT manager at a leading automotive components manufacturer recently shared his experience transitioning his company from MPLS to Cato SD-WAN. During the webinar, we spoke about the reasons behind the decision, the differences between carrier-managed SD-WAN services and cloud-based SD-WAN, and insights he gained from his experience.

Dell’s company has been in business for over 60 years and employs 2,000 people located across nine locations. Manufacturing plants needed non-stop network connectivity to ensure delivery to Ford, Toyota, GM, FCA, Tesla, and Volkswagen. Critical applications included cloud ERP and VoIP.

Before moving to SD-WAN, the company used an MPLS provider that managed everything. The carrier provided a comprehensive solution to address the critical uptime requirements by having three cloud firewalls at each datacenter, and an LTE wireless backup at each location. When they signed the agreement with the MPLS provider, the solution seemed to be exactly what they needed to support their applications and uptime requirements. However, they quickly discovered problems with the MPLS solution that were impacting the business.

The Catalyst to Make a Change

Dell noticed a few challenges with the MPLS service:

#1 Bandwidth — Usage would peak at certain times and the provider’s QoS configuration didn’t work properly. Nick wanted to add bandwidth, but for some sites, the MPLS provider offered only limited or no fiber connections. For example, the MPLS provider would say fiber is not available at a certain site, but the local LEC delivered the T1s using fiber.

#2  Internet Configuration Failures — The company also wanted to give OEM partners access the cloud ERP system,  but the MPLS provider was unable to successfully configure Internet-based VPNs for the partners. Internet failover also did not work as promised. When sites would fail, not all components would switchover properly, creating failures in application delivery.

#3 Authentication Failures —  The user authentication functionality provided by the MPLS provider was supposed to help when users would move their laptops or other endpoints from wired to wireless connections. However, the authentication process often failed, leaving users without Internet access. Only after two years did the provider propose a solution – software that would cost $5,000 and require installing agents on all the laptops.

These issues manifested themselves in day-to-day operations. Someone sending an email with a large attachment would cause the ERP system to be slow to respond, which in turn caused delays in getting shipments out.

Dell and other leadership knew it was time for a change. They needed high availability Internet with more bandwidth that worked as designed. Moreover, they wanted a provider that would work in a partner relationship that could deliver 100% Internet uptime, fiber to all locations, provide a lower cost solution, and include all-in-one security.

The SD-WAN Options on the Table

Dell investigated three SD-WAN scenarios to replace the MPLS network.

  • Carrier Managed SD-WAN
  • Appliance-based SD-WAN
  • Cloud-based SD-WAN

    Moving to SD-WAN with the same carrier they were using for MPLS seemed like an easy move, but Dell was not inclined to deal with some of the same issues of poor service, and a “ticket-taker” attitude rather than problem-solving. The carrier also couldn’t guarantee a 4-hour replacement window for the SD-WAN hardware.

    The appliance-based SD-WAN solution would free them from the carrier issues, and ownership and management of the solution would fall to Dell and his team. The upfront costs were high, and security was not built-in to the solution.

    Dell also looked into other Cloud-based SD-WAN providers, but because of their size, the provider wanted to put them with an MSP where SD-WAN is not their core business. The solution didn’t provide full security so they would need to buy additional security appliances. The provider could also not guarantee a 4-hour response time to replace failed hardware.

Why Cato

With the Cato Cloud solution, Dell is able to choose any ISP available at each location and now have fiber at all locations with 5-20x more bandwidth than before. This has allowed them to have more redundancy to the Internet and High Availability (HA) – with both lines and appliances – at every location. The bandwidth constraints are gone and QoS actually works. When there is downtime, the failover process works as expected.

Describing the deployment experience as fast and easy, Dell only needed a 30-minute lunch break to cut over one location that previously was one of the most troublesome with outages and backup issues.

One of the driving factors that convinced Dell to go with Cato was the support, which he describes as “transparent and quick to resolve” issues. “They really listen to us, they really want to solve our problems,” says Dell. He was also pleasantly surprised that Cato was the only vendor of all the solutions they investigated that didn’t try to cash-in on an HA solution with a recurring fee.

Dell demonstrated his ROI on the Cato solution in a few ways. Bandwidth has increased significantly, the increased network visibility lets him troubleshoot faster, security is integrated, and at the same time, overall costs have decreased by 25%.  Users satisfaction is also down. Users are less frustrated because they’re no longer “being blocked from websites,” he says. As for IT, well, they’re also less frustration because dealing with support and opening tickets is, as Nick put it, “…so easy now.”

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Dave Greenfield