Companies considering software-defined WAN to replace their legacy WAN architecture need to decide whether to manage the SD-WAN in-house or outsource it to a provider. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, but one method is almost certainly a better fit depending on your organization's requirements. So how do you choose?
First, look at your organization's remote connectivity needs as well as the trade-offs with managing the WAN in-house. If you are interested in SD-WAN primarily because you need greater control and granularity over prioritizing and securing specific application traffic as it traverses the WAN, you likely will want to let your own IT staff own the implementation and management of the SD-WAN. If frequent and rapid changes to policies are often required as well, then you likely will want to maintain control.
But if you're like many, the SD-WAN policies you're required to apply are fairly standard and static in nature. If that’s the case, you may want to consider a managed service provider (MSP). From one business to the next, most SD-WAN implementations and configurations will look generally similar, making the SD-WAN essentially a commodity component of the business's overall infrastructure. This makes the WAN a great candidate for MSP control. The service provider has both economies of scale to lower overall costs, as well as highly-trained staff that know how to setup, monitor, and troubleshoot a software-defined WAN environment.
In terms of capabilities and levels of service that different managed SD-WAN providers offer, there are several factors to consider. All SD-WAN providers offer services to design, monitor and maintain the entire WAN. They essentially provide customers with a physical or virtual Ethernet handoff at the remote site or within the cloud. Beyond this generic set of SD-WAN services, there are some differences that can be used to compare and contrast different providers.
For example, you need to investigate if a managed SD-WAN can provide services in the geographic locations your company requires. Not all SD-WAN providers may be able to offer services in the areas that you need. Even if they can, they may not be able to get you the best pricing. The same goes for your cloud deployments. Make sure the managed SD-WAN provider you are interested in has a presence to operate within the various clouds you leverage, such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and Google.
Service level agreements also vary widely from one managed SD-WAN provider to the next. Some providers offer tiered SLAs that are static in nature. Other providers are more willing to negotiate an SLA depending on the potential size and scale of your SD-WAN rollout. Either way, it’s best to research and find the SLA requirements you need at the lowest cost.
Finally, the most important yet often overlooked aspect to look for in an SD-WAN provider is ample, two-way communication. When you hand over control of your WAN to a third party, it can create some uneasiness within the IT department that is ultimately responsible for maintaining connectivity to remote sites and cloud services. The provider should offer sufficient, two-way communication so that you as the customer are kept informed of any outages, maintenance windows and configuration changes.
Depending on what the IT department wants, this can include services like access to monitoring tools, regular reporting, and monthly phone briefings. If your organization relies heavily on WAN communications for critical business functions, you may also want to see if the MSP will provide access to a single point of contact.
The adoption rate of managed SD-WAN is expected to look similar to the adoption rate of public and private cloud computing from about a decade ago. There will be some early adopters that latch on quickly to the benefits of a fully-managed WAN service, while others will continue to manage things in-house and watch as the market matures. But over time, the benefits of offloading commodity infrastructure components will be clearer, and more businesses likely will leverage managed SD-WAN services as opposed to doing the work themselves.