As the Simplicity of DIY SD-WAN is Debunked, Flexible Managed Models Emerge

April 30, 2020
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Gartner’s recently published Competitive Landscape: Managed SD-WAN Services lays out the types of managed SD-WAN solutions in the marketplace and the factors that enterprises and mid-market companies should consider when evaluating such offerings. We at Comcast Business are proud to be included among the eight managed SD-WAN providers reviewed.

As the Gartner research confirms, as of early March 2020, enterprise spend on managed SD-WAN was expected to grow 76% per year as companies are realizing the challenges of a DIY approach. It has also been our experience that companies are quickly realizing that the complexities behind this powerful and transformative technology require specialized expertise.

Let’s take a look at some of the key factors to consider as you navigate a crowded marketplace of more than 70 available SD-WAN solutions.

Balance the Sense of Control with Flexibility and Specialized Expertise

While managed SD-WAN is becoming more and more the de facto standard, some early SD-WAN adopters deployed the technology with hope of total control and autonomy. Initially, SD-WAN solution vendors emphasized simplified network management and visibility as the primary benefits in addition to cost-savings and operational agility. While that suggested some sense of autonomy and control for a business, it has become clear that the implementation and the ongoing management requires networking expertise that may not be readily available or yet mastered in-house, especially by mid-sized organizations.

For one, it’s easy to misconfigure the initial set-ups due to the sheer number of variables and options incremental to what you see with MPLS. Secondly, an SD-WAN instance is usually not just “set and forget.” To fully take advantage of SD-WAN’s promise of network agility, configurations need to change in response to new applications, users, and performance needs. Furthermore, many companies are looking to maintain redundancy by keeping their legacy MPLS or adding other transport as back-up, requiring more complex configurations and ongoing management of multiple vendors and underlays.

With this in mind, it is important to find a flexible approach to managed SD-WAN — one that offers a robust managed capability or options for co-management. In a co-managed arrangement, both the service provider and the company need to have a clear understanding of the customers’ internal expertise and overall architecture before proposing customized solutions and clear demarcation of responsibilities.

You will also want to enable ongoing visibility into the network and additional services and bundles, including other VNFs, using a scalable SDN orchestration platform.

Take Advantage of Managed SD-WAN from a Network Services Provider (NSP)

As the Gartner report makes clear, companies have a range of choices for managed SD-WAN, which broadly fall into two groups — NSPs or non-NSPs, such as system integrators, ISP aggregators, VARs or other IT Managed Service Providers (MSPs). Sourcing from an NSP has distinct advantages. You need to be able to trust in the stability and reliability of an established provider and the ability to meet SLA’s. More specifically, you want an SD-WAN service provider who can guarantee the end-to-end experience and be your single point of contact (SPOC).

An established NSP would have well-defined service-level agreements (SLAs) which means you will get their full attention, fast. If your service provider has visibility into the underlay they will have an advantage over non-NSP vendors. As the Gartner research states: “Despite using an SD-WAN overlay, the quality of the underlay connectivity remains critical to the applications’ performance.” Although Comcast Business SD-WAN is underlay-provider agnostic, with Comcast Business you would be in a position to take advantage of the nation’s largest Gig-speed network to deliver the speeds, reliability and cost-efficient WAN transport needed for optimal performance. The Comcast Business SD-WAN solution supports up to four underlays, and can manage transport services from other providers. And having multiple providers is a common practice with many organizations. Thus, it is important for your managed SD-WAN services partner to have the ability and expertise to manage those other NSP relationships for customers so issues are resolved promptly.

Leverage Continuity of Implementation and Ongoing Management of a Managed SD-WAN

There are two important stages to SD-WAN managed services: the implementation phase and the ongoing service assurance.

Start with an assessment. You want a provider who can fully assess your organization’s needs and capabilities in order to design the best customized solution in response. Be sure you are getting commitments captured in a document that spells out exactly what will be delivered when setting up the SD-WAN, which serves as a reference when assessing the completion and quality of the work. What’s most important is that the business needs are identified. Be sure your SD-WAN provider is focused on the outcomes and can aptly manage multiple underlays and existing architectures. You’ll want a high level of flexibility and the ability to support various architectures and technologies.

Post implementation, be sure you have a 30-day “curation” period to ensure the same experts who designed and deployed the SD-WAN solution are working to tune your new network and available to respond to any ongoing questions or concerns. Once you are feeling confident that everything is working as planned, be sure your provider will share any relevant service updates and provide a twice-yearly checkup to make sure the networks are running as expected and to make any adjustments, as necessary.

Pair Flexibility and Service Level Guarantees with Cost Advantages

At Comcast Business, we pair our advanced technology with specialized networking expertise. Our ActiveCore SDN orchestration platform is designed for the flexibility, single-pane-of-glass visibility and scalability required in implementing and operating an SD-WAN solution. See how advanced networking expertise can bring peace of mind during migration and guaranteed resiliency during ongoing operations. We can deliver customized solutions to address the specific business needs and bundle them with other virtual network functions (VNFs) and underlying transport as required. Our broadband or dedicated internet services are regularly used for last-mile connectivity but are not required and we offer the flexibility for multiple other underlays. Finally, the pricing model is very scalable - from the use of uCPE hardware to minimize initial capex, to the same SD-WAN software licencing pricing tiers regardless of bandwidth requirements.

Find out more about Comcast Business Managed SD-WAN Services.

In a crowded SD-WAN marketplace, here are some key factors to consider.

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