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SD-WAN:

The Ultimate Guide for Channel Partners

Software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) has moved past the buzzword phase to become a rapidly proliferating technology that is here for the long haul. It is arguably the best option for businesses building or managing long distance networks. For Channel Partners seeking to capitalize on the popularity of SD-WAN, it is important to understand the ins and outs of the technology and the best ways to approach selling it.

To help you wrap your head around what SD-WAN really is, who it’s best for, and how to sell its many benefits, we’re sharing all the knowledge we’ve amassed on the topic here.

Everything you need to know about SD-WAN

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN distributes network traffic across WANs. Especially useful for businesses with multiple branch locations, it’s a technology that uses software-defined networking (SDN) to route network traffic intelligently across branches and data center sites. Put simply, SD-WAN simplifies the complications of network technology.

SD-WAN comes in two main forms: overlay SD-WAN or network as a service.

Overlay SD-WAN?

Vendor-provided edge device includes necessary software along with the orchestrator

  • Plug-and-play; the customer simply plugs in the WAN links, and the device configures itself off of the SD-WAN orchestrator

Network as a Service

  • Customers access their own private networks
  • WAN optimization, traffic prioritization, and other functionality are typically included

SD-WAN offers businesses a multitude of benefits. Most notably:

  • Improves application performance via WAN optimization techniques and dynamic routing of traffic based on application needs
  • Automatic failover redirects traffic from failed or congested links to a different link, which reduces latency
  • Intelligent prioritization of traffic reduces reliance on expensive leased multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) circuits
  • Complete visibility into and control of the WAN that customers have not had before

These SD-WAN basics are a good foundation for understanding the technology. It’s also prudent, however, to be aware of some of the common myths surrounding SD-WAN – and the truths behind them.

SD-WAN mythbusting

As is the case with most new technologies, there are a number of myths associated with SD-WAN that need to be debunked.

Myth:
Everyone needs SD-WAN

Reality:
If your customer is primarily a mid-market account that’s not doing much other than running voice across a WAN and their apps are in-house, that is a perfect case for SD-WAN. But if you’ve got an organization that is highly regulated (such as banking, healthcare, or government), they are going to be slower to adopt, and it might hamper their business instead of bolstering it.

Myth:
MPLS is more secure than SD-WAN

Reality:
An MPLS network is only as secure as the accuracy of the MPLS provider’s switching. The use of IPSec connectivity, encryption and additional service chaining in an SD-WAN environment should be more than sufficient to address most security concerns.

Myth:
MPLS is going away

Reality:
Some carriers are urging not to sell SD-WAN against MPLS, but instead, with it. This is an important point considering that not all businesses need SD-WAN, and some are going to continue to do just fine with their MPLS solutions.

The SD-WAN opportunity: statistics and predictions

Nothing debunks myths like cold, hard facts. For businesses utilizing SD-WAN or evaluating its implementation, there are a few considerations to keep in mind for the coming year.

  • In light of the fact that cybercrime cost the global economy $450 billion last year, SD-WAN security will grow.
  • Blockchain operations are giving networking tools the ability to “fingerprint” data to improve security. Banks using blockchain could save $12 billion annually.
  • By 2020, SD-WAN providers will handle over half of edge infrastructure refreshes.
  • SD-WAN will be part of a move to managed services. Customers increasingly want a service provider that manages a branch WAN, and SD-WAN helps provide just that.
  • Cloud migration will continue to push the adoption of SD-WAN.

SD-WAN vs. MPLS

While SD-WAN seems like the wave of the future, many businesses are unsure how it impacts use of MPLS. One of the biggest selling points for SD-WAN is that it can function as a replacement for MPLS. Despite the fact that MPLS is threatened with obsolescence in the face of SD-WAN, there’s actually a business case for keeping both SD-WAN and MPLS together as complementary technologies.

The combination of SD-WAN and MPLS is not only feasible, it’s also recommended. Here’s why:

  • MPLS has reputation. SD-WAN is a comparatively new technology. It’s certainly got plenty to recommend its use, but at the same time, MPLS is a known quantity and has been for years.
  • SD-WAN is a savings tool. Many will recommend keeping some MPLS as an additional option. SD-WAN does well with reducing MPLS use, which can be a cost-saver for businesses.
  • SD-WAN adds range. While MPLS options were great for large-scale operations, they didn’t always work well for picking up the smaller sub-sites that businesses might have had. SD-WAN, meanwhile, does that job quite well.
  • SD-WAN brings agility. Spin up new sites in days or weeks rather than months with MPLS.
  • SD-WAN and MPLS means reliability. SD-WAN with pure internet links alone isn’t likely to provide the kind of service or guaranteed QoS required by applications. The combination of SD-WAN and MPLS, meanwhile, makes the overall connection more effective and more likely to live up to QoS demands.
  • Clear difference of function. MPLS is commonly seen as a great way to connect two specific points together. But MPLS doesn’t work so well on the global stage or with cloud-heavy users, and there’s SD-WAN’s opportunity.

