Like any innovative technology, SD-WAN evolves rapidly. For businesses utilizing SD-WAN or evaluating its implementation, there are a few considerations to keep in mind for the coming year.
As SD-WAN makes its way around the channel — challenging forecasts for MPLS, sales, and expertise — we reached out to John Hogan, VP of Partner Sales & Business Development for Bigleaf Networks to give us his scoop on SD-WAN as it stands today. We talk sales opportunities, the types of SD-WAN, and advice for partners. Check out the interview below:
Keenan: With all the buzz out there about SD-WAN, what are some of the essential points partners have to have in their arsenal when selling SD-WAN?
Hogan: I know the SD-WAN space can seem daunting and confusing – even for partners that consider themselves to be industry veterans. My best advice for partners looking to become educated on their SD-WAN options is to categorize the different suppliers into a few major categories, and then work with their MicroCorp support team to build a relationship with at least one solid player in each category.
At Bigleaf, we’ll be the first to admit that there really is no single SD-WAN vendor that’s the right fit for every customer. So it’s important to have a few options ready to go based on the customer’s applications and network architecture.
Here are three SD-WAN supplier categories that we tend to keep track of at Bigleaf:
Carrier-based SD-WAN platforms
- Major focus: SD-WAN as an MPLS enhancement or MPLS replacement
- Includes a Gateway component for cloud-based traffic
- Typically replaces firewalls (complex sales process, longer install)
- Ties your SD-WAN sale to a specific carrier
- Support experience can be challenging due to broad product set, and the fact that the carrier is re-selling another vendor’s SD-WAN platform
Premise-only solutions (no Gateway component)
- Major focus: Built mainly for site-to-site connectivity
- Typically replace firewalls (complex sales process, longer install)
- Not as strong for cloud-based traffic due to the lack of a Gateway
- Some require large, upfront equipment purchases
Firewall/Cloud Agnostic (this is Bigleaf’s sweet spot!)
Major focus: Easy self-installation of SD-WAN for cloud-based traffic
Onsite router deploys outside the customer’s firewall (less complicated install)
Cloud Gateway network setup for any cloud-based traffic or site-to-site VPNs
- Primarily designed for internet connections (not a fit for load-balancing with MPLS or Private-Line circuits)
Keenan: Are there any commonly misunderstood points about SD-WAN partners should be aware of?
Hogan: One of the greatest misunderstood points about SD-WAN is the common belief that SD-WAN is primarily designed as an MPLS enhancement or replacement. These talking points have been driven largely by the major carriers.
Frankly, if you’re a carrier with a large base of MPLS revenue, it’s going to make sense to target SD-WAN technology (and marketing) towards the concept of leveraging SD-WAN intelligence to load-balance existing MPLS networks with broadband to build a hybrid environment for site-to-site connectivity. And that can be a great use of the technology for an enterprise customer with a large IT budget and a long-term need for more traditional, site-to-site architecture.
At Bigleaf, we’re more focused on leveraging SD-WAN technology as a more robust, cost-effective access to cloud applications. We call our technology “Cloud-First SD-WAN”. We chuckle when we hear people say that SD-WAN is disrupting MPLS. In our view, the cloud disrupted MPLS well before SD-WAN was popular.
For many customers that are migrating applications out to the cloud, their legacy network architecture no longer makes as much sense. Their major connectivity needs have essentially migrated from a hub and spoke model to a remote-site-to-many approach. Efficient access to hosted VoIP, SaaS, AWS or Azure, etc. have become more important than access to an HQ or single data center. Any remaining site-to-site connectivity needs can be addressed with VPNs that will always remain healthy and stable thanks to SD-WAN’s prioritization and seamless failover capabilities.
Clearly, the Bigleaf SD-WAN focus plays out more in the small to mid-sized customer base, and the carrier SD-WAN focus plays out more in the enterprise space.
Keenan: What’s the best way partners can educate themselves about SD-WAN and how to sell it?
Hogan: Like anything in telecom, it really comes down to a combination of learning the key technology, but then also building a good working relationship with a few key suppliers. Good technology is never enough by itself. It’s the combination of technology and good service that makes customers happy.
For MicroCorp partners, I would highly recommend the Ultimate Partner Training Series for an opportunity to do a deep dive on SD-WAN, data center and advanced hosted solutions. Bigleaf has participated in several of these events in the past couple years, and they accomplish both the education component and the vendor relationship component. Or, just schedule a personalized training call with Bigleaf Networks, and at least one vendor from the three major SD-WAN categories noted above.
