If you are currently considering initial investigation into SD-WAN procurement, you’ll know how many moving parts are involved. In this article, I’ll discuss 17 features and benefits together with 10 vendors which IT teams may wish to consider when buying SD-WAN solutions for U.K., U.S. and global businesses.
I’ve also written a more exhaustive top and best SD-WAN solutions article if your business is looking at building an up-to-date vendor list of possible SD-WAN providers for U.K., U.S. and global services. There’s also a Mindmap, which displays each vendor together with a checklist.
Understanding which overall features are important, together with any value-added services, represents the base elements of the buyer’s task. One of the benefits of SD-WAN surrounds how the technology supports the network in many more ways vs. traditional WAN services, due to breadth of capability.
I am also seeing more businesses turn to managed SD-WAN for certain aspects. Some are considering co-managed (perhaps just for provisioning at certain locations), but others are using end-to-end management to maximise capability. Digital transformation is facilitated by SD-WAN but there is a skill set and expertise required to make it happen.
SD-WAN is capable of transforming the way in which your business operates from single-pane-of-glass management to WAN optimisation, path selection, security and reporting. That said, the number of features available means IT teams must conduct comprehensive due diligence to align requirements with the right service. Some aspects of SD-WAN services are linked together — i.e., one feature is needed to enable the other. Zero-touch deployment is enhanced by the use of LTE wireless to quickly deploy WAN connections to branch offices at a moment’s notice where fast-start or WAN migration services are a requirement.
What are the top 10 SD-WAN options?
Note: I’ve taken some examples from our curated list of vendors, this is not an endorsement of capability.
The overall proposition incorporates the aforementioned global network together with SmartConnect, which is Aryaka’s leading product with WAN Optimisation to assist across cloud and SaaS applications, SD-WAN functionality, real-time stats and reporting with 24/7 support. The Aryaka SmartCDN capability combines web & HTTP / HTTPS acceleration and caching.
Security is an inherently important feature when comparing SD-WAN options. Versa’s Security service is NSS Labs recommended for enterprise-class software-defined features, such as NGFW and UTM. Versa’s Secure Cloud IP architecture is a multi-tenant cloud software platform integrating routing, SD-WAN, security and automation. Its Titan product is a cloud-managed service that delivers the enterprise-grade capabilities.
The proposition also markets CloudGenix’s drive to replace expensive routers with simpler PC-based x86 systems.
Together with SD-WAN, NetWolves consolidated billing across multiple aspects of telecoms, including cloud and security. NetWolves is an interesting proposition, as it is positioned to resell and provision just about any type of connectivity (wireline and wireless) in order to create a custom system. The key is to remember its managed services portfolio as perhaps its most prevalent value-add aspect.
Masergy’s marketing suggests the proposition and services are based on network functions virtualization, advanced machine learning and big data analytics to drive the flexibility, visibility and control that enterprise IT teams require.
The Cato service is based on a global SLA-backed network of PoPs, interconnected by multiple Tier 1 carriers that open up each connectivity product type, including 4G, 5G, broadband and resilient Ethernet. Enterprises connect to Cato over optimised and secure tunnels, using any last mile transport (MPLS, cable, xDSL, 4G/LTE), all backed up by policy-based routing per application and connectivity type to maximise SaaS and delay-sensitive applications.
Talari has been around in the SD-WAN technology space for many years and is considered a leader. Talari delivers advanced MPLS-class reliability and application QoE (Quality of Experience), which is highly trusted — as demonstrated with its EMS-911 and public safety unified contact centre support across the U.S.
The Talari product offers sub-second response times, ensuring any issues across the network are dealt with fast. With intelligent link aggregation and packet replication, Talari’s overall proposition reflects a true SD-WAN capability.
Ignyte has multiple examples of where its has integrated circuits that are still in contract (i.e., MPLS) with a hybrid WAN approach of SD-WAN where possible. If you are based outside of the U.K., Ignyte’s local NOC is U.S.-based but does offer 24/7/365 Tier 1 and 2 support.
10. Open Systems
Open Systems’ unified SD-WAN Platform has already integrated dozens of security, routing and performance features into a simple-to-deploy and administer service, backed by 24/7 monitoring and support.
The security aspect of Open Systems is included at all layers of the network, both at the WAN edge and within the cloud.
What are the comparison points to use when evaluating SD-WAN vendors?
In order to compare and evaluate each provider and their capabilities, I’ve listed 17 data comparison points to consider across HQ, branch offices and data center locations.
1. What is the focus technology?
The SD-WAN service is either vendor-based (think Cisco Meraki) or offered by network providers across various products and services. If your business engages with a telco, the options will not normally be limited to a single capability — Expereo is a good example of a network provider that offers multiple SD-WAN vendor services.
2. What other technologies are supported?
With point 1 in mind, in many instances, certain providers will focus on one SD-WAN product. It is, therefore, a prerequisite to understand which services are supported across each of your potential engagements.