SD-WAN and SDN: what’s the difference?

The complementary nature of SD-WAN and MPLS should now be clear. Which brings us to the next comparison for which customers may require clarification: the difference between SD-WAN and SDN.

As SD-WAN becomes more widespread, it is easily confused with its predecessor, the still-relevant and useful SDN. SD-WAN and SDN share similarities, most notably their separation of the control plane and data plane, and they both support the implementation of additional virtual network functions.

SD-WAN has its own set of distinguishing features:

  • SD-WAN provides software-defined application routing to the WAN.
  • An enterprise’s locations, spread out over a large geographic area (even on a global scale) can be easily and quickly connected using SD-WAN, connecting data centers, remote and mobile users, as well as headquarters and branch offices.
  • While SDN is programmed and configured by the customer or user, SD-WAN programming may be managed by customer or vendor, making it a simpler option for the end user.
  • SD-WAN’s focus is on connecting users across a geographic span, while SDN is concentrated on the local area network.
  • SD-WAN is routable through software-defined applications that can be run virtually, and SDN is enabled by network function virtualization.
  • SD-WAN is an application-based routing system, rather than a traditional, packet-based network routing system.
  • SD-WAN allows for a centralized application routing governance, while improving both agility and flexibility.

Overall, SD-WAN simplifies network management for the end user, allowing IT professionals to focus on other areas of technology management.

SD-WAN and network security

Some of SD-WAN’s more distinct characteristics are related to network security. Networks are the area to which there’s been the most change in recent years, so it makes sense that security is more advanced in this realm. Consider these five recommendations for implementing secure SD-WAN:

  1. Add encryption to your customer’s WAN transport. When they choose SD-WAN, companies have access to low-cost broadband and can encrypt all internet flow to each site without the need for administrators to make manual configuration changes to routers after each change to the network.
  2. Many providers offer basic – and some offer next generation – firewall at the branch. Customers may be able to reduce capital expense and management of aging, existing firewalls and replace with SD-WAN appliances.
  3. Make sure your client’s cloud connection is secure. Every time they transfer sensitive data over the internet to get to the cloud service, it’s an opportunity for a security breach. All of the inherent risks associated with cloud solutions are mitigated by SD-WAN.
  4. Meet compliance requirements. The rules governing healthcare and financial services, including HIPAA or PCI data security, fit perfectly with SD-WAN technology. SD-WAN allows the enterprise to create virtual overlays to segment applications traffic.
  5. Create secure segmentation. Segmentation allows the IT team to isolate application traffic for security purposes or to work with specific performance requirements. Segmentation with SD-WAN allows for consistency of configurations and best practices defined and enforced through business intent policies.

With security becoming a growing IT cost, we anticipate more customers selecting an SD-WAN technology to create a secure and manageable cloud-based environment.

Hybrid SD-WAN

Even beyond the advantages seen in network security, the benefits of implementing SD-WAN are numerous. Many companies are adding SD-WAN into their existing MPLS systems rather than switching them, creating a hybrid SD-WAN situation.

There are many determinations that have to be worked through before an enterprise can go live with an SD-WAN hybrid:

  • The company has to decide which type of internet traffic is set to go over certain lines by default, and which conditions will dictate another line.
  • If a line is down, it must be determined how the internet traffic will be prioritized until additional lines are available.
  • An SD-WAN component allows traffic to flow freely between the cloud and the enterprise, but no longer between branches of the enterprise, so it offers a much better situation for internet traffic flow.
  • In many situations, a bundling of managed services strikes the right balance without introducing unnecessary complexity.

SD-WAN is essentially being added to existing MPLS configurations to eliminate complexity and create differentiation. But what’s really driving the adoption of SD-WAN? The cloud.

How the cloud is driving SD-WAN

The migration of companies’ software solutions to the cloud is an independent event, but the use of SD-WAN is occurring alongside it.

1 in 5
companies indicate they’ll adopt SD-WAN in the following year, and an additional 30% say adoption of SD-WAN is on their radar.
– 451 Research

SD-WAN removes the control plane from the physical devices that are at each branch, which provides central control and visibility over the WAN. This means that enterprises are able to mix and match the connections that are being used and the various carriers, allowing for greater flexibility and agility.

