Should SD-WAN Providers Let Enterprises Drive?

Many enterprise customers want to operate their own SD-WAN, but they risk driving into a ditch.

Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading

November 22, 2019

5 Min Read
Should SD-WAN Providers Let Enterprises Drive?

Like teenagers and cars, many enterprises are eager to drive their SD-WANs, and have varying degrees of readiness to accept the responsibility should they run into a networking ditch.

Many enterprises go with a do-it-yourself approach, installing and operating their own SD-WAN equipment and software. Others look to a fully managed solution, asking their service providers to do all the work. Co-managed services are in between, with shared operational responsibilities between the service provider and enterprise customer, Chris Liou, Silver Peak VP Service Provider Product Management, said on a panel at the MEF19 conference in Los Angeles this week.

"It's a great opportunity for service providers to differentiate," Liou said.

Orange Business Services provides "read-only" control to some SD-WAN users, while others have the "right to write," said panelist Franck Morales, VP of connectivity services at Orange Business Services. For "read-only" customers, Orange Business Services provides information for capacity planning and managing user licenses, including flows, latency and other technology details, in a user portal.

Among those customers that want to manage their own SD-WAN service -- "right to write" customers -- some want to give the service provider final control, to insure against problems. Others want complete autonomy, and many of those have rules-based access controls.

Figure 1: Silver Peak's Chris Liou (left), Orange Business Services' Franck Morales, Spectrum Enterprise's Steve LaClair, and Teleography's Rob Schult. Silver Peak's Chris Liou (left), Orange Business Services' Franck Morales, Spectrum Enterprise's Steve LaClair, and Teleography's Rob Schult.

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Orange Business Services lets some users select from a menu of predefined changes, while others require customized changes, Morales said.

Back and forth
Enterprise needs change over time. Some DIY customers convert to managed services, with some of those retaining co-management capabilities, Liou said.

On the other hand, Orange Business Services sees its US managed services customers moving to DIY, while during the past 6-12 months, DIY companies are coming back to managed services, Morales said.

Orange Business Services finds SD-WAN to be a different sales proposition than MPLS, which is a mature and standardized solution: SD-WAN, on the other hand, needs more customization, Morales said. "With SD-WAN, we are doing custom projects," he said.

Every SD-WAN implementation is different, and service providers need to accommodate each customer's geography and bandwidth needs, noted analyst Rob Schult, research director at TeleGeography.

Enterprises often find managing their own SD-WANs to be a challenge, noted Steve LaClair, director of data product management at Spectrum Enterprise, a division of Charter Communications. Businesses are currently managing their own networking equipment, including routers, but "SD-WAN becomes a more daunting solution than replacing routers," LaClair said. Even enterprises that want to retain control of the SD-WAN look to service providers for installation, logistics and access management. Those factors are heightened in international installations.

Service providers can bring capabilities for hardware deployment, particularly in remote locations, for enterprise customers, Liou said.

Additionally, large enterprises have networking expertise, but many do not have the DevOps expertise to manage SD-WAN, Liou said. That's where service providers can help.

Co-management can allow smaller teams to manage bigger solutions, LaClair noted.

Greater complexity
With fully managed or co-managed installations, Orange Business Services hosts the SD-WAN tools in its own data center environment more than 90% of the time, Morales said.

SD-WAN is more complex than MPLS, which just requires connection and CPE. SD-WAN has management in the cloud or the service provider data center, and often involves virtualized network functions (VNFs), connections, and universal CPE, all of which must be considered if capacity or SLAs fail to be met.

"To make sure you are able to address all these issues, you need to use the operational model to immediately know where an issue could come from, exactly what we have deployed, to know where something is going wrong," Morales said.

"It gets pretty complex pretty quick," LaClair said. "How can we keep it as simple as possible for our customers?"

He added, "There are different expectations in different organizations." With some customers, Spectrum Enterprise conducts a technical interview, to learn about the customer network and fine tune configurations. "This works really well for small business customers... They don't have a highly capable IT staff, or maybe no IT staff at all."

LaClair continued, "But with large enterprises, it's almost like a role reversal. Instead of us leading the interview, a lot of the times they have a highly capable staff." In those cases, the customer knows exactly what it needs, and wants to know if Spectrum Enterprise can meet those needs.

"Some customers already know what they want, while other customers are just learning about SD-WAN and want Spectrum to tell them the advantages and issues they should be looking at," noted LaClair.

As with teenage drivers, when customers manage change themselves, that's risky. There's no risk for fully managed or co-managed infrastructure, because the service provider gets the final say, Morales said. Predefined changes simplify matters and keep responsibility for the service with Orange, which can provide customers with advice, recommendations and configurations.

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About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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