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When to consider managed SD-WAN services for your business

SD-WAN offers promising benefits, like the ability to use multiple ISP links, but managing those links can prove challenging. Managed SD-WAN services can help.

One major benefit of a software-defined WAN rollout is it simplifies WAN management. Instead of having WAN admins individually manage every WAN router -- and maybe a WAN optimizer at each location, too -- SD-WAN enables admins to set up policies based on an application's or service's specific needs once and applies those policies across the entire physical WAN.

Studies from Nemertes Research Group Inc. have shown that organizations that deploy SD-WAN see great results. In addition to enabling organizations to use more low-cost bandwidth to ramp up their WANs, an extensive SD-WAN deployment can reduce WAN outages by 95% and reduce the time WAN staff members spend troubleshooting to about 5%.

So, if SD-WAN is so great and easy, why would an organization want managed SD-WAN services?

Drivers for managed SD-WAN services

If an organization already outsources the WAN, it may not want to bring WAN management back in-house, even if it is easier to manage than it was pre-SD-WAN. WAN management may simply be far enough outside an organization's core concerns to warrant continued outsourcing for that reason alone.

Even then, an organization might want to switch from managed WAN routers to managed SD-WAN services when its current managed WAN contract ends. The switch to managed SD-WAN services can bring many SD-WAN benefits to the table, including the following:

  • increased agility with faster and easier location turnup;
  • better resilience, thanks to transparent failover among links;
  • improved security, thanks to encryption and policy-based segmentation;
  • more effective application performance management; and
  • the opportunity to eliminate separate WAN optimizers.

Even if businesses are not currently in the managed WAN space, they may want to explore that option as they move to SD-WAN -- not because the technology is difficult to handle or time-consuming, but because they plan to greatly expand the number of internet service providers (ISPs) they will deal with.

We see a powerful driver for managed SD-WAN service offerings: the option to hand off last-mile and ISP aggregation, management and support integration to someone else.

After all, one of the biggest attractions of SD-WAN is its ability to easily and transparently aggregate links -- especially internet links -- from diverse carriers into a single WAN. From a technology perspective, this works to make branches more resilient and make bandwidth increases more affordable. It also gives IT buyers more choices than ever when they provision branch connectivity.

Hand off ISP management challenges

An organization that wants to simplify how IT teams mix internet links and other connectivity options in pursuit of savings and agility can often leave itself with a lot of ISPs and connectivity providers. Organizations often add these providers to the list of providers they already use for MPLS, which most companies plan to keep for several more years.

managed SD-WAN benefits
Managed SD-WAN services can help relieve frustrations that come with managing multiple ISPs.

Management of multiple providers -- both at the business level and the technical level -- has its own associated costs. IT teams must know how to work with technical support in each organization, how to deal with normal, service-related communications and how to work with providers on actual troubleshooting when problems occur. IT and purchasing teams must also deal with the provider at a business level to track service contracts and billing, review bills, resolve disputes and more.

Management of a handful of companies is probably supportable for anyone; management of dozens is far less so. Most companies simply can't support management of scores and hundreds. In this, we see a powerful driver for managed SD-WAN service offerings: the option to hand off last-mile and ISP aggregation, management and support integration to someone else.

Managed SD-WAN services are everywhere

All major and most other ISPs, carriers and other traditional managed network service providers have SD-WAN offerings, and most network-as-a-service providers do as well. Nemertes' research found that more than 30% of enterprise SD-WAN is delivered through managed services.

Offerings range from managed overlay installations of the same service types an enterprise might deploy for itself -- where management services are the main value-add -- all the way to fully integrated in-net SD-WAN that uses service provider networks to deliver functionality and boxes on premises.

In this in-net scenario, the managed SD-WAN service may offer value-adds such as cloud-based firewalling to secure direct internet access at each site or access to a cloud exchange to optimize traffic for specific cloud services, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google.

Despite the delivered promise of radical simplification for WAN management, SD-WAN can still create problems for WAN staff, especially in terms of provider management. Enterprises that consider SD-WAN should pay attention to this possibility and look at both in-net and managed overlay products as they evaluate their options and make plans.

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