Getting the most from managed SD-WAN services

Beware overinflated expectations created by the market hype

Enterprise network leaders face enormous challenges adapting and changing their managed WAN services to meet constantly changing business needs for new applications, new offices, more users, cloud services and digital business. All while they are asked to reduce their WAN expenses.

Often, traditional network services are too slow in meeting these needs. Network leaders need alternative solutions that can meet their evolving needs faster.

Compared to traditional WAN services, managed SD-WAN services bring promises of greater agility, flexibility, control and cost efficiency. But don’t buy into the overinflated expectations created by the market hype that ignores the limitations of current services.

To avoid the inevitable disappointment that follows unfulfilled expectations, outline your service requirements and use these to define evaluation criteria for a balanced analysis of service benefits and limitations.

Create a hybrid WAN of internet and MPLS

SD-WAN has become synonymous with significant WAN expense reductions of up to 80%. This is a misconception as these expense reductions are not as much due to SD-WAN but using SD-WAN to replace all multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) with the use of consumer internet.

Since WAN expenses constitute 9-10 percent of the total IT budget and overall WAN expenses are forecast to remain flat until the end of 2021, they remain a concern to most enterprises seeking cost optimisation. As a consequence, there’s increasing interest in new WAN architectures, SD-WAN and using the internet for enterprise WAN connectivity.

Gartner is often asked whether the internet can entirely replace MPLS and if these anticipated savings are realistic. Because these dramatic expense reductions are based on migrating WAN connectivity from MPLS to the more unreliable low-cost public internetI it isn’t wise to migrate all your sites and corporate applications onto the public internet. Using it for global connectivity can lead to 10 times longer application response times than using a private MPLS-based WAN. There are, however, different "grades" of internet services, at different price levels.

You can reduce your global WAN expenses by using managed SD-WAN to create a hybrid WAN of internet and MPLS. Gartner estimates that around 60 percent of global WANs use both internet and MPLS in concert in a hybrid WAN that sends critical application traffic over the MPLS and everything else over the internet.

Enterprise experience has shown at least 30 percent expense savings can be gained by using a global managed hybrid WAN compared to traditional managed WAN.

Choose providers with broad self-service configuration options

A fundamental problem with traditional managed WAN services is that providers can take several days or even weeks to make any configuration changes. Only a few providers have introduced self-service configuration.

As service providers evolve their SD-WAN-based managed WAN services, they’re increasingly introducing various degrees of self-service capabilities that enable new areas of operational agility.

Ensure optimum service agility by choosing providers that offer a broad range of self-service configuration options. Using self-service within the context of managed services will reduce the scope of a fully managed service and the associated service-level agreement (SLA).

Focus on better performance metrics

Current WAN services take too long to rollout and are too difficult to relocate or terminate. Network leaders are looking for ways to improve this. They see SD-WAN as a new opportunity to create more agile branch office connectivity due to the support of "zero-touch-configuration."

Vendors are fuelling these expectations with reports of very fast site rollout with reports of 20-30 sites deployed overnight, compared to 6-10 sites per week for a traditional managed router service.

SD-WAN, however, doesn’t change fundamental limitations of connectivity services. Fast site deployments, for example, are only available for 4G/LTE access services or in cases where the provider already has a wired access service to the building, although these still require one to two weeks to provision, or several months in many countries.

In addition, all wired branch office connections, private or public, still require network leaders to sign a contract of fixed duration, typically 2-3 years, making it a problem for them to move or terminate a site without financial penalties.

Create agile site connectivity by focusing negotiations on better operational performance metrics, not on SD-WAN product capabilities. Place a stronger focus on the contractual aspects of your needs and differentiate the providers based on their ability to offer acceptable operational metrics.

Lock-in online reporting and analytics

Most current managed WAN services only incorporate basic visibility and reporting capabilities such as guaranteed performance metrics and basic bandwidth use. Richer reporting is usually an additional service, often based on additional appliances.

SD-WAN products have emerged with the support of application and user level reporting capabilities beyond traditional routers. There’s a market expectation that managed SD-WAN services offer improved reporting. Providers are responding with richer visibility and reporting as part of their managed service. Make sure you include these requirements as a key part of your provider selection.

Gartner expects that at least 80 percent of leading providers will offer comprehensive online reporting as part of a managed SD-WAN service within the next 12 months. It’s a good idea to take it up.

Bjarne Munch is a principal analyst at Gartner, based in Brisbane. He advises clients on network services trends, WAN architectures, hybrid WAN, SD-WAN, cloud connectivity and unified communications.

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