5 reasons for and 5 against managed SD-WAN

When weighing the choice between DIY and a managed service for SD-WAN, consider current WAN conditions, IT skill levels, geographic scope of the WAN, and how much control you’re willing to relinquish.

A network of digital connections extend broadly across layers of city highways / routing paths.
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Northgate Gonzalez Markets, a chain of grocery stores in southern California, was launching a fast-paced digital transformation initiative that required a complete revamp of its WAN infrastructure.

Northgate was taking the bold step of eliminating its data center and moving around 500 servers’ worth of applications and data to the cloud. The old WAN topology of backhauling traffic from each of its 43 locations to a central data center via two T-1s had to be replaced with a direct, reliable, resilient, secure connection from each individual location to the cloud.

Harrison Lewis, CIO and chief privacy officer at Northgate Markets, settled on an SD-WAN deployment. After evaluating the pros and cons of the do-it-yourself (DIY) option versus a managed service, Lewis decided that a managed approach was preferable for multiple reasons, with speed at the top of the list. “We had a compressed timeline,” he says. “We didn’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Let’s take our time with it.”’ 

Another key consideration was the sheer wherewithal it would have taken for his IT staffers to plan, pilot, configure, deploy, troubleshoot and manage the SD-WAN infrastructure at all of those locations. “We were able to leverage the knowledge and skills of someone who had done it before,” Lewis says. While SD-WAN hardware vendors argue that deploying their devices is pretty much plug-and-play, Lewis points out that “there’s a lot to be considered, and it was critically important that we get it right.”

For Lewis, a third key driver in favor of a managed approach was the ability to go beyond core SD-WAN connectivity and order up additional features from the managed service provider, including web content filtering, anti-virus, web firewalls and secure Web gateways.

Trend lines are up for managed SD-WAN

Northgate Markets is part of a growing trend of companies moving to SD-WAN via managed services.

Gartner analyst Lisa Pierce points out an interesting dichotomy: Most companies outside the U.S. use managed services for their WAN needs, while the majority of U.S. companies, especially the larger ones, have historically taken the DIY route. But that is changing.

Enterprises that are trying to reduce expenses while also achieving greater WAN agility and performance are increasingly turning to managed SD-WAN services, according to Gartner, which predicts that managed SD-WAN will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 84.7% between 2017 and 2022.

“By year-end 2023, more than 90% of WAN edge infrastructure refresh initiatives will be based on virtualized customer premises equipment (vCPE) platforms or software defined WAN (SD-WAN) software/appliances versus traditional routers,” says the latest Gartner report on WAN edge infrastructure. “Evaluate WAN-as-a-service for your next refresh, even if you have traditionally pursued a DIY approach,” the research firm recommends.

New research from Vertical Systems Group likewise finds that the U.S. market for carrier-managed SD-WAN services (this doesn’t include managed SD-WAN provided by systems integrators) is expected to surge to $4.5 billion by 2023. That figure counts revenue from WAN access services as well as overlay features.

Managed vs. DIY

The reasons to adopt SD-WAN itself are pretty clear cut: flexibility, agility, efficiency, centralized management, and better security. With an SD-WAN overlay, companies can slash MPLS costs, optimize WAN traffic on an application by application basis, and enable branch offices to connect directly to cloud services, which translates into an improved user experience and more efficient business processes.

The choice between DIY and a managed service is more complex and depends on a variety of factors, including the state of your current WAN, the types of business pressures that might be driving a switch to SD-WAN, the skill level of IT staffers, the geographic scope of the WAN, and how much control you’re willing to hand over to a service provider.

Here are five reasons to choose a managed SD-WAN:

  1. Speed: The managed route is simply faster to implement. Once you’ve identified

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