Industry Voices—Doyle: SD-WAN poses a challenge to providers of managed business services

Service providers need to realize that not all of their customers want a Chinese menu of SD-WAN offerings, according to analyst Lee Doyle. (Pixabay)

Changing traffic patterns driven by infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) usage, the growth of IoT and new security threats are rapidly changing the WAN requirements in distributed organizations. Many of these organizations continue to rely on managed service providers (MSPs) to deliver reliable, secure WAN connectivity—with annual expenditures exceeding $40 billion worldwide.

With its intelligent traffic steering, SD-WAN technology has enabled new hybrid WAN services that can incorporate a mix of MPLS, internet and wireless circuits. SD-WAN enables both the enterprise do-it-yourself (DIY) model and the managed service model with a wide range of technology options.

Leading communications service providers (CSPs), such as AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon, have been slow to adapt to this new SD-WAN paradigm. Yes, all leading CSPs offer SD-WAN services but most miss the mark on their customer requirements.

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RELATED: Doyle: MSPs will take on a bigger role for SD-WAN

Customers want easy to consume WAN services with high bandwidth capabilities, such as bursting, low latency, security and reliability.  They increasingly do not care about how the service providers deliver the bits – with the traditional service concepts of MPLS and Ethernet becoming increasingly irrelevant.  And soon, the debate of whether the WAN service is delivered via a wired internet or wireless 5G circuit will be as well.

The best high-end service is some combination of MPLS (reliable, secure), internet (high bandwidth) and wireless (4G/5G) – for performance, reliability and circuit diversity —all controlled by SD-WAN traffic steering intelligence. Mid-range and low-end solutions will leverage multiple Internet and 4G/5G connections.

Leading CSPs are still caught up in their technology and how it is delivered. They are encumbered by their internal structure – including MPLS vs. internet, wired vs. wireless – and focused on maintaining their highly profitable MPLS revenue streams. The typical large CSPs have a plethora of SD-WAN driven managed service offerings including:

• Internally developed SD-WAN code

• SD-WAN offerings from one or more of the leading SD-WAN providers, including Cisco, VMware, Versa, etc.;

• A virtualized customer premises equipment (vCPE) platform to “customize” network and security offers;

• Different solutions for large, medium and small business;

•4G/5G wireless WAN offerings that are distinct from their wired managed business services.

The result is a “Chinese” menu of offerings that do their best to confuse potential customers.  Many CSPs are so focused on giving customers what they want—such as providing a wide range of options—that they forget that most customers just want an outsourced WAN solution and not a technology dissertation.

Large CSPs do need to offer different solutions for different customer requirements and these solutions may need to be tailored to the specific network/ security products favored by the customer.  SD-WAN driven managed offerings also need to be adaptable to vertical specific requirements, including IoT connectivity and internal developed applications.

SD-WAN is a game changer for managed business services. Service providers—large and small)—who rapidly adapt to these new WAN realities will gain share versus those who do not.

Lee Doyle is Principal Analyst at Doyle Research, providing client focused targeted analysis on the Evolution of Intelligent Networks.  He has over 25 years’ experience analyzing the IT, network, and telecom markets.  Lee has written extensively on such topics as SDN, NFV, enterprise adoption of networking technologies, and IT-Telecom convergence. Before founding Doyle Research, Lee was Group VP for Network, Telecom, and Security research at IDC.  Lee holds a B.A. in Economics from Williams College. He can be reached at [email protected] and follow him @leedoyle_dc

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by Fierce staff. They do not represent the opinions of Fierce.

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