For service providers, the managed SD-WAN opportunity comes with challenges

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A typical SD-WAN solution for a large enterprise may include pieces from different vendors. (Pixabay)

The market for SD-WAN solutions is expected to see a CAGR of 24% between now and 2025, according to the analysts at Dell'Oro Group. Enterprises are looking to SD-WAN to handle increasingly complex workloads, and many are foregoing the DIY approach to SD-WAN in favor of a managed service. According to the analysts at Frost & Sullivan, four out of five enterprises were choosing a managed SD-WAN service over a DIY approach by 2018. 

Telcos see a clear opportunity here, but managing an SD-WAN solution for an enterprise usually involves integrating legacy equipment and software, and in many cases even an existing SD-WAN. "The ability to allow customers to easily update and reconfigure their service is crucial to being a trusted partner," said Jay Stewart, director of North America Solutions Engineering at Accedian. Accedian participates in the SD-WAN market by offering a solution to extend monitoring and assurance to the physical infrastructure that underlies the network infrastructure.

Service providers are focusing their SD-WAN efforts in key verticals, according to one recent survey, with retail being the number one industry named by service providers as a key market for SD-WAN services. Manufacturing, healthcare, finance and education were also named as promising verticals. 

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The biggest SD-WAN management challenge named by service providers was managing network performance across hybrid SD-WAN, MPLS, and IP VPNs. "While MPLS and IPVPNs are great for guaranteeing  service performance, especially for higher value services, enterprises are now understanding that they can turn to SD-WAN as a lower cost option," said Stewart. "Today, we’re seeing a mix of both."

SD-WAN environments are also complicated by the fact that some enterprises will want to use solutions that involve multiple vendors. "Every enterprise has different goals and different use cases, and every SD-WAN vendor has their strengths and weaknesses," said Stewart. "If a carrier only offers one SD-WAN vendor option they might not be able to offer best of breed to meet the use case and the goals of the customer. Additionally, many larger customers already have a preferred vendor they want to continue working with ... This has led to multiple vendors needing to be supported by the carrier."

Providers need to orchestrate multiple technologies and vendor solutions when managing an SD-WAN for an enterprise customer. One survey found that more than 60% of service providers use three or more different tools to manage SD-WAN services. Typically, one of these will be a solution provided by an SD-WAN vendor, and others will be tools tailored to a specific network function, like security.