What you didn’t know was missing from your SD-WAN service offering

Written by Martin Saunders

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    In the 21st century, reliable connectivity is key to business success. Local area networks (LANs) connect devices in a single location such as a branch office. Wide area networks (WANs) connect local area networks together for communication throughout an enterprise. Traditional WANs have been the bedrock of business connectivity for years. However, changes to a WAN require reconfiguration of firewalls, switches and routers — because each device has an interface, reconfiguring a traditional WAN takes time and has a greater chance for error.

    Software-defined (SD) WANs allow changes to happen programmatically. The technology enables network administrators to reconfigure network resources quickly. SD-WAN tools enable network administrators to identify conflicts. Software-defined networking can support different transport technologies and enable load sharing for more efficient network operations.

    Unfortunately, SD-WAN technology has been touted as the answer to the growing complexity of network management. In the beginning, many capabilities were over-promised and under-delivered. Some service providers offered SD-WAN solutions that were layered on top of existing products, limiting SD-WAN functionality. In some instances, providers have found themselves needing to support multiple SD-WAN solutions, and as a result have had to dedicate additional time and resources to ensuring they are familiar with, and competent at managing, a number of different solutions. In general, a lack of unified tools compounded these issues as businesses tried to find ways to leverage existing tools.

    With more companies turning to SD-WAN, the market needs solution providers with the technical knowledge and experience to deliver the full capabilities of the technology. These businesses want providers that understand the need for centralised management of all network services and can reduce the burden on their IT departments.

    Why do service providers need SD-WAN?

    A 2020 survey of US companies found that:

    • 52% of businesses have adopted some type of SD-WAN technology
    • 79% of national corporations have implemented SD-WAN technology
    • 77% of global enterprises have deployed SD-WAN technology1

    Some organisations outsource their network management; others look at SD-WAN as a service model with DIY and managed options. Large corporations deploy hybrid environments with different transport technologies. For service providers, it means a revenue-generating opportunity.

    What does SD-WAN offer?

    SD-WAN technologies offer service providers and their customers the following benefits:

    • Configuration automation and orchestration
    • Efficient connectivity in hybrid environments
    • Direct access to an internet connection without traversing a private WAN
    • Intelligent routing for improved application performance
    • Distributed firewalls and security measures for more secure segmentation
    • Enterprise support for multiple locations and remote workforces

    As more service providers move into the SD-WAN space, the services will be an ever-growing phenomenon. This will eventually lead to the commoditisation of SD-WAN services, as part of the wider commoditisation of IT services, where customers look for low-cost as their main differentiator in the search for providers due to the ubiquity of the service in question. They will no longer view providers of SD-WAN services as having anything to offer beyond the technology. When that happens, service providers lose their edge unless they have demonstrated their understanding of SD-WAN challenges and provided solutions that set them apart.

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    What’s missing from your service offering?

    As the SD-WAN market becomes more mature and competitive, service providers need to look beyond the technology to ensure they are prepared to address key challenges. They must show their expertise in the following areas as companies become more astute in their evaluation of potential providers.

    Designing

    With many organisations moving to a cloud-first architecture, there may be a shift towards public cloud services such as software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service. For SD-WAN, the challenge is matching the underlay with the corporate-wide application technology strategy.

    For example, a worldwide deployment requires a more predictable connection to avoid performance issues such as latency and jitter. Smaller networks are less concerned with performance as round-trip delays are typically minimal. As a provider, make sure your solution can meet performance standards that customers will want documented in their service-level agreements.

    Cloud connectivity

    Sooner or later, all companies will require a connection to the public cloud. Whether it is Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft’s Azure or Google’s Cloud Platform, businesses will want to know how a service provider will access cloud services.

    • Is their architecture cloud-native?
    • Are the SD-WAN appliances delivered in the cloud environments?
    • Is the customer responsible for deploying the appliances?

