Intro to SD-WAN: The Market and How Managed Services Differ

Intro to SD-WAN: The Market and How Managed Services Differ

With SD-WAN creating a new standard in IT agility, enterprise buyers are flocking to managed services that take much of the burden off their internal IT teams. Compared to the do-it-yourself deployment options, managed SD-WAN is less taxing because all equipment management and monitoring is performed by the provider. While the choice between a DIY and managed SD-WAN service might be easy, the next decisions can be far more challenging.

The vendor landscape is noisy with large providers and an ever-increasing number of startups and competitors. This muddies the waters if you’re a decision maker. Do you go with a seemingly safe big-name brand? Or do you bet your global network on a startup that promises you an “MPLS alternative?” How do network access options work, and which solutions truly maximize results? Let’s take a look at the market, the different types of network services, and which solutions and partners are best suited to deliver on digital transformation initiatives.

The Market: Polarity Positions Technology Against Service

Extra efforts during the initial search phase will likely pay off for those seeking agile partners and balanced offerings. There are two different types of providers: SD-WAN equipment manufacturers/resellers and managed SD-WAN service providers. In the managed services industry, there is a distinct polarity problem. Large providers and small startups, saturate the market. Very few agile, mid-sized players exist. So, there’s a shortage when it comes to balanced solutions best suited for mid-to-large sized enterprises that may not have the brand clout or size to earn the full attention of “gorilla-sized” legacy providers.

These market dynamics are a bit ironic, because (as many SD-WAN analyst reports show) enterprises are increasingly willing to move away from large carrier contracts in favor of smaller, more nimble partners and services. But with agile players obscured, many CIOs feel they must choose between the two extremes--getting the service they deserve or the technology they need (see chart below). Otherwise they’re stuck seeking out rare mid-tier providers. This is why extra efforts during due diligence stages are helpful.

 
Large Providers Startups Agile, Mid-Sized Providers (rare) Characteristics
X Known for customer service and responsiveness
X Enterprise-level solutions and experience
X X Global network availability with globally consistent SLAs
 

Managed SD-WAN: The Difference is in Security & What Lies Beneath

SD-WAN service providers typically take standardized hardware and add services on top. As a result, a lot of solutions look alike. This makes well-advertised features (like application-based routing and direct connectivity to Amazon Web Services) merely minimum requirements, representing only a starting position in the market. Faced with an array of similar options, decision makers find that the difference lies less in the SD-WAN technology itself and more in what supports and surrounds the edge device. Want to maximize your business results? Take a close look at add-on security features, the network architecture and dashboard, as well as the depth, breadth, and quality of the surrounding services.

Here’s how to evaluate what lies beneath.

Security Features: Built-In Capabilities Simplify Protection and Management

Not all solutions have security features built-in. Look for solutions with a secure edge architecture where the SD-WAN edge device has integrated security features including next-generation firewalls with unified threat management. With seamless capabilities, security tasks are simplified and critical monitoring is easily outsourced to professionals. Get the quick guide to SD-WAN security.

Transport-Agnostic Solutions: Flexibility Better Balances Performance and Cost

Many IT leaders want to use SD-WAN to create a hybrid network that mixes both private and public (broadband or wireless) connectivity. Transport-agnostic solutions make this possible. Also known as hybrid SD-WAN solutions, these flexible environments allow the customer to blend the appropriate combination of WAN links, so you can design the primary and backup connectivity in a way that works best for your applications, locations, users, and IT budget. Transport-neutral solutions better balance performance and cost. The most flexible solutions also allow customers to deploy edge devices at select locations, rather than forcing them to deploy at all sites. Learn more about Masergy’s transport-agnostic access options.

Network Architecture Design Principles: More Agility When the Entire Solution is Software Defined

Network-based SD-WAN solutions pair the edge device with the provider’s own private connectivity, delivered via their network service platform or “core backbone.” With this approach, customers can tap into the provider’s global service and direct connections to Amazon Web Services and also get the benefits of their performance guarantees (SLAs).

If you’re considering a network-based solution, the design principles used to create the network will largely dictate your customer experience and ultimately your success. When the provider’s entire “backbone” is software-defined, all of the elements of the underlying infrastructure are adjustable. This is an important decision-making factor, because both the SD-WAN edge device and its supporting services can easily adapt to changing needs. With the entire solution software defined, virtually every network function and configuration is programmable, paving the way for responsiveness and more automation.

SLAs for Cloud Service Interconnections: Key for Global, Cloud-First Strategies

Many IT professionals are familiar with performance SLAs like jitter, packet loss, and network uptime guarantees, but most aren’t aware that those promises can also be applied to cloud service interconnections to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and others. While the majority of providers offer this direct connectivity, not all of them offer SLAs with that service. This is a key differentiator for enterprises taking a cloud-first strategy on a global scale. These SLAs ensure high-quality data transport to the cloud provider, creating a consistent cloud application experience across the globe.

Real-Time Application Analytics and Controls: Heavy Evaluation Ensures Top Performance and Ease of Management

Visibility and control are critical capabilities in an SD-WAN deployment, and success requires application performance metrics, bandwidth management tools, and security insights all in real-time--and most importantly in one integrated dashboard. Most legacy carriers and SD-WAN service providers are unable to deliver real-time visibility and control due to multiple acquisitions and rigid underlying network architectures. If you’re looking to optimize your network performance and simplify WAN management, these elements should be top requirements that are heavily evaluated. Buyers typically want both full service and self-service--meaning that they want their provider to proactively monitor their network performance but also want access to self-service controls in an online dashboard.

Managed Services: Wide Variations Expose the Leaders

The end goal is about designing an SD-WAN solution that can hit on all your needs--meeting the demands of your budget, your applications/users, and your reliability risk tolerance. But a truly justified solution will do it all without overburdening your internal IT team. As such, decision makers are asking potential partners to clearly define what “managed SD-WAN” is and how it will help keep the workload off their teams. This is where buyers uncover the most wiggle room. It pays to inquire about all aspects of the service:

  • Configuration: Who will be responsible for initial configuration (before the zero-config devices are shipped)?
  • Implementation: Will the provider dedicate a team of resources?
  • Service Quality and Monitoring: Do they provide globally consistent SLAs? Will they provide proactive network and security monitoring 24/7?
  • Maintenance and Security: Who will manage the equipment after deployment and ensure devices/firewalls are updated/monitored from a security standpoint?
  • Customer Experience: Do they use a third party to measure service quality?
  • History: Is the provider traditionally a technology manufacturer or a services company? (Understand the provider’s history--as many are simply trying to expand core competencies to jump on the SD-WAN bandwagon.)

How does Masergy answer these questions? Schedule a free SD-WAN design consultation with our network engineers to find out!

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About Terry Traina

Senior Vice President, Engineering, Masergy
Terry Traina is the senior vice president of engineering and has been with Masergy since 2004. Terry leads various teams including research and development, platform architecture, software engineering, and product development. Terry has over 20 years of experience in the telecommunications industry specializing in building and managing everything from enterprise software-defined networks to routing and switching platforms. Prior to joining Masergy, Terry has held various technical positions at Chiaro Networks, Allied Riser Communications, and EDS. Terry holds a bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering from University of Southwestern Louisiana.