Three technology experts are ironing out the marketing confusion surrounding SD-WAN.
Ovum's Brian Washburn, C3's Matthew Toth and Eclipse Telecom's Kirk Armstrong will be panelists for the "Are All SD-WANs Created Equal" session, part of the SDN conference track at the upcoming Channel Partners Conference & Expo. The panel is on Wednesday, April 18, in Las Vegas.
Channel Partners/Channel Futures spoke to the three gentlemen for a preview on how partners and customers can differentiate among the overwhelming number of SD-WAN vendors and solutions.
The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Channel Partners/Channel Futures: If a vendor says its SD-WAN solution is one-size-fits-all, do you buy that?
Brian Washburn: I buy the 80/20 rule — that most mainstream SD-WAN platforms can be adequate for most enterprise use cases. But it’s much more complicated because SD-WAN isn’t a single specification. There are some common core features SD-WAN should have, but beyond that it’s a collection of tools.
So SD-WAN vendors each have their own unique approaches to applications visibility. Some go deep in areas like network optimization and network security; there are even big differences in cost and licensing models. A vendor example of that definition blurriness is Cisco, which has IWAN, Viptela and Meraki, all of which it calls SD-WAN, all quite different from one another.
If you look at it from the service providers’ perspective: Big providers offering SD-WAN today already support two different platforms, and some have three or more choices — one is generally more high-end and the other more cost-friendly. For enterprises, getting a good SD-WAN platform to match to their needs is just half the challenge. Finding suitable trusted partners that can assist with deployment is the other half. What’s better, the “best-suited” SD-WAN if it’s poorly implemented and supported? Or a “just-good-enough” SD-WAN platform if it’s carefully deployed and tuned to the enterprise’s needs, with a proactive supporting partner?
Matthew Toth: Absolutely not. Many vendors come to the table with different strengths. Aryaka’s solution focuses on defeating latency. Cato caters to clients that want an all encompassing SD-WAN-plus-security solution. Bigleaf doesn’t really integrate with MPLS. This is why customers are going to have difficulty in picking a vendor. We at C3 know these ins and outs only because of the frequency of having these conversations with customers and vendors.
Kirk Armstrong: There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in this space right now. There are really a couple general categories that you can fit most of this conversation into. Be it appliance-based – where people just want the ability to blend their edge traffic – an end-to-end solution including the network, or if someone is trying to solve a global transit issue.
CP/CF: Could you name some of the most important factors partners and customers should consider when picking an SD-WAN?
BW: Enterprises need to consider a trusted partner with proven expertise on similar types of SD-WAN deployments; channels need a trusted partner who’s going to have their back for more complex requirements. Enterprises may think they have the necessary in-house expertise to drive their own SD-WAN migration — right up to the point that they encounter a mystery issue that can’t be solved in-house.
SD-WANs are almost always brownfield overlay deployments. That means whoever is deploying the technology needs to migrate [customer premises equipment], potentially shift and consolidate networks and rework architectures. It all must be done in a way that doesn’t disrupt the existing enterprise network, and that supports all applications with their necessary performance and security profiles.
That’s again to my point above. Choosing the platform is relatively easy. Choosing a partner who can be trusted to manage a complex technology shift without screwing up is much more rigorous — and where the enterprise should look long and hard.
MT: Ease of use/ease of management should be toward the top of every buyer’s list. We’ve seen so many solutions that have great features that are buried under unusable portals or require VAR expertise to unlock. Can that provider accommodate the WAN methods (MPLS, internet, 4G, etc.) that they currently deploy and plan on deploying? Can the SD-WAN provider manage data flows down to the packet level? Or is it session based? Ask the provider — what important features are on the road map?
KA: The most important thing to keep in mind is what the client actually needs. I know this seems basic. But if they are doing a lot of voice and video calling, then a solution that works with MPLS is something to keep in mind. If they are a global company, can the provider actually ship equipment to the country that they are in?
Another thing to keep in mind is, does the client have the staff to manage a network and or appliances? This can really steer the conversation with how you end up sourcing the full solution.
How cloud-forward is the customer today? If they need access into Salesforce, Office 365, UCaaS, AWS and Azure, then the network should function as a conduit into those clouds along with any other data center they are in today.
CP/CF: What’s one thing you’d like the audience to walk away with from this panel?
BW: For SD-WAN, consider underlying service providers at least as much as underlying platforms. For channels, focus on core competency. Using SD-WAN as a single CPE box to prioritize voice/UC traffic for small business is relatively easy; a channel that decides that’s its strength can stick with that. A channel that gets into consolidating IP/MPLS networks, shifting Internet access and hybrid networking into the enterprise, displacing or back-ending managed enterprise routers, assessing the network to model applications performance, logically segmenting the enterprise network for information security and governance … that all requires deep professional services expertise. Don’t bite off more than you can chew; instead, find service partners that augment and complement the channel’s strengths.
MT: Partners need to understand SD-WAN pretty darn well if you’re going to unseat traditional Cisco VARs. Study up. If you’re not willing, then you might want to just pick a horse or two and focus on those.
KA: Understand that there are a variety of different tool kits from both appliance manufactures and providers. If you function within a few different verticals or client types, find those couple of partners and begin having conversations.