Software Defined WANs (SD-WANs) are growing at an incredibly fast pace. When you look at the benefits, it’s not hard to understand why. The cost savings of MPLS, flexibility in application performance, ease of management and security features for branch offices make it an attractive option. according to IDC (Opens in a new tab) And the Dell’Oro . group (Opens in a new tab)The SD-WAN market is expected to grow at 35-40 percent annually over the next five years. Many in the IT solution provider market have noticed they are seeing more and more customers asking, “Should I build this in-house or should I outsource to a managed service provider?”
While I can’t definitively answer this question for you, I can shed some light on several key areas that customers should consider and keep in mind as they evaluate options. Let’s jump to them.
What is the size of your organization?
The choice of internally managed (or DIY) SD-WAN service can be tailored to the size of the organization. Small businesses in which the WAN is less important or have a limited number of employees may find that a managed approach may be a good option (maybe they want to save cost, but setting up super-accurate policies is less important). Small businesses are unlikely to need a managed service provider (MSP), as they may be able to connect directly to the Internet. For organizations that have only a few sites – and don’t do a lot of communication between sites (eg, all through a SaaS application, like Office365) – SD-WAN may not be necessary to start with.
The number of sites is also a factor for large organizations. Is it global? Do they run critical applications across large networks traversing many carriers and regions? The amount of control and visibility required for specific applications is key to deciding whether it is best to service an organization by building SD-WAN internally or with an MSP. For example, with large retailers, most sites have to return through centralized applications to inquire about real-time operations, checkouts, inventory, etc. This means that a WAN is essential to business operations, so they may choose to deploy and manage it internally for ultimate control.
Do you have an internal skill set?
While building SD-WAN internally is much easier than creating a raw WAN or deploying a VPN, it still requires some experience. When evaluating the best technical approach to SD-WAN, each organization must establish a complete understanding of the networking team’s skill set. Network engineers with excellent technical pieces are essential to starting and maintaining large deployments, especially at large scale and in mixed WAN environments (after all, who is going to set all policies, deploy vEdge devices, make routing changes on legacy networks, etc.). ?).
Customers need to ask themselves what happens when SD-WAN is working optimally, which could be due to errors in the policy setting or due to errors that cause problems connecting to certain sites or the console. If SD-WAN management is outsourced, organizations rely heavily on MSP for repair (just like using any SaaS application). This can be a major objection to companies considering outsourcing SD-WAN deployment. That’s why it’s so important that you understand these potential risks and build a plan for how to deliver critical applications. Companies will need to know if they feel comfortable encountering MSP repair issues or if some applications are necessary enough that they want complete control.
Do you understand the value of vision?
At the end of the day, when companies decide to build SD-WAN themselves or rely on a service provider, they still need to see the performance of key applications. For those who choose to build and manage their own internal SD-WAN network, Unified Network Performance Monitoring and Diagnostics (NPMD) solutions can assist with network planning, deployment, management, and optimization. Most MSPs can usually offer some level of visibility and may provide access to telemetry from peripherals and controllers (eg, API telemetry, SNMP or IPFIX) for customers to use in their tools. Regardless of the approach, each organization will need some level of visibility to narrow down application issues and determine if it’s the service provider, the network, or anywhere else the problem might be.
Proactive SD-WAN debugging can be a challenge even for MSPs who provide customers with the right level of insight into debugging if it’s really their problem or an MSP-managed SD-WAN issue. Without proper visibility, problems tend to be blamed on the less visible part of the network path. Many organizations will ask their providers how they plan to troubleshoot, what information they will share with them, and how they handle the reports.
For example, with SD-WAN, you can select the preferred transfer for specific applications based on performance thresholds. A customer might be running VOIP, but is experiencing sub-par performance, or might be experiencing occasional outages and would like to know why this is happening. Basic SD-WAN reports can usually show transfer quality (good or bad?), but sometimes makes it difficult to map the exact application path down to the cause. The reason could be that multiple transfers are experiencing packet drop, so there is no way for SD-WAN to optimize the routes. In order to get this level of visibility it is important that you use an NPMD solution that can actually look at this granular level, which may include beam level analysis. Whether SD-WAN is managed internally or by a service provider, transmission costs are expensive, so an organization needs some way to check the level of performance they are receiving.
How much control do you need?
There are many features that SD-WAN provides and the amount of control a customer requires for each can be a factor when they decide to build internally or externally. For example, with traffic prioritization, companies can create very specific structures tailored to their unique needs. Take a financial services company for example, and the policies they require for security and performance. Realistically, all of their financial transactions should never pass over the public internet, especially backend banking, which should only pass through MPLS secure transmission. Therefore, policies that follow their rules should exist from an implementation and security perspective. In this case, the level of detail required will likely only be available through internal SD-WAN management, or through additional professional services provided by the MSP.
Or how about multi-cloud support? Most SD-WAN vendors support some type of cloud connection. Cisco certainly does. This is very important because every organization has a footprint in AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud. Organizations dealing with this scenario need it to be easy, and if they have a data center, they may need it to handle the cloud. Whether the organization is building in-house or outsourcing MSP, the more traffic exits the SD-WAN fabric, it still needs to be monitored.
Organizations also appreciate other additional features such as ease of use, centralized management, reporting, and security. Everyone needs to be evaluated based on their business requirements. For example, an SD-WAN MSP path would be an easy-to-use tool for small businesses, but might be less attractive to a larger company that requires high levels of control, especially for application performance or for security reasons such as a financial use case.
Vendors and service providers bring new features and technologies to the market that help businesses take advantage of the many business benefits it offers. But that leaves customers with questions and concerns about how best to adopt the technology. I hope the information above gives you insight into the challenges and mindset of organizations considering a new SD-WAN deployment.
John Smith, Co-Founder and Technical Director, Live action or direct event (Opens in a new tab)
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