As cloud migration continues to increase, it’s expected that SD-WAN will grow alongside it. Some experts predict that cloud offerings may soon be bundled with SD-WAN, because the marriage of the two makes sense in nearly every situation.

How to sell SD-WAN for Channel Partners

Am I too late to start selling SD-WAN?

There’s good news for those looking to make sales in SD-WAN: the good times haven’t really started rolling yet. There’s still plenty of room to make a mark in this market, with a little of the right information.

Here’s why it’s not too late to get in on SD-WAN sales:

  1. There’s no set blueprint for sales. If conditions had evolved to the point where everyone who wanted SD-WAN already had it, then there would have been sure protocols for making sales, derived from patterns made by successful sales attempts.
  2. Growth still forecast. Several separate reports from several different market research firms agree on one point: the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of SD-WAN did not fall to zero after 2017. If the growth rate is not stopped completely, then there is room for you to sell.
  3. New developments. If there is to be growth in the market, then developers in the field will pursue their own slice of it. Changes in hardware and software, and the interactions between the two, will still be called for. Replacements for broken systems will be needed, and newer, faster, and better tools will emerge.
  4. Die-hards will hold out. SD-WAN is often regarded as a good way to replace MPLS. There are still MPLS users out there, who haven’t made the jump yet for several reasons. This demographic represents a sales opportunity.

So the answer is no: you are not too late to start selling SD-WAN. But in order to sell it effectively, you need to understand the wide range of potential SD-WAN customers.

Customer problems solved by SD-WAN

As with anything sales-related, it’s important to know your customers’ pain points and the specific problems your solution can solve.

Asking potential customers the following questions is an effective way to demonstrate how SD-WAN is a solution that solves a multitude of business problems:

  1. Are you moving toward adoption of more cloud solutions? Cloud applications like SaaS and IaaS require the intelligent routing provided by SD-WAN. SD-WAN can help organizations capitalize fully on their investment in cloud-based applications.
  2. Is bandwidth performance negatively impacting application users? Businesses that struggle to meet bandwidth demands are good candidates for SD-WAN. The flexible, policy-based traffic routing made possible by SD-WAN can solve many bandwidth problems.
  3. Does your network support digital transformation initiatives? Rigid legacy networks often limit business agility. SD-WAN has the efficiency and automation to help businesses innovate and deliver new services rapidly.
  4. Can you secure direct internet access? SD-WAN makes it easier for businesses to secure their networks. Attack surfaces can be limited so that if one location falls victim to a breach, it does not affect other branches.
  5. Are you increasing the number of remote offices and users? Setting up branch offices is simple with SD-WAN and requires no on-site configuration.
  6. Is your business experiencing general connectivity problems? SD-WAN can alleviate headaches caused by dropped calls, slow loading pages, and company websites going offline.

Of course, not every client will actually need SD-WAN and all its features. Identifying which customers are the best fit for the technology will help you make more targeted sales efforts.

Identifying customers who need SD-WAN

There are a number of ways to tell when a customer could use some help from SD-WAN:

  • Customers are migrating workloads to the cloud. Traditional networks are not designed for the demands of cloud utilization. SD-WAN can create dynamic resilient connectivity to wherever the customer, data, or applications live.
  • Complaints about network quality. Using SD-WAN can leverage multiple WAN links (MPLS, DIA, Broadband, LTE) utilizing load balancing and WAN optimization features to increase network reliability.
  • Complaints about network cost. Depending on the needs and requirements of the business, MPLS may be removed and replaced with a hybrid (MPLS and internet) or dual internet-based option. SD-WAN can allow for redundant failover WAN connections working in real time.
  • Complaints about network reliability. One of SD-WAN’s core components is visibility into the network links’ health through a user portal which allows end users to view the health of the network in real time and in historical trends. Another core function is to act in real time on the current state of the network links, making decisions on how to best route traffic.
  • Complaints about the network holding the business back. If a customer is actually fighting the network to get applications to perform as expected, it’s a perfect time to talk SD-WAN. Also, SD-WAN helps geographically-distributed offices better connect, and since SD-WAN is very agile, it allows for a fast turn-up of new locations onto the WAN.

Knowing if SD-WAN is a good fit for your customer is crucial. Helping them see the benefits of the solution is the next equally critical area of focus in the sales process.

How to help customers see benefits of SD-WAN

While the advantages of SD-WAN are obvious to those in the networking house, outsiders can sometimes struggle to see the strengths of this new type of technology. Shifting the way you think about SD-WAN, and changing the way you position it to your customers can instantly erase any confusion.

