SD-WAN Confessions: How One Company Migrated from MPLS to SD-WAN

November 26, 2019

Nick Dell is an IT manager who recently led a network transformation initiative at his company, moving from MPLS to SD-WAN. Dell shared why he made that transition and the lessons he learned along the way in the webinar SD-WAN Confessions: How I migrated from MPLS to SD-WAN. We’ve also summarized his experiences here.

The company Dell works for is a leading manufacturer in the automotive industry and has nine locations and more than 2000 employees. The company has critical ERP and VoIP applications that run in the cloud.
When Dell started with the company, there was an MPLS network where the provider placed three cloud firewalls at different datacenters. “We were promised, if one firewall goes down, the system will failover to the other, and each location will have LTE wireless backup,” says Dell. “The provider also committed to managing everything on our behalf.”

Issues arose about a year into the MPLS contract. One problem stemmed from overuse of the bandwidth at certain peak times, prompting the need for more bandwidth. A more serious issue was the planned failover processes weren’t working as expected, causing system outages. “We were supposed to be connected to the Internet at all times and this just wasn’t the case,” laments Dell. “People couldn’t record production; they couldn’t ship trucks. It was a big problem affecting our business.”

And the problems began to mount. “We needed connectivity to our OEMs, and our vendor could not get a simple VPN tunnel from the cloud firewalls to our customer. We got so frustrated, we just abandoned it,” says Dell. “We couldn’t even get fiber at some locations when we needed more bandwidth. It made us realize that not all carriers can get everything you need in certain areas.”

Mobility was another issue. “We were getting blocked switching from wired to wireless, and they couldn’t fix it without an additional investment in new software plus agents on our laptops,” he says. That’s when they began looking for an alternative to their existing WAN.

Considering the Options for SD-WAN

Dell’s team spent six months to a year looking at their options for SD-WAN. They considered a carrier-managed SD-WAN solution with their current provider, using SD-WAN appliances that Dell’s company would own. “We quickly eliminated this option because that provider couldn’t deliver on the connectivity solution we already had from them. I couldn’t trust them to manage the SD-WAN,” says Dell.

Next they considered self-managed SD-WAN, where Dell’s company owned and managed the equipment purchased from their same MPLS vendor. This approach had a lot of up-front costs, and the cost to assure high availability (HA) was unreasonable.

A third option was to get a cloud solution from an MSP. “We wouldn’t have the direct SD-WAN solution, and some of the features for security were not built in. I’d have to go out to third parties for Internet filtering. And again, there was a limited HA discount, and I couldn’t get guaranteed four-hour response time,” says Dell.

Carrier-managed SD-WAN

  • The same poorly managed service
  • Ticket takers, not problem solvers
  • Limited HA discount
  • Device replacement took too long

SD-WAN Appliance

  • Expensive
  • Box sellers
  • Full security not built-in
  • Limited HA discount
  • Device replacement took too long

SD-WAN Cloud (MSP)

  • SD-WAN not their core business
  • Not direct with SD-WAN
  • Full security not built-in
  • Limited HA discount
  • Device replacement took too long

The Company Chooses Cato SD-WAN

Next, the company considered Cato’s cloud-based SD-WAN. “There’s a lot of functionality there that really helps our business,” says Dell. “It was one of the best IT decisions we’ve made. It really changed the way that we do things. Cato really has the vision for the next generation of networking and security.”

Cato Cloud SD-WAN

  • All network resources on a single network
  • Full stack of built-in, cloud-based security services
  • Global network of PoPs interconnected by multiple tier one carriers
  • Traffic optimization across the network
  • Support for cloud and mobility
  • Full network visibility
  • Unified security policy
  • Fully managed, co-managed, self-managed service

“With Cato, we are able to go out to any ISP that we want to use. We aren’t locked into who the telco has relationships with, as with the MPLS,” says Dell. “I was able to get fiber at all our locations, and in some cases, at a third of the cost, by going with another provider. We have five to 20 times the bandwidth, and we now have robust, redundant Internet. We actually have a hot spare at each location. QoS actually works, we don’t get calls about being blocked from the Internet anymore, and failover works like it is supposed to.”

“As for deployment, the cutover was easy. We did one site over a 30-minute lunch break—that’s how easy it was,” says Dell. “They worked with us to resolve an issue we initially had with user authentication and they had it fixed within a few weeks.”

Cato makes HA affordable. “They weren’t trying to cash in on another device or get double their monthly fee. They are the only ones that I felt weren’t trying to make a ton of money off HA,” Dell says.

Benefits Abound with Cato

Dell says Cato support is amazing. “They are always there to answer our questions. I can get support via a webpage, I can call them, I can email them, and when I get ahold of a technician, they don’t take out a ticket and pass this up to tier two or tier three. 95 percent of the time they’re on the phone, they’re helping me, they’re seeing a problem or fixing it or just solving the problem right then and there.

Dell’s team collected some network performance metrics. “Even with our best MPLS circuit, we had peak response times of 106 msec. On our worst MPLS circuit, response time peaked at 302 msec. With Cato it averaged about 26 msec. Our users immediately saw the difference when working with the ERP system. They told us, ‘Whatever you did was amazing.’”

Dell says the voice quality for the VoIP service has been great. “Cato, with the quality of service, has really brought us to the next level.”

Cato also improved the company’s ability to do full backups during the day because there is sufficient bandwidth to do this and not impact end users at all.

ROI was basically immediate, according to Dell. “We were able to cutover all our circuits within 60 days, and that cost savings was seen on day one. I would say it was less than six months to break even, and then we were saving money after that. I look at my monthly saving of over $2,000-$3,000 and the 5 to 20 times the bandwidth that we increased everywhere. The performance increase was huge and the ROI was pretty much instantaneous.

Dell provides an FAQ document that illustrates the important questions to ask yourself to help you decide on the right SD-WAN solution for you.

For more details about this SD-WAN migration effort, watch the webinar here.

Dave Greenfield

Dave Greenfield

Dave Greenfield is a veteran of IT industry. He’s spent more than 20 years as an award-winning journalist and independent technology consultant. Today, he serves as a secure networking evangelist for Cato Networks.