Disruption vs integration: The case against “rip and replace”

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How do you deal with change? It’s one of the questions of our era.

We can see technology disruption play out in a number of industries like computing where the mainframe gave way to the PC that gave way to the smartphone. Change sneaks up on you and before you can craft a response, those new technologies disrupt your business.

Networking has seen plenty of changes over the years and when they arrive they often look disruptive at the outset. When I talk to customers about SD-WAN, some ask whether SD-WAN is so disruptive they can essentially replace their MPLS backbone with a mix of broadband providers plus a commodity box– and essentially rely on the public Internet as their backbone. Some of them even have one of those boxes they are experimenting with.

It reminds me of past conversations when other new capabilities emerged. I remember the moment MPLS became an alternative to private line architectures, like ATM and Frame Relay. MPLS was once considered “Next Generation Networking”! Now, it’s considered table stakes transport for critical business applications. At the beginning of any new networking technology, the implementation standards are in flux. You can end up with isolated experiments and some confusion as a lot of smart people underestimate the amount of effort that has to go into making these new technologies work in an established infrastructure.

We work through those things eventually (in the case of MPLS, Level 3 came up with the de facto implementation standard), but that comes after some inevitable failures driven by a complex technology adoption curve. New technology creates a wave of young, hard-charging companies trying to build businesses around a new piece of hardware or software as quickly as possible. Often, those companies are selling their wares both to providers like CenturyLink and directly to enterprises. So, customers come to the provider conversation with lots of questions.

Having learned from past experience, I always ask customers what problem they are trying to solve. SD-WAN is a great way to integrate a hybrid network, improve application performance, boost security, and gain cost efficiencies by choosing the right kind of connectivity based on your application requirements. At CenturyLink, we can offer all those capabilities and can manage it for you as well.

But, is it a rip-and-replace substitute for MPLS or the concept of a private backbone? In most cases, no. And like we’ve seen in past changes, when the hype settles down to the implementation phase, the real issue is not technology disruption but technology integration.

Integrating these new approaches into established infrastructures requires significant engineering work and planning. SD-WAN’s greatest value is in integrating a hybrid network that might include MPLS, broadband, and other technologies. But, the very nature of “hybrid” networks means that no two network infrastructures are going to be exactly the same. Implementation standards today also must take a strategic view of issues like security and, of course, the business problem the customer is actually trying to solve.

It takes a trusted advisor to guide you through the planning and implementation. Within our arsenal we have an MPLS network, one of the the world’s largest Internet backbones, SD-WAN as a service, and we can even broker broadband links in most regions. The changes to pay attention to are the ones going on in your business.

Let us help you navigate the changes in your marketplace. Contact us for a free consultation.