8 Key Considerations When Selecting a Managed SD-WAN Service Provider

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Software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) technology can bring myriad benefits to companies of nearly any size or stripe, but as discussed in a previous post, it can be complex to deploy. For many IT teams, the solution means opting for a managed SD-WAN service. But this may lead to another issue: how to assess providers.

After conversations with CenturyLink executive Michael Lawson, General Manager of SD-WAN Solution Architecture for CenturyLink– I’ve come up with eight considerations when assessing SD-WAN managed service providers.

1. Deep domain expertise. While it may seem obvious that any provider will have SD-WAN expertise, keep in mind this is still a relatively new area, and there’s many aspects to it. The provider will need to understand what your existing network looks like as well as all of your application requirements, Lawson says.

2. Best-in-class QA processes. Quality assurance (QA) is another issue, given SD-WAN relies heavily on software. “What are you doing to certify new code? As with all software, bugs emerge. What is your process to find them before rolling into production,” Lawson notes, so make sure your provider has a good QA arm to test that the software works as expected.

3. Flexible migration options. Many customers opt to test SD-WAN before fully diving in, such as rolling it out to a handful of branch locations in a field trial. Look for a provider that supports a flexible deployment plan according to your requirements and/or timetable.

4. Focus on agility and cloud. As a form of virtualization technology, it’s natural that SD-WAN customers will use the technology for other forms of virtualization, such as consuming network functions on demand. The provider should offer adaptive network control that lets you dial up or dial down capacity on demand, and easily manage virtual connections to cloud providers. SD-WAN should complement the agility that cloud has brought to the enterprise, Lawson notes.

5. Varying technology options. Multiple SD-WAN technology choices exist from vendors such as Versa Networks and Cisco – which itself has multiple options (Viptela and Meraki). It helps to select a provider that offers multiple SD-WAN platforms to best fit your needs. Make sure the provider has a thorough understanding of your chosen platform; engineers with SD-WAN experience are in short supply (another reason to go with a managed provider in the first place).

6. Multiple connectivity options. SD-WAN can work with virtually any underlying network service, from MPLS to Internet and wireless. Here again, it will be easier to build your best-in-class SD-WAN network if you choose a provider with a variety of transport options. Some providers will also let you use services offered by a competing carrier – i.e., existing services you’re already using. The best providers may even take on management of those relationships.

7. Global reach. Multinationals will want to ensure their chosen carrier has a global reach, either on its own or through partnerships with other carriers.

8. Sound security offerings. Security can be implemented by the SD-WAN provider, if the customer so chooses. “Over 60% of CenturyLink customers have the SD-WAN advanced security profile enabled,” Lawson says. This provides features such as intrusion detection and prevention (IDS/IPS), unified threat management, distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) prevention, and encryption. The company also has a threat intelligence capability, based on the traffic it sees on its own Internet backbone. “That allows us to see attacks as they happen, or even before,” he says, and take steps to stop them.

Going with a managed service can deliver the benefits of SD-WAN without the headaches. Click here to learn how you can choose the best provider for your needs. 


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