SD-WAN Barriers to Entry and How to Break Through

August 20th, 2019

As organizations drive digital transformation with the adoption of the cloud, mobility, big data, and next-generation technology like IoT and AI, the go-to solution for network optimization is now SD-WAN. In fact, new research from IDG shows that 90% of companies have either already adopted the technology or are actively researching it, an increase from 69% in 2017. Yet as SD-WAN investment rates have accelerated, adoption challenges and buyer concerns have shifted. These reprioritizations are noteworthy because they highlight the issues that have been overcome, revealing which challenges are more stubborn and what (besides cost) tests IT leaders the most. In this blog, we review these trends and explore how buyers can break down SD-WAN barriers.

In 2017, IDG found “cost” and “WAN interoperability” to be tied as top-ranking challenges associated with SD-WAN adoption. In 2019, cost still remains a top challenge (as with most other technological or business initiatives) yet interoperability now comes second to skills gaps concerns. Check out the full infographic. Research from KPMG corroborates the talent burden with its 2018 “State of the CIO” report, showing that 65% of IT leaders’ strategies are held back by a lack of skills—the highest the research firm has recorded since 2008.

WAN Interoperability: The Tech Evolution that’s Lowering Investor Concerns

Why are buyers less concerned about WAN interoperability today? The maturity of the technology is helping IT leaders understand the business benefits of WAN management simplicity and cloud application reliability, but enterprises are also gaining a better understanding of implementation best practices that maximize SD-WAN visibility.

For example, depending on how a solution is set up, SD-WAN edge devices may not communicate well with a private network and other IT infrastructure. This is a key interoperability challenge that IT professionals are beginning to master now. With SD-WAN edge devices communicating either site-to-site or site-to-cloud, they can be “walled off” from much of an organization’s existing WAN infrastructure. Instead, these devices should be able to seamlessly communicate with other resources on an existing private network, creating a unified view of performance.

Many have learned this lesson and solutions have evolved since the early days of off-the-shelf technology. For example, mature SD-WAN solutions have moved beyond this limitation by integrating SD-WAN into a global, software-defined network platform–embedding SD-WAN into the fabric of the network itself. With this type of solution, every SD-WAN instance works on the same backbone, creating a unified view of network performance. This technology refinement is another reason why SD-WAN has moved beyond the early adopter phase as organizations are investing with more confidence.

When compared to solutions that simply overlay SD-WAN on top of your existing network, these solutions deliver all the advantages of SD-WAN, plus the inherent benefits of a network built entirely using software-defined principles. Analyst firm Nemertes helps buyers compare different SD-WAN solution types in this white paper.

SD-WAN Expertise and Management: Why Skills Gaps are Stickier Problems

Yet, as the research shows, SD-WAN isn’t met with the necessary level of experience or expertise. Buyers are more concerned today about the skills needed to implement and manage the new technology, and most enterprises lack the IT human resources that are in such high demand.

Skills are a rising barrier to adoption, because SD-WAN can require heavy up-front lifting with both deployment and the procurement of broadband (public Internet) services globally. Hybrid networking strategies that introduce broadband connectivity can be complex due to the higher probability of latency and packet loss, long application response times, and unpredictable application performance. Even if you have the resources in-house to deploy your own SD-WAN solution, you may lack the necessary skills for ongoing service monitoring and quality management. A broadband connectivity strategy also typically calls for additional firewalls to be implemented, requiring security monitoring tasks that can create an additional drag on IT resources. Read the SD-WAN Security Guide. At the end of the day, SD-WAN requires an up-front investment as well as ongoing management resources.

With talent challenges a bit more sticky, most IT leaders find they need outside guidance as well as a range of supportive services to ensure SD-WAN delivers results without overtaxing the enterprise. All of this explains why managed SD-WAN services are experiencing astronomical growth.

A new research report from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) found that 90% of enterprises want platforms that support end-to-end SD-WAN management. A Frost & Sullivan survey found that 50% of organizations prefer a fully managed SD-WAN service; meanwhile, Gartner’s 2019 Global Magic Quadrant for Network Services shows that virtually all new managed global networks observed in the past year were managed SD-WAN. All of this suggests that enterprises want to get onboard with managed SD-WAN services to begin quickly capitalizing on new capabilities versus taking the time to build their own, potentially error-prone path to adoption. Here’s how to overcome the skills gap barrier.

Breaking Through the Skills Barrier: Aspects of a Full-Service SD-WAN Solution

When it comes to managed SD-WAN, the most important thing is to design a solution that can meet all your needs, addressing not only the demands of your budget but also your applications and users. A truly justified solution will maximize benefits without overburdening your internal IT team.
This begs the question of what an effective managed SD-WAN service package looks like and how it will keep the workload off internal IT teams. It pays to inquire about all aspects of the service:

  • Configuration: who will be responsible for initial configuration (before the zero-configuration devices are shipped)?
  • Procurement: who will provision and manage the broadband services for every location/region and can you work with any last-mile provider?
  • Implementation: will the provider dedicate a team of resources for your project?
  • Service Quality and Monitoring: will they provide globally consistent SLAs that guarantee network service across all of your locations and do they offer SLAs with any direct connections to cloud service providers? Will they proactively monitor the network service and provide security monitoring 24/7?
  • Co-Managed Service Models: within the services management dashboard can you access self-service controls that allow you to co-manage the service alongside your provider?
  • Maintenance and Security: who will manage the equipment post-deployment and ensure that devices/firewalls are updated and monitored from a security standpoint?
  • Customer Service: do they use a third party to measure their service quality?
  • History: is the provider traditionally a technology manufacturer or a services company (many are simply trying to expand their core competencies to jump on the SD-WAN bandwagon)?

The hype has been loud, but companies can harness the full power of SD-WAN with a partner that embeds the technology into a global, software-defined network platform and surrounds the solution with a comprehensive toolset of network and managed security services. All in all, the right approach to SD-WAN solves for all of the above issues and questions.

Explore all the SD-WAN market trends in the IDG report: 2019 SD-WAN Market Trends Report

Ready for a free SD-WAN design consultation? Contact Masergy

Becky Carr

Rebecca (Becky) Carr heads up Masergy’s global marketing organization and is responsible for elevating the company brand and growth strategy. Becky has 25+ years of sales and marketing experience across technology, software and telecom industries. Prior to Masergy, she was the Global Head of Marketing at Avaya. She has also held Chief Marketing Officer positions at CoStar, Savvis/CenturyLink and Foxwoods Resort & Casino, and led global business marketing for Verizon Business/MCI. Becky earned her bachelor of arts from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY.

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