Before venturing into new technologies, there are a lot of aspects to be considered, beyond the potential ROI. This is particularly the case for SD-WAN, as it suffers from the hype around it, resulting in Providers underestimating the efforts needed to convey the expected services to their customers.

While the current level of maturity of SD-WAN Technologies can secure new business to Network Operators, it is mandatory to take potential downsides into account while examining the opportunity SD-WAN offers. One of the simplest ways for Network Operators, Telcos and MSPs to understand if they should invest in new infrastructures to serve their customers is the classic SWOT analysis: here some initial tips.

Strengths

Network Operators granting their customers access to SD-WAN as-a-service offerings benefit from streamlined operations as well. Flexible and easily to replicate automated and standardised configurations or changes to policies can be distributed in real-time to edge devices via a centralised multi-tenant orchestrator, thus reducing human errors and meeting the flexibility demands of businesses. Also, SD-WAN’s granular level of support makes it far more advanced compared to legacy solutions in terms of quality of service (QoS), internet connectivity, optimisation and advanced security that cloud-based services require. Most importantly, SD-WAN automatically detects network conditions and provides visibility into the network, creating a predictable level of performance, much needed at Network Operators.

Weaknesses

However, taking this opportunity is bound to uncertainties, which are often arising while considering the following factors:

·         Costs: the initial investment for adding up an orchestration software layer to existing infrastructures or to completely overhaul legacy equipment is high. Despite the clear business opportunity delivered by SD-WAN, no Operator can tell upfront when the architecture on which the new offering relies is up and running and when the SD-WAN service can be proposed to customers.

·         As many solutions as sand grains by the seashore: this is both a weakness and a threat of the current SD-WAN market hype. There are meanwhile a plethora of vendors of the most different components of SD-WAN infrastructures and management software. For this reason, many organisations opt for either the cheapest/most expensive alternative or for main-stream solutions (“if it’s good for them it is also good for me”), by losing sight of their actual needs.

·         Complexity: SD-WAN consists of both an underlay (WAN infrastructure) and an overlay (orchestration software) in the WAN service — and possibly these elements are from different vendors. This adds complexity to both operation and troubleshooting as WAN issues need to be investigated at more places before being able to solve the problem.

·         Skill acquisition: SD-WAN upends the WAN status quo and require a lot of training on the new approach to WAN management. The Operators have to ensure they allocate enough money for their training budgets.

This list is, of course, not exhaustive, but where there is a weakness, there is also an opportunity, if you take action on those points. What if you could take advantage yourself of a full managed SD-WAN as-a-service offer as a Network Operator, able to zero in on initial costs and complexity?

Opportunities

That SD-WAN is “the opportunity of the century” for MSPs and Network Operators is more than evident. Customers who deployed costly MPLS technologies to satisfy business-critical traffic needs, can now integrate or substitute these lines with multiple lower-cost links and benefit from many advantages they can’t ignore :

·         improved operational resiliency and connection redundancy

·         real-time infrastructure monitoring

·         cloud-readiness

·         business agility and ubiquity

·         increased application performance – particularly in hybrid or cloud environments

·         increased security through segmentation and in-built basic firewall and web-filtering features

·         lower bandwidth and infrastructure management costs

All these points make SD-WAN a very attractive technology, resulting in one of the fastest-growing markets worldwide.

On the other hand, with SD-WAN Network Providers can upsell more bandwidth, leverage on it to cross-sell cloud connectivity and hosting services, acquire new customer segments (e.g. SMBs), monetise even on customers not directly connected to their network and scale down and up their offer effortlessly.

Threats

As mentioned before, it isn’t easy to choose the right solution, and often Network Operators can just hope the vendor they partner with does not disappear within short, jeopardising what was deployed until then. But there is also another aspect giving rise to numerous doubts about SD-WAN: security.

WANs are outward-facing and therefore suffer from increased exposure to cyber-threats. Additionally, since SD-WAN infrastructures are software-based and often enough hosted in the cloud, they tend to be more vulnerable than their physical counterparts. On the other hand, the SD-WAN centralised orchestrator can better maintain security throughout the whole network, instead of maintaining security at each endpoint.

Conclusions

At nacXwan we believe Telcos and Managed Service Providers have more to gain than to fear from SD-WAN, as it allows them to focus on augmenting their existing enterprise relationships through a broader portfolio of products and services. Please feel free to get in touch with us to understand how.

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