Which SD-WAN Implementation Option do Users Prefer?
Another WAN Blog by Dr. Jim Metzler
This is the sixth in a series of blogs on the topic of the evolving enterprise WAN that is based on a survey that was completed in May 2016 by 110 network professionals. The previous blogs were:
- What’s Driving Change in the WAN?
- The Limitations of the Current Branch Office WAN Architecture
- How well do SD-WANs Support the Forces Impacting the WAN?
- When will SD-WANs be Broadly Adopted?
- Where do Users Want WAN Functionality Hosted?
This blog will focus on the task of connecting users in a branch office to the external resources that they need to access and it will discuss the alternative options for how some of the emerging SD-WAN solutions can be implemented: Do-it-Yourself? Managed service? Acquire an SDN-based service from a Communications Service Provider (CSP)? This blog will also analyze the preference that network organizations have for each of those options.
In the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) option, network organizations are responsible for all facets of the lifecycle of a SD-WAN solution, including the planning, designing, implementing and ongoing management of the solution. Of all of the implementation options, this option maximizes the control that the network organization has over the solution. That follows in part because the network organization gets to choose which SD-WAN solution best meets its needs and it gets to determine what features of that solution it wants to use. In some cases, the network organization also gets to determine other architecture and design options such as where the enabling functionality is housed and whether that functionality is provided in software or in hardware.
However, that control comes with a price. Part of that price is that there is typically a potentially large up-front cost associated with this option. Another part of that price is that this implementation option also demands the most expertise and the most involvement on the part of the network organization. These demands are not a significant impediment for some companies, particularly companies that are sophisticated enough to have an architecture group within their network organization. However, these demands are a significant impediment for a number of other network organizations. One of the reasons for this is that over the last decade there has been little if any fundamental innovation in the WAN. As a result, a large number of companies don’t have people in their network organization that are skilled at planning and designing new WAN solutions.
On what seems like a weekly basis, CSPs are announcing their plans to offer a managed service based on an SD-WAN solution provided by one or more vendors. This implementation option is intended to negate the price that is associated with the DIY option in part because there is usually no up-front cost associated with this option and in part because while the network organization still needs the expertise that is required to evaluate alternative SD-WAN solutions, it does not need the expertise that is required for detailed planning and designing of a new SD-WAN solution.
That freedom from having to do the planning and designing of the SD-WAN solution potentially comes at a price depending on the CSP. Part of that potential price is the cost of the managed service and how that compares to what it would cost the company to adopt a DIY approach. Another part of the potential price is related to the SD-WAN solution(s) that the CSP has adopted. Do those solutions provide the network organization with the same functionality and the same quality of functionality as it would get with a DIY option of their choice?
An SDN-Based Solution from a CSP
Many CSPs have announced their intention to leverage the key concepts of SDN to offer new WAN services. While the specific functionality offered varies somewhat by CSP, it typically includes functionality such as basic WAN connectivity, bandwidth on demand and security services. While the functionality offered by this implementation option is likely to be somewhat different from the functionality offered by the managed service option, the pros and cons of these two implementation options are essentially the same.
How are these implementation options being perceived?
The survey respondents were asked to indicate which implementation option their organization was most likely to implement and they were allowed to indicate multiple choices. Their choices were:
- DIY: 54%
- Managed Service: 42%
- SDN-Based Solution: 27%
Similar to what was said in Where do Users Want WAN Functionality Hosted?, we need to look at the survey results as indicating the current thinking of network organizations and we need to realize that since we are at the very early stages of implementing alternative SD-WAN solutions, that the current thinking may change significantly as network organizations analyze alternative solutions.
Still, it is insightful to analyze how network organizations are currently thinking about their implementation options for new SD-WAN solutions. One way to look at the survey results is that the DIY option is the preferred option by a relatively wide margin. However, another way to look at the survey results is to take the percentage of network organizations who like the DIY option and compare that percentage to the percentage of network organizations that like one of the two service provider centric options. Looked at this way, the service provider centric options are preferred over the DIY option by a relatively wide margin.