We hear a lot about companies that are starting to look at deployments of SD-WAN solutions. The past couple of years have been filled with success stories from companies that are putting in small proof-of-concept (PoC) deployments and evaluating their usefulness to the greater organization. Usually, these PoC deployments are undertaken with the idea that it may lead to something bigger, but the full numbers are usually not taken in by the time the networking team starts reporting on their results.
Building On Success
Acadia Healthcare is a company that was on the leading edge of deploying SD-WAN in the early stages of the technology’s development. Acadia’s leap into SD-WAN has been covered here before, but only for their initial 10-site PoC deployment. In a recent FutureWAN session, Eric Lester, Director of IT Operations, outlined how Acadia is moving forward after this initial PoC.
One of the first benefits realized during the Acadia PoC was the stability of the platform. The prior solution did not allow Acadia to fail over to backup circuits easily during outages. Eric related that often rural clinic directors would offer to get on the phone with carrier circuit teams to get connectivity restored. This was due to the fact that the healthcare services provided at the clinic were critical to patient care and very much dependent on the ability to reach the Internet and the Acadia WAN.
As the Viptela SD-WAN PoC took shape, Eric and his team decided that the solution was stable enough to start putting into production. The team purchased the hardware for the PoC and left it in place. Then, they started purchasing new Viptela hardware to install in sites there were bring brought online with no existing infrastructure. This allowed them to lower their costs and create reliability from the beginning instead of struggling with issues before a solution could be found.
As you can see from this slide, the sites that Eric and his team managed had 7 major outages in the 6 months prior to the deployment of Viptela. After they turned up the new SD-WAN appliances, there was zero downtime for the month afterward. The reduction in the number of hours that sites spent down was striking. This gave Eric and his team the confidence to start deploying SD-WAN widely to the entire Acadia organization.
Today, Acadia has deployed Viptela SD-WAN to over 170 sites. That’s 60% of their US-based locations. The reliability of SD-WAN has given them the confidence to move to a cloud-based electronic medial record (EMR) system, which reduces the strain on local resources and ensures that all information is up-to-date. It has also allowed Acadia to look at changing the way they architect their sites.
Changing Of The Guard
Once Acadia started looking at their site reliability, they realized that they could offer even more functionality for a significantly reduced cost. Instead of relying on carrier MPLS circuits that had service-level agreements (SLAs) designed to ensure reliability, Acadia instead opted to go with less reliable broadband circuits, like DSL and cable modems, and augment their reliability with 4G/LTE backup. Now, if a circuit went down the backup LTE link took over processing the packets. Eric said that he tested this on a VoIP call with a remote site. The switch over and fail back lost a single ping or two during the process, but the call itself was never impacted, nor was the traffic from the site.
Additionally, the ease of installation allowed Eric and his team to use non-technical staff on-site to power up the devices and bring them up to ready. The LTE modems were shipped preconfigured and plugged in, so when the box was powered up it immediately established connectivity. That allowed the deployment team to remotely configure the devices and then install them quickly before the remote sites were closed down for the day. This kind of centralized deployment means that skilled tech workers are not required to spend days on-site troubleshooting and that branch offices can be upgraded to new technology with a minimum amount of downtime.
Eric and his team did run into a few concerns that companies should be aware of if they’re looking at their own SD-WAN projects. One big one was that using LTE as a backup link solution works great provided that the installation location has sufficient coverage. During the FutureWAN session, he related an anecdote about the site teams assuring him that they had great coverage in their facility. When the backup LTE link was tested, it kept failing. It was only well into the troubleshooting process that Eric learned that the Viptela SD-WAN appliance was installed in a basement location with little to no coverage. Moving the device fixed the LTE issues.
One of the issues that Eric and his team learned about during the process was the reporting for links being down. In the old system, the links would be reported down as soon as they went offline because the users would see an immediate drop off in productivity. Now, with backup links failing over instantly, the primary broadband could be down for a while before anyone noticed thanks to the seamless reliability offered by SD-WAN. If you’re looking to deploy a similar setup to the one that Acadia uses, make sure you’re monitoring your links so they meet the agreed-upon SLAs.
Bringing It All Together
On a small enough scale, every PoC accomplishes the goals that it was built for. They key is what happens when those small PoCs become big projects. Acadia knew they needed to do something, but moving to SD-WAN wasn’t entirely risk free. Thankfully for Eric Lester and his team, the wider deployment of Viptela SD-WAN across 170 sites was smooth and required very little extra effort. The benefits realized during the SD-WAN PoC are now apparent to the entire organization, and they have allowed the Acadia team to begin to create reliable inexpensive architecture that keeps users happy.
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