Additionally, you will need to know overall capability including data center, WAN optimization, UCaaS (Unified Communications), cloud and security.
3. The SD-WAN elevator pitch
Understanding the offering in a few sentences will provide your IT team with some initial thoughts on whether the SD-WAN service is a good fit. As an example, does the vendor offer next-generation security or in-depth application reporting? How is single-pane-of-glass management achieved? How does the SD-WAN service work against packet loss or data security breaches? In respect of SD-WAN orchestration, how does the service deal with provisioning and centralized management? And does the SD-WAN offer consolidated WAN optimization, security and other value-added services?
4. Is the service sold stand-alone?
The majority of SD-WAN products are sold as a capability with or without network services. Select providers lead with the network and Layer one SD-WAN, meaning both aspects are tied to one contract. In other cases, certain providers offer a core network, which is intrinsically linked to the SD-WAN capability.
5. Does the capability support MPLS, VPLS and Layer 2 point to point and multipoint?
While SD-WAN products are typically internet-based, the original concept behind software-defined networking presented the ability to terminate any circuit type. We recognise certain vendors align more to the internet — Meraki is a good example where the proposition actually defines true SD-WAN as an internet-based platform.
6. Does the SD-WAN service offer global coverage?
Support of global services requires a focus on fix times, but also network connectivity. Where possible, I recommend single backbone ISP services to maintain the best possible traffic latency and jitter network performance across application traffic.
7. What is the difference between SD-WAN service providers and vendors?
Creating a matrix of differences allows IT teams to consider each feature. An example is whether the SD-WAN product supports cloud applications and services, such as Amazon AWS, or perhaps the service offers a certain type of redundancy.
Feature comparisons should also cover how application performance is enhanced with technologies — such as dynamic path selection — especially if a preferred route exists (or perhaps packet loss is occurring) across Ethernet, LTE and broadband, caching, WAN optimization and Quality of Service. Cost savings is also one of the main drivers behind SD-WAN.
8. What is the sweet spot of each in terms of market — e.g., SME or large global enterprise?
In certain cases, the capability will be aligned between five and 500 sites, others are up to 1,000 sites. Understanding where the product sits in terms of sweet spot quickly allows you to remove certain options from your list of the top providers and vendors.
9. Are certain providers a bad fit?
There are some cases where capability does not fit specific requirements. As an example, some products may not support five sites or fewer — or perhaps international reach is not a possibility.
10. What SD-WAN architecture is supported?
SD-WAN services are available as hardware-based, virtualised or edge-based network gateways. The core architecture of SD-WAN products and services might be based on private MPLS, which essentially provides the best of both worlds.
11. How is the SD-WAN providers core network structured?
Whether or not the provider offers its own core network backbone is perhaps more applicable to international deployments where latency and jitter network performance SLAs are important for delay-sensitive and mission-critical IP traffic.
If network providers operate core MPLS nodes, local ISP connectivity is purchased with connection via secure IPsec VPN to the closest WAN edge network node.
12. What portfolio of circuit types are offered?
Aside from selling circuits on the provider’s own network, does the product include 4G, 5G and broadband support? What other carriers can be integrated into the capability — e.g., private circuits or satellite?
13. How are ISP circuits managed across internet-based SD-WAN?
Management of SD-WAN circuits is critical to the ongoing success of your service. While cost savings from using the internet is clearly appealing, thought must be given to how monitoring and ticket resolution is performed.
13. How is management performed for the overall SD-WAN service?
In most cases, SD-WAN is viewed as a self-managed DIY wide area network. Where managed services are included, most providers and vendors will offer read access to devices and the opportunity to make config changes across certain elements.
14. Can you access an SD-WAN proof of concept?
A demo or proof of concept varies quite significantly. While Meraki will offer a trial period, others will not only offer trials and demos but also the ability to simulate bandwidth to really understand performance.
15. When did the SD-WAN product launch?
The year of product launch provides an indication of overall experience.
16. How many customers use the SD-WAN product?
Some providers and vendors will state their amount of connected customers is confidential, while others will supply data as an approximation. Connected customers is a valuable stat when looking at niche offerings or startups.
17. What cost savings can be achieved?
Sometimes, software-defined WAN isn’t all about saving money. What we do know is that consolidating and simplifying your network often results on a lower TCO (total cost of ownership) for a multitude of reasons.
The majority of SD-WAN marketing surrounds the total cost of ownership reduction when compared to MPLS. The reality depends on the features you are adding, together with recognising that some aspects of cost are not as tangible — i.e., an SD-WAN offers better network insights, support and so on. It is important to recognise that today, enterprise businesses should be able to deploy hybrid networking. Where required, MPLS or VPLS may make more sense than deploying internet SD-WAN. Using MPLS or VPLS does not preclude your organisation from leveraging SD-WAN benefits since select providers are suited to support any connectivity type.