Lastly, in order to truly understand the capability of SD-WAN, you need to work through a few real-life customer implementations to experience the installation process and hear your customers’ feedback first-hand. All of our order forms have a 30-day money-back guarantee, but we’re also happy to provide a 30-day free trial when needed to allow customers to test our technology risk-free. Use these tools to help close some early wins!
Keenan: How should partners look at MPLS now that SD-WAN is encroaching on its market?
Hogan: With any major technology migration, there are some that will see new technology as a threat. And others that will see opportunity in the evolution. MPLS is not likely to disappear anytime soon. But I think many people agree it will die a slow death over a period of several years. So it’s important to build an SD-WAN strategy moving forward. That strategy can be multi-pronged:
- Begin working on a proactive migration plan for all of your MPLS customers that will play out for several years. That plan won’t likely mean getting rid of MPLS for all customers. Some cloud-centric customers may certainly replace MPLS with an SD-WAN-enabled internet solution. While others may incorporate more of a hybrid MPLS/broadband approach. Either way, the future of your customers’ WANs are likely to incorporate an SD-WAN component in some degree or fashion in the next few years.
- Don’t forget about the cloud! One of the greatest benefits of SD-WAN technology is more cost-effective access to cloud applications that is carrier and physically diverse. Every SD-WAN sale is a potential pivot-point into future cloud application sales for that customer. Treat your SD-WAN sales as an excuse to have a conversation with your customer about their current and future application needs — and how those needs can be met through future cloud migrations — and you have a built-in roadmap to a cloud-centric business plan for your company. Every SD-WAN sale results in a purpose-built roadway to the cloud, so help your customers use it!
- Embrace the “every quote” opportunity with SD-WAN. The market is quickly hitting a breaking point where most businesses can no longer afford to work with a single, dumb internet pipe. With the increasing adoption of cloud-based applications, site-to-site VPNs, SaaS, O365, etc, the internet has become a lifeline to most businesses. So educate customers on SD-WAN as a part of every internet/VoIP/cloud quote that goes out the door. It will increase your ARPU and help combat the eventual decline of MPLS revenue.
SD-WAN is a software-based approach to managing a WAN, and there are a number of reasons why your customers should consider its adoption. Once the decision to move forward with SD-WAN is made, however, it’s important to properly vet solutions and vendors. Continue reading
We are all learning the acronym SD-WAN, but to layer 2 and 3 OSI model aficionados, it can be hard to accept how an upstart layer 7 software application can potentially replace a stalwart layer 3 technology like multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). Which begs the question: Is SD-WAN a contender, or just a pretender in the future generation of networks?
MPLS: The Incumbent
When MPLS was introduced, medium and large businesses rapidly adopted the technology. Deploying an MPLS network to connect offices together provides users with the ability to have a predictable, secure, and high preforming environment. This is done by bringing all your data through a single provider and allowing them to prioritize your traffic at layer 2 or layer 3 using QoS.
Providers can provide QoS through specifically designed networks with logical separation using labels to identify traffic, VRFs, and VRF tags to separate the customer traffic. They then allow customers to apply QoS tags to traffic types to reach higher levels of availability.
Let’s look at how this works in more detail, as this is the meat of what customers care about.
When designing MPLS, it is important to determine how you want to provide this QoS. The first thing to do is identify traffic of similar kind and then a degree of excellence. In a typical deployment, 4 quality queues are seen as defined below:
- Real-time traffic – This is typically voice, video, and/or VDI.
- Business Critical – This includes applications required for a company to do business. Examples might be an EMR for a medical company or credit card transactions for a retail company.
- Business Important – This might be an intranet, active directory, email, or other application that is not sensitive to jitter, latency, or retransmits.
- General Traffic – This queue includes all other traffic.
Once customer traffic has been identified and tagged, the degree of excellence of those tagging/groupings must be defined. Most carriers offer a different service level for each queue and different bandwidth guaranteed to each traffic type across the entire MPLS network. As companies continued to converge, however, holes in this design were found. This brought forth the creation of SD-WAN.