    Service providers need solutions that meet market expectations when it comes to security and cloud implementations. As companies become more attuned to SD-WAN technology, they will expect their providers to understand their concerns and deliver solutions that address them.

    Cost savings

    Initially, cost savings were the driving force behind business SD-WAN implementations. However, those savings don’t always materialise in quantifiable ways. For example, SD-WAN implementations that merge with other technologies such as SASE can improve operations by making them more efficient.

    Feature consolidation is another factor in calculating cost savings. Vendors that offer appliances that include other features can help reduce costs. For example, many suppliers incorporate network security into their product offerings. The centralised management of multiple systems can minimise the resources needed to administer a network. Being able to support centralised management that leads to increased efficiency can set a service provider apart from the competition.

    Management

    Some managed service providers pull together an SD-WAN solution using multiple tools. That approach requires added expertise that may not be available to enterprise organisations in-house. Contracting support can decrease response time if there’s a problem, especially if the relationship is based on a single tech tool. Having in-house capabilities enables service providers to seamlessly deliver hybrid WAN support.

    Besides a slow response time, loosely integrated tools can reduce system agility. Service providers may incorporate in-house solutions to bridge the incompatibility gap which only compounds the problem of resource utilisation. With a well-managed technology stack service providers can provide the flexibility and scalability that companies demand.

    How do you deliver a valued service?

    Delivering valued SD-WAN services is challenging for a service provider. It’s not simply another service to add to a growing list of service offerings. SD-WAN technology was never designed for:

    • Multi-tenancy. The technology assumes a single user, so it lacks control of end-user access.
    • Commercial services. SD-WAN is a technology. It was never intended to be a service-oriented product for multiple organisations. Giving tenants the resources they need can mean losing the end-to-end visibility to manage an SD-WAN deployment.
    • Multi-vendor view. As a single-user technology, SD-WAN services may not offer the flexibility to customise views. The lack of a hierarchical configuration makes it difficult to understand what may be impacting performance.
    • User-friendly interface. With its technology focus, most SD-WAN solutions are not concerned with the end-user experience. They target technical engineers who are happy with command-line interfaces.

    If service providers want to succeed in the SD-WAN space, they need to ensure they’re delivering a valued service by having a Service Assurance Platform that delivers reliable SD-WAN networks. With the right configuration, they can offer organisations the service they need without requiring them to set up in-house SD-WAN management teams. No MSP wants to lose customers because they lack SD-WAN capabilities. That’s why delivering valued SD-WAN services depends on finding a Service Assurance Platform.

    Highlight’s Service Assurance Platform

    With over twenty years of experience, Highlight understands that service providers need reliable technology, but they also need information that makes sense to their less-technical customers. With that in mind, Highlight designed a reliable and resilient Service Assurance Platform that provides service providers with the tools to manage a multi-tenant enterprise. These offerings include:

    • End-to-end visibility. Viewing a WAN architecture holistically simplifies assessment of performance and usage. It can proactively identify issues for faster resolution and exceptional customer service.
    • Better communication. Greater visibility translates into more information that can help providers better communicate with their customers. Whether it is the forewarning of added costs or usage alerts, service providers can ease the impact of unplanned expenses on their clients.
    • User-friendly dashboards. Dashboards deliver understandable insights into SD-WAN operations. Regardless of the view, centralised dashboards ensure that all parties are looking at the same data.
    • Store historical data. Because valuable insights come from historical data, the platform stores data longer for more comprehensive use. The data can be used to compare performance, track problems and inform SD-WAN changes.

    With the Highlight Service Assurance Platform, service providers can trust that the functionality will be available to provide the capabilities customers want. The platform delivers features that differentiate SD-WAN solutions. It also enables providers to deliver value that counters the service commoditisation trend.

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    ¹ Half of US Businesses Use SD-WAN, but Adoption Slowed by Low Cost Savings, Attachment to Legacy IT, per New Study by Altman Vilandrie & Company & Bank Street

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