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12 questions to ask about SD-WAN managed services

When contemplating SD-WAN managed services, organizations should ask questions about network security, infrastructure compatibility and bandwidth requirements.

Software-defined WAN technologies have altered the managed WAN services landscape by offering distributed enterprises the benefits of internet economics and improved application performance. IT leaders considering SD-WAN managed services should evaluate a range of criteria, including coverage, compatibility, application performance, security and cost.

Service providers have introduced a plethora of SD-WAN managed services to complement, or even replace, their traditional MPLS and Ethernet WAN services. As with previous WAN offerings -- e.g., WAN optimization -- many customers can benefit from the simplicity of outsourcing SD-WAN deployment and management. SD-WAN technologies continue to improve their support for managed services, including multi-tenancy support, better security and improved management.

Key SD-WAN questions for IT managers

WAN connectivity requirements can vary widely, depending on geography, the number of branch locations, branch size, application type, application location -- whether in the data center or in a cloud environment -- or guest Wi-Fi requirements. IT leaders should carefully evaluate the current and expected WAN requirements in terms of bandwidth, application prioritization and security.

Here are 12 key SD-WAN questions IT leaders should ask when selecting from SD-WAN managed services:

  1. How does the SD-WAN managed service guarantee application performance for my critical applications? How easy is it for me to alter the application prioritization profiles?
  2. Can I access the current -- and past -- status of application performance and network link service-level agreements (SLAs) from an easy-to-use central portal?
  3. How does the service connect to SaaS and cloud-based applications? Does the service prioritize all cloud applications or just the leading ones?
  4. Is the service compatible with my current network infrastructure?
  5. What is the cost of the SD-WAN managed service compared to existing offerings? How will costs change as WAN traffic patterns or bandwidth requirements evolve?
  6. Does the service provider offer comprehensive WAN connectivity options across my entire global WAN footprint?
  7. What is the reliability of the WAN service? What SLAs does the provider offer?
  8. What networks will be used -- e.g., MPLS and internet? Does the service provider offer 4G LTE and 5G as a primary or secondary link option?
  9. What level and type of network security is provided with the SD-WAN managed service? How does the service detect and fix breaches?
  10. What management dashboards are available to easily see the health of the SD-WAN service?
  11. Does the service offer bandwidth on demand? Does it provide the ability to easily scale bandwidth up or down to meet variable bandwidth requirements?
  12. What are the support capabilities for the service? How good are the customer satisfaction scores?

SD-WAN managed services in 2020

A number of SD-WAN technology providers have partnered with a variety of service providers that deliver managed services. Telecom and cable providers -- such as AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast and Verizon -- have SD-WAN managed service offerings driven by one or more of the SD-WAN technology providers. A wide range of managed service providers (MSPs) provide managed services on SD-WAN technology platforms.

SD-WAN technology is rapidly evolving to support the specific requirements of MSPs, including multi-tenancy, agility, scalability, visibility and security.

SD-WAN technology is rapidly evolving to support the specific requirements of MSPs, including multi-tenancy, agility, scalability, visibility and security. These enhancements include improved automation and orchestration platforms. MSPs need the ability to rapidly provision new services, identify and fix technical issues, and easily add new services, like security, to their managed offerings.

Cloud connectivity and management may be highly automated to speed applications from IaaS and SaaS platforms, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Salesforce, and unified communications and conferencing applications. The proliferation of connectivity options across MPLS, internet, cable and wireless -- including 4G LTE and 5G -- must be easily provisioned, prioritized and load balanced.

Over time, MSPs and other service providers will use SD-WAN and SD-branch technology to extend their managed services across a range of LAN, WAN and security services. For example, a managed SD-branch option may contain Ethernet switches, Wi-Fi and sophisticated security, in addition to the existing routing and WAN functionality of SD-WAN.

In order to deliver these enhanced SD-branch services, service providers require awareness across PCs, devices and IoT sensors. They must have end-to-end traffic visibility to identify the root cause of any application slowdown from Wi-Fi, internet, the data center or the cloud. Security must be baked into these integrated offerings -- not bolted on -- with options to use third-party network security platforms.

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