The telecoms industry is warming to SD-WAN. Service providers now realize that while Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) will be around for some time yet, software-defined technology represents the future of networking. With corporate customers increasingly looking to outsource the management of SD-WAN, commercial opportunities are starting to appear for telcos. The question is, how are they monetizing managed SD-WAN, which verticals are leading the charge and what challenges remain?
A new Heavy Reading report, co-sponsored by Accedian, surveyed 103 global telco service providers about their plans for managed SD-WAN services. The report reveals that comprehensive network performance management across legacy and SD-WAN deployments will be key to driving successful managed services.
Taking a lead
The SD-WAN report also showed that SD-WAN is ideal for a number of verticals, especially manufacturing and retail. SD-WAN is ideal for connecting retailers' stores, warehouses and delivery centers, just as it is for connecting globally distributed manufacturing facilities at a relatively low cost. Healthcare will increasingly join these verticals in embracing SD-WAN.
To get the most out of their deployments, respondents say they need to be able to deploy the SD-WAN edge software and additional virtualized network functions (VNF) on all infrastructure: Universal Customer Premises Equipment (uCPE), telco clouds and their public cloud environments. They also recognize the need for a single, vendor-agnostic orchestration tool to help manage multiple technology solutions, alongside a self-service customer portal, and a single solution for order management and operations. Furthermore, as more organizations process workloads in the cloud or at the edge, secure access service edge (SASE) could become virtually ubiquitous in a couple of years (especially as organizations prioritize securing SD-WAN networks).
These survey results reveal much about where the market is heading, as does service providers' preferred approach to market differentiation: offering tiered service bundles with different features to target specific customer needs.
Challenges and opportunities
The number one barrier to delivering managed SD-WAN is clear: monitoring network performance across hybrid SD-WAN, MPLS and IP VPNs. About 66% of all respondents cited monitoring network performance as a challenge, and 71% of the largest service providers, whose annual revenue exceeds $5 billion, indicated that this was an issue as well.
For managed SD-WAN providers, poor availability, low throughput, high bandwidth, latency and jitter are all challenges over hybrid networks. Gaining visibility into network and application performance are absolutely critical to ensuring SLAs are met and end customers are happy. Yet it's not always easy. To get true end-user quality of experience, you need solutions capable of monitoring the physical underlay as well as the overlay network.
The report highlights how many service providers are achieving this: by outsourcing active performance monitoring on the transport layer, and performance analytics and correlation engine capabilities, to an expert third party. This is crucial to gaining that all-important visibility into both physical network performance and SD-WANs, and to be able to correlate events for customer reporting and SLAs.
In fact, "correlating events across underlay and overlay for customer SLA reporting" was the second biggest challenge (61%) cited by the largest service providers interviewed for this study. Also in the top five challenges overall were SLA verification and multi-layer root cause analysis, which benefit from effective network and application performance management.
Moving forward, finding the right third-party expert is obviously key, but so is minimizing complexity. The report rightly warns that it may not be possible for large-scale telcos to reduce the number of SD-WAN products they offer. But partnering with third-party providers that adhere to open standards can at least help a little to simplify their offerings. Automation will also be a key requirement going forward. It's relevant to all aspects of deploying and managing SD-WAN services, but is cited by respondents as a number one priority for performance monitoring of the underlay network.
There's plenty to do. But with these building blocks in place, telcos can deploy services faster, manage SD-WAN better and provide an end user experience to delight customers.
— Jay Stewart, Director of Solutions Engineering, North America, Accedian