Interruptions and inconsistency in service, an overly complicated healthcare network infrastructure, and escalating bandwidth are all reasons that healthcare organizations consider moving to software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). Before you make the switch and choose a provider, there are some initial steps that will help you adopt a more informed decision-making process.
Determine Your Bandwidth Needs: This is one of the first questions an SD-WAN provider will ask, so find out how much you’re currently consuming and account for additional bandwidth for solutions you might implement within the next two years. Your internet service provider (ISP) should be able to give you accurate information about your bandwidth consumption history.
Know Your WAN: You should be familiar with the general layout of your WAN, including where your devices are and the layout of your local area network (LAN) for each location. Get familiar with the services each location will require.
Dig into the Details of the Prospective Provider: Many SD-WAN providers offer the same features, but they may use different terms to describe them. Take notes, and ask questions when you aren’t sure what a particular feature delivers.
Ask About Testing: Find out whether your prospective SD-WAN provider offers a pilot program to test how their solution works in your particular environment. You might also ask for information about clients they’ve worked with that had a similar setup to yours and how they handled the challenges that came up during deployment.
In addition to taking these steps to prepare for moving to SD-WAN, it’s a good idea to have a clear understanding of the challenges you are trying to solve with this change in your network infrastructure. Some of the more common challenges impacting healthcare networking are:
Hybrid WAN Management: Many healthcare organizations rely heavily on multi-protocol label switching (MPLS), but it has its disadvantages, including relatively high cost compared to broadband and a lack of agility when it comes to adding locations. SD-WAN not only allows you to utilize MPLS but also other types of pathways to reduce overall bandwidth costs.
Reliable Connectivity at Branch Locations: A traditional hub-and-spoke network infrastructure means that every time there’s a problem at a branch location, the network engineer may be on the phone guiding someone through troubleshooting, or they are forced to travel to the branch. When these options aren’t immediately feasible, the branch location may be severely compromised in its patient care as they wait for a solution.
Moving to SD-WAN introduces automatic failover, which ensures that branch locations are always connected. If there is any type of interruption in the network, the centralized visibility and management allow for troubleshooting at headquarters.
Security: Healthcare organizations must comply with a host of security regulations to be compliant with the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Moving to SD-WAN introduces new levels of security to internet links and works with existing infrastructure, including firewalls at the branches or a centralized location. It also features end-to-end encryption, protecting data in transit.
Unified Communications (UC): All types of enterprises, including healthcare organizations, are moving to communications that transmit data over the internet line to support voice, video, and other formats. This can put a significant demand on bandwidth and is highly sensitive to jitter, dropped packets, and latency for maintaining the necessary performance level for quality communications. SD-WAN ensures that UC traffic is prioritized over applications that do not require real-time connectivity, such as email.
Supporting Mobile: Moving to SD-WAN extends the protection and performance of the network to remote and mobile employees that are accessing the systems from their home office or out in the field. As more processing occurs at the edge, the introduction of SD-WAN for network infrastructure becomes more important.
Options for Purchasing SD-WAN
Once your healthcare organization has determined that moving to SD-WAN will solve your network complexity and security concerns, you’ll want to examine the best way to purchase your SD-WAN solution:
Appliances: This SD-WAN service is delivered in a box as a traditional network device. It is typically a modified server.
Software License: You can buy or license software that is run at your data center or branch location on your server.
As a Service: SD-WAN as a service is an outsourced option in which a provider handles all aspects of your network management.
Many healthcare organizations find that they do not have the in-house resources to manage SD-WAN. Not only is it not a “set it and forget it” technology, but it’s unlikely you’ll have the skills on your team to manage this technology unless you build an SD-WAN solution from the ground up. A managed service provider can offer the ease of a predictable monthly invoice that includes all maintenance and upgrades to your networking solution and is fully scalable to your needs.
To learn more about how moving to SD-WAN might solve some of your most pressing network infrastructure challenges, contact us at SimpleWAN.