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The managed services trend reaches the software-defined WAN

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This article is part of our Essential Guide: What is SD-WAN? Future, challenges, benefits of SD-WAN technology

When to consider SD-WAN managed services

SD-WAN offers promising benefits, like the ability to use multiple ISP links. But managing those links can prove challenging. That's where SD-WAN managed services can help.

One of the big benefits of rolling out SD-WAN is it makes the WAN simpler to manage. But simple doesn't mean zero...

effort, and taking advantage of SD-WAN's potential to mix and match connectivity can actually increase some aspects of work for IT. So, some organizations may still be better served by pursuing SD-WAN managed services.

In benchmarking conducted by Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill., organizations that have deployed SD-WAN are seeing great results. Instead of individually managing every WAN router -- and maybe a WAN optimizer at each location, too -- WAN admins set up policies based on applications or services and their specific needs to manage the entire physical WAN at once.

In addition to allowing organizations to use more low-cost bandwidth to ramp up their WANs, a robust SD-WAN deployment reduces WAN outages by 95%, and it reduces the amount of time WAN staff members spend troubleshooting to about 5%.

So, if SD-WAN is so great and easy, why would someone want SD-WAN managed services?

Drivers for managed SD-WAN services

In this, we see a powerful driver for considering SD-WAN managed service offerings: the option of handing off ISP aggregation and management to someone else.

Most obviously, if an organization already outsources the WAN, it may not want to bring WAN management back in-house, even if it's easier. WAN management may simply be far enough outside an organization's core concerns to warrant continued outsourcing for that reason alone. Even then, however, an organization might want to push for SD-WAN managed services when its current managed WAN contract ends. Doing so could result in other benefits, like agility, resilience, increased security, performance management and the opportunity to eliminate separate WAN optimizers.

Even if businesses are not currently in the managed WAN space, however, they may want to go that way as they move to an SD-WAN -- not because the technology is difficult to handle or time-consuming, but because they anticipate greatly expanding the number of connectivity providers they will deal with.

After all, a big attraction with SD-WAN is the ability to aggregate links from diverse carriers into a single WAN easily and transparently from the technology perspective. This works, while making branches more resilient and growth more affordable. It also gives IT buyers more choices than ever when provisioning branch connectivity.

Hand off ISP management challenges

But making it easy for IT to use many internet service providers (ISPs) and connectivity providers in pursuit of savings and agility leaves the organization with, well, many ISPs and connectivity providers. These providers are often added to the list of providers organizations already use for MPLS, which most companies plan to keep for years to come.

SD-WAN managed services hand off ISP aggregation and management to managed service providers.
SD-WAN managed services can help relieve frustrations that come with managing multiple ISPs.

Managing multiple providers -- both at the business level and at the technical level -- has its own associated costs. IT has to know how to work with technical support in each organization and deal with normal service-related communications, as well as actual troubleshooting when problems occur. IT and purchasing also have to deal with the provider at a business level. They have to track service contracts and billing, review bills, resolve disputes and more.

Managing a handful of companies is probably supportable for anyone; managing dozens is far less so. But managing scores and hundreds simply isn't supportable for most companies. In this, we see a powerful driver for considering SD-WAN managed service offerings: the option of handing off ISP aggregation and management to someone else.

ISPs, carriers and other traditional network providers are used to taking managed services on as an additional contract term, and they will have strong incentive to do so with their SD-WAN offerings. Network-as-a-service providers in the SD-WAN space are in a position to do the same.

Despite the apparently realized promise of radical simplification for WAN management, SD-WAN can still create problems for WAN staff in terms of provider management. Enterprises considering SD-WAN should pay attention to this possibility and look at both in-net and managed overlay products as they evaluate their options and make plans.

Next Steps

Keep an eye out for these 2018 trends in SD-WAN

Ask these questions when considering managed SD-WAN services

Don't forget to look at potential SD-WAN challenges

This was last published in November 2017

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What challenges has your organization faced when managing multiple ISP links?