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4 considerations when replacing managed WAN services with SD-WAN

Jul 09, 20185 mins

There are several implications to choosing to outsource SD-WAN to your carrier.

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The enterprise wide area networks are mission-critical resources for most enterprises. And when it came to managing and running the WAN, enterprises could choose between two distinct models: Do it Yourself (DIY) or managed WAN services. But with the evolution of SD-WANs, we’re seeing a new type of telco solution that merges elements of both capabilities.

Traditional WAN management models

With DIY, enterprise IT procures last-mile access at a location and deploys routers, WAN optimization, and network security appliances from several vendors. Continuous monitoring and management is done in house or via a managed service provider. In short, enterprise IT owns the complex task of maintaining, configuring and monitoring the WAN for availability and optimal performance.

In a managed WAN services model, a telco bundles all of the service components mentioned above and delivers them as a turnkey service. Managed WAN services sound like a great way to offload IT resources, but it comes at a steep price and some difficult tradeoffs. As I’ve pointed out in past blogs, telcos are biased towards the last mile services they offer. And, the complexity of building and running SD-WAN isn’t eliminated, it’s just hidden behind the carrier umbrella. All of which means enterprises end up funding the complexity of the carrier managed services in their monthly bills.

Managed SD-WAN and the impact on you

There are several implications to choosing to outsource SD-WAN to your carrier:

1. Limited choice and long time to deploy…

because the telco often requires customers to use its own access services, choice is limited, competitive pricing isn’t available, and time to deploy can be very high. If there are faster or more affordable options, depending on the carrier, the customers may not be able to use them as part of the managed service.   Consider: Will your provider allow you to bring your own access or procure the fastest/most affordable access service in each region you operate in?

2. Slow network changes

Slow network changes in legacy managed WAN services, customers are not allowed to make changes to the network. They have to submit change requests (“tickets”) that can take long time to implement and require multiple iterations, sometimes with offshore personnel.  Consider:  Does you provider offer a self-service option to make simple network changes by yourself, such as adding a new site?

3. Slow service evolution…

…as the telcos do not own the core technology used to run the customer network. Routers, WAN optimization and network security are all developed by software and hardware vendors. Telcos are unable to deliver new capabilities and features that their vendors do not provide. As new technologies, like SD-WAN, enter the scene, the telcos must incorporate them into their service offerings. Because SD-WAN is fast moving, incorporating it into a managed service offering is particularly challenging as customer requirements and needs are changing all the time. Consider: How does your provider respond to new capabilities or features your deployment requires? Do they own their technology stack, or can they otherwise present a compelling service roadmap?

4. Expensive service due to product fragmentation and operational complexity

The lack of technology ownership has cost implications. Telcos have to license these products from the vendors and resell it to the customer. Operationally, telcos must train their staff on multiple products and management interfaces and be able to troubleshoot networking and security issue across multiple disjointed system. This complexity is hidden from the customer, but the related costs are not. Managed services are expensive because the service offerings itself are very complex. Consider: Does your provider’s managed service offering deliver real value and efficiency, or is it repackaging your own costs and handing them back to you?

The software-defined carrier (SDC)

Many customers view managed WAN services as the default approach to running their networks. They are used to paying exorbitant fees to legacy providers, because running a complex WAN architecture can be a daunting task. A new kind of telco, non-network service providers (NSPs) or Software-defined Carriers (SDCs) —  as called by PWC —  are leveraging SDN and NFV to rethink how network services get delivered to enterprises. These SDCs have:

  • No transport agenda increases choice and lowers costs. SDCs and can work with any access service from any access provider.  
  • Full technology ownership accelerates service roadmap. SDCs often own their technology and can evolve it quickly. They can create a service roadmap and rapidly respond to customer requirements. Often delivered as a cloud service, any enhancements are immediately available to all customers. Furthermore, customers are relieved from the maintenance of the WAN infrastructure or any delays associated with telcos upgrading a fragmented infrastructure piece by piece.
  • No third-party license fees.  As SDCs often own the technology stack, they don’t have to pay license fees to 3rd parties. This means a more affordable service to the end customers.
  • A converged platform with unified management lowers operational complexity.  SDCs build their service from the ground up as a converged software platform. This platform is managed by a single self-service management console. It makes it easier to allow customers to make network changes while SDCs and their partners offer monitoring services if the customer so chooses. Overall, a network that is easier to operate is less costly to run and offers agility and speed for the business.

As customers looks to renew their exiting managed WAN services, new service offerings can help them increase agility, and reduce costs and risks. Don’t take my word for it. In their recent market guide for managed SD-WAN services, Gartner advised enterprises to “Increase enterprise agility, performance and expense optimization by including both NSPs and non-NSPs (i.e., SDCs) in your managed SD-WAN services RFPs, and then align all provider proposals with your business objectives.” I couldn’t agree more.


In 2007, Steve Garson started SD-WAN-Experts (at that point called MPLS-Experts) to help U.S. companies communicate with their Chinese and Indian manufacturing facilities. Two clients were rolling out their ERP systems in China and found that their new networks were impeding operations, an unexpected and undesirable problem. A quick examination identified their VPN over Internet as the root cause of the unacceptable performance they were experiencing.

SD-WAN-Experts helped them install a high quality MPLS network to eliminate the packet loss and reduce the latency that is found on the internet. This led to quickly realizing that many other U.S. companies were having the same problem; or they were using less manageable frame relay or point-to-point circuits. Thus, was born this specialized practice in consulting to companies on the procurement and roll-out of Wide Area Networks (WANs). SD-WAN-Experts now serves companies worldwide with global facilities, large retail chains, as well as small domestic companies, and has even designed government emergency communication networks for an entire state.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Steve Garson and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.