SD-WAN at KinderCare supports company growth, cost-savings

With more than 1,400 childcare centers, KinderCare is deploying SD-WAN and reaping a host of valuable lessons about bidding projects, verifying SLAs on WAN circuits and partnering with experienced providers.

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KinderCare Education is America’s largest provider of early education programs. With more than 1400 locations spanning more than 40 states, KinderCare serves 185,000-plus families in its programs every day. The company operates neighborhood childcare centers, corporate-sponsored centers for employee childcare, and before- and after-school care programs.

Until recently, KinderCare outsourced its IT department, but this arrangement no longer met the needs of the quickly growing company, according to Dennis Baker, Vice President, IT Technical Operations and Architecture. “As we transitioned into a growth organization, our leadership quickly realized that building internal technical capabilities was a strategic necessity,” says Baker.

One of the critical focus areas that Baker looked at was the network needs of the centers. “It’s a fairly large environment with so many centers across the country, and our existing partner operated as a black box,” he says. “Our availability was a lot lower than we would have liked, and our costs were not really in line with the market. And I just think overall service wasn't really there. They just weren't very motivated to take care of us, despite our significant size. Aggregators often treat you like you're a prisoner, since they feel the effort to move on is too cumbersome for a customer to undertake.”

Making the most of the RFP

KinderCare started the process of doing an RFP for a new network, splitting it into two sections. One was only about getting cost-effective, reliable access with internet circuits. “We felt that our price overall for the circuits wasn't necessarily market competitive, so we wanted to bid the whole thing out. At first, we thought we'd likely bid it out to all the aggregators because it would be too hard to manage it ourselves,” explained Baker.

The second piece of KinderCare’s RFP was for the SD-WAN technology. This where the market is going, so it wanted a solution that would give them some visibility into their network plus flexibility in managing the network.

“The RFP was a real learning experience for us,” says Baker. “We started to talk to all these providers and then we recognized, ‘Hey, we're fairly large, right? We should be getting treated a lot better.’ And there was a ton of interest in our RFP. It was actually difficult to manage because people just came out of the woodwork. I guess one thing I'd say about the SD-WAN market is that everyone thinks they're an SD-WAN provider, whether they are or not. It seems that anyone can hang out their shingle and say they’re SD-WAN.”

KinderCare began to focus on finding a partner that really had a differentiated SD-WAN offering. “We wanted to align with a market-leading platform delivered by a partner that brings a lot of expertise, has done large implementations, and is really going to treat us like one of their top customers. And for us being in childcare, the way that we deliver our services to our customers is a lot more ‘white glove’ than what you might see in a retail equivalent. We needed a partner that really understood that and would help us deliver on that model,” says Baker.

The RFP attracted a lot of interest from service providers. “Some of them weren’t tied to any particular SD-WAN platform,” says Baker. “They said they’d figure out how to implement any product we wanted. That was counterintuitive to what we were looking for. We didn’t want to end up with a partner that wasn’t really an expert and that was going to leave us in a bad spot.”

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