Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) brings much-needed agility and flexibility to enterprise WANs. SD-WAN should be part of every network transformation discussion. As businesses evaluate and embrace SD-WAN technology, managed service providers continue to play a critical role. Network decision-makers are showing a clear preference toward taking a managed SD-WAN approach. In managed SD-WAN, the service provider acts as a single point of contact for the complete SD-WAN solution, including the SD-WAN appliance, software license, WAN services and ongoing managed services.
The reasons for investing in SD-WAN technology are well understood among network/IT decision makers today: optimized multi-cloud and hybrid cloud connectivity, network cost savings, improved network agility and deep visibility into application and network performance. But actual deployment and management of large-scale SD-WAN initiatives need a trusted managed service provider. Here are some reasons why.
Deploying and Managing Disparate WAN Services
With SD-WAN technology, software defines the WAN, though disparate underlying networks still need to be maintained and managed across multiple sites. SD-WAN technology abstracts the underlying transport infrastructure and dynamically routes the traffic on the most optimized transport path (public or private), based on pre-defined policies. Typical branch sites deploying SD-WAN have dual links, including any combination of dedicated internet access (DIA)/broadband/multiprotocol label switching (MPLS)/wireless/ethernet, with some sites adding a third link as a back-up. Despite all the press around MPLS being dead and businesses moving to broadband or DIA, the reality is far from that. MPLS is still in widespread use while internet-first strategies are growing.
Some customers have chosen to create a hybrid SD-WAN network by adding broadband links to MPLS or ethernet WANs; others have chosen to disconnect private networks and instead use a combination of broadband, DIA and wireless links. Internal IT departments often struggle with deploying and managing the SD-WAN overlay (including hardware and software components) and procuring and managing underlay access and transport links from multiple providers around the world.
A trusted partner can simplify and ease the operational burden, free-up internal resources for more strategic activities and lower the total cost of ownership. A managed service provider with the expertise and technology needed to integrate disparate operations and management systems from various access providers can help address the complexity.
Integrate and Enable Key Enterprise Solutions
The network is the foundation and enabler for all enterprise solutions, be it cloud, collaboration tools, IoT, big data analytics or others. Unified communications solutions are commonly integrated with SD-WAN by managed service providers. As businesses increasingly embrace hybrid and a multi-cloud approach for distributing their enterprise applications, they must optimize and secure connectivity to the cloud.
Most managed services providers have established direct connectivity and on-ramps to key cloud providers, to which enterprises can seamlessly connect. Of course, network and application security is integral to every technology an enterprise deploys. The second generation of SD-WAN solutions come with deep security features that enable enterprises to configure direct internet-to-cloud applications.
A managed service provider can help plan your organization’s network and security transformation in a holistic manner. Because they can bundle services and are agile in terms of service delivery, their involvement typically accelerates deployment. Furthermore, managed service providers that have invested in training teams across multi-vendor solutions can bridge gaps that businesses face when re-training and re-skilling existing IT resources to manage advances in network, security and cloud technologies.
Future-proof Your Technology Investments
Virtual network services are gaining traction in the market. The concept of using a white box or universal customer premise equipment (uCPE) to deploy network functions—routing, security, WAN optimization, session border controllers—in a software format is revolutionizing how companies reduce appliance sprawl and improve network scalability and manageability. Cost of the uCPE and the complexity involved in service chaining and orchestrating virtual network functions (VNF) have been the biggest challenges to virtual network services adoption. The past two years have brought major developments in orchestration capabilities delivered by service providers, and the cost of the uCPE has been reduced by up to 50%.
As software-defined networking (SDN), network function virtualization (NFV) and SD-WAN technologies converge, a managed service provider can help you embrace new services in a hybrid manner, and at a pace that works for your organization. This is an opportunity to mitigate up-skilling and attrition challenges common to enterprise IT and network organizations.
In addition, there is a lot of buzz around secure access service edge or SASE. Several managed SD-WAN service providers are already pivoting themselves to become managed SASE providers. SASE is a framework rather than a single solution. As demand grows for different components of SASE—zero trust network access (ZTNA), for example – managed service providers will likely provide better support for the hybrid model (consisting of on-prem and cloud-delivered security solutions) than single solution vendors.
Your Network Transformation Journey
While cloud transformation initiatives seem to be top priority for most organizations, the best laid cloud plans can fail without a reliable and secure network. Distributing critical enterprise applications across multiple clouds and hybrid IT deployments requires an always-on network connectivity. Thinking of cloud without network and security is putting the cart before the horse, as you absolutely need the right WAN to drive all your enterprise applications. SD-WAN technology offers the agility and security needed to keep up with the flexibility the cloud offers.
It is not a matter of if but a matter of when most businesses will start incorporating SD-WAN and broader NFV-based virtual network services in their hybrid WAN strategies. With SDN at its core, SD-WAN technology is disrupting the WAN space, just like cloud computing disrupted the traditional IT deployment model back in 2006 to lead us to the hybrid cloud world we live in today. With the technology trends changing rapidly, there is a huge skill set mismatch and staffing shortages in the networking industry. A managed service provider can help you get started on the network transformation journey through their multi-vendor and multi-solution capabilities.
ISG helps enterprises identify, select and negotiate with the right-fit networking partner. Contact us to find out how we can help your organization.
About the author
Roopa is ISG’s subject matter expert in next-generation intelligent services such as SD-WAN, SDN, NFV, Cloud and Edge Networking, and established WAN services such as MPLS VPN, Ethernet, DIA and Waves. As part of the Network and Software Advisory team, Roopa assists clients in transformation initiatives around networking, security and enterprise solutions.