SD-WAN offers these tangible benefits:

  • Connection resiliency
  • Network visibility
  • Intelligent packet routing
  • Rapid deployment
  • Improved network management

According to Chris Donlan, Solutions Architect and SD-WAN Evangelist for MicroCorp, “The important thing to understand is that SD-WAN isn’t an it. SD-WAN doesn’t have features and benefits, and it’s not something you can sell like a phone system. Instead, SD-WAN has the technological capability to allow a business to run much more efficiently.”

It may be tempting to position SD-WAN as a cost-saving solution for any customer, but the technology doesn’t necessarily boost everyone’s bottom line. According to Donlan, SD-WAN might not save customers money, but it can help them save on soft costs such as downtime – and it makes networks easier to manage.

The benefits to present first largely depend on the business. “Connectivity assurance, network visibility and management, as well as application performance are important advantages of SD-WAN,” says Donlan, “but network visibility isn’t going to mean anything to a CEO. However, for somebody whose job it is to manage the network, being able to make decisions based on visibility and analysis is incredibly valuable.”

How to pick your SD-WAN provider

Once your customer decides to move forward with SD-WAN, it’s important to properly vet solutions and vendors.

To that end, there are a number of important questions to ask providers while vetting solutions:

  1. How long have you been in business? And other questions such as “How many employees do you have?” or “Who are your investors?” if the vendor is early-phase.
  2. What are your support capabilities? Does the SD-WAN solution offer sub-second response to network problems in case of outage or other network issues? How does the vendor address security?
  3. Can I supply my own network? Or am I obligated to use the carrier’s network?
  4. What type of reporting do you supply? Does the SD-WAN solution offer extensive network-level and application-level visibility and reporting?
  5. How easy is it to manage the solution? How user-friendly is the configuration portal, and how accessible are the provider management services?
  6. What are the dynamic routing capabilities? Does the solution route and reroute traffic dynamically based on the current state of the network?
  7. How scalable are the hardware and architecture? What happens if the customer needs to scale up or down?
  8. What are the capabilities of the platform? What are the availability features, and does it have traffic steering capabilities?
  9. What are the firewall features available? Most have a basic stateful firewall, some have native built in, and others offer next generation firewall features.
  10. Do you offer full support for Static IP requirements? Without Static IP support, your customer can only benefit from SD-WAN on outbound sessions.
  11. What is the cost of ownership? How easy are the deployment and daily management processes, and what sort of maintenance services are available?

Another consideration is the deployment strategy. There are several classifications of providers:

  • Pure-play companies (such as VeloCloud, Bigleaf, and Versa) manufacture hardware, software, and portals that are installed as premise equipment or as part of a service provider’s infrastructure.
  • Networking vendors who are adding SD-WAN are usually big names (such as Cisco and Juniper) and are rolling out SD-WAN products.
  • SD-WAN providers like Cato Networks and Aryaka have specialized SD-WAN backbones. They offer less expensive and more flexible options to MPLS.
  • Network service providers (such as Verizon and AT&T) have picked up a flavor of SD-WAN and tied the technology into their own services, often partnering with the pure-play companies to leverage their SD-WAN products instead of building their own.

Once your client is connected with the best solution provider to meet their needs, it’s time to customize their SD-WAN solution.

Customizing your client’s SD-WAN solution

Companies are looking for solutions that enable them to integrate existing services that meet the requirements of the customer base. The best way to accomplish this is with custom installations, initiated by experienced teams.

To truly get the benefits associated with SD-WAN, there are a few crucial points to keep in mind:

  • Licensing should be simple, and all-inclusive. This simplified connectivity ensures features are more easily configured to meet the needs of the customer, without adding to the price.
  • The solution also needs to incorporate access to hybrid networks to solve connectivity challenges at each location.
  • Wireless is a must as it is no longer a backup service, but instead a key element of productivity.

Here’s a smart way to approach customization:

  • Understand where the customer’s data and applications live: HQ, data center(s), cloud(s), remote sites, or a combination of all.
  • Study the needs and usage patterns of each independent branch so as to truly understand the needs that must be met in order for SD-WAN to deliver value.
  • In the process of designing the right SD-WAN development plan, consider best practice applications that help meet the needs of the individual users.
  • Working in collaboration with internal IT and IP teams is also essential, as they will bear the responsibility for the SD-WAN and anything supported through this new deployment.

SD-WAN in action: Success stories, words from thought leaders and more

The next era of SD-WAN

Erik Knight is the founder and CEO of SimpleWAN, and a foremost expert in the field of cybersecurity. SimpleWAN