SD-WAN: The Contender
Instead of using QoS (layer 2 or layer 3), SD-WAN uses software definitions. With MPLS, you must either use only a source or destination IP address or port. That would be the same as saying you can only relieve traffic congestion from where you started, where you are going, or based on the type of car you have. This would not be very helpful in a major situation where most traffic is destined for the same general area. But what if you could also consider important factors, like ensuring doctors and first responders were never caught in traffic? That one additional factor could change the landscape in most cities and potentially save lives. In terms of the company network, that would be the same as having a real-time queue.
This is what SD-WAN does to QoS. Video traffic can be prioritized to YouTube over Netflix, for example, or Office 365 email over personal Gmail accounts.
Not Beholden to a Single Carrier
With MPLS, the entire environment must be controlled by a single provider. This means that you cannot choose the most cost effective solutions for each location, which doesn’t work for customers with large geographical environments. SD-WAN allows the most cost effective solution per location be chosen.
Significant Resilience Improvements
With MPLS, providing redundancy is very difficult as MPLS routing uses private IP. For the secondary connection, most customers choose to use a VPN over an internet connection. They then need a device that is intelligent enough to build the VPN and handle routing between the two solutions. Even then, routing with just layer 3 protocols doesn’t allow different levels of resilience or performance increases. Typically, customers settle on having the VPN be active/inactive (or hot/cold), meaning that the other connection is ONLY used when there is a total failure of the MPLS.
With SD-WAN, the world of high-performing resilient networks comes with a lot of options. You can define and build it so that both connections are used, called active/active or hot/hot. You can prioritize based on application type; for example, real-time traffic can be forced down a high-quality connection with SLAs associated with it, and general web traffic can be sent down a more cost effective connection. Other business critical or important traffic can be bundled to go out both connections, maximizing total bandwidth.
The flexibility and design options increase exponentially with the introduction of SD-WAN. MPLS still has its place and will for years to come, but for many customers SD-WAN provides a great alternative that may help them meet their internal goals.
SD-WAN is getting a great deal of air play in the industry right now, promising to solve every network challenge that embattled network architects and operators are experiencing today from insatiable bandwidth requirements and costs through simple network resiliency and management. But what is marketing fluff, and what is real? What are the real drivers behind this latest “transformational” technology, and what problems does it really solve?
More Affordable Network Needed
With increasing workloads and performance requirements, especially with the proliferation of cloud-based applications, the need for predictable, high-speed, secure, and diversified networks is escalating. It simply isn’t always financially feasible to deploy diverse MPLS links to multiple distributed offices.
SD-WAN enables companies to take advantage of less expensive internet access rather than managed private networks while still getting the benefit of the types of capabilities provided by an MPLS network. In many areas, tier one direct internet access actually (and maybe surprisingly) provides lower latency, lower jitter, and lower packet loss than its expensive MPLS counterpart, so companies with a large number of distributed offices can expect to see real cost benefits with an SD-WAN network versus a traditional MPLS network.
Simpler and Faster Deployment
MPLS circuits can take months to provision and turn up. The underlying internet access types that SD-WAN can take advantage of can be faster and easier to deploy. However, don’t be misled by the myth that SD-WAN is simple to deploy. There is still a substantial amount of planning and configuration to be done. Beware of the “plug and play” misconception and investigate how each solution is deployed, as they are all different.
Not all SD-WAN solutions are as easy to manage as you might think, and not all management portals provide the same functionality. Whether you are looking at a service provider-managed solution, your own “book end” managed solution, or are using a dedicated SD-WAN network provider, look carefully at what priorities you can set and what monitoring you can do. Are these to device level (MAC address) or location level (essentially just network aggregation and optimization solutions)?
And, most importantly, don’t forget about how software updates are applied and managed and how template policies are set and administered — the very things you would think about when managing routers in your network.
There are claims made that MPLS is more secure than SD-WAN. In reality, an MPLS network is only as secure as the accuracy of the MPLS provider’s switching. The use of IPSec connectivity and additional service chaining in an SD-WAN environment should be more than sufficient to address most security concerns.
You can’t simply turn to Gartner’s magic quadrant and pick a leader. The industry is too young, with many new market entrants. Whatever deployment method you are going to use, be sure to check the underlying equipment vendor’s track record. Financial stability and investors are important. Ask for references and don’t forget to look under the hood at the vendor roadmap to understand future solution enhancements such as scalability.
MicroCorp was a pioneer when MPLS came along. We have over 30 years of experience delivering complex network solutions and helping businesses discover the right technology for their operations. Contact us to learn more about a partnership in adding SD-WAN and related technologies to your portfolio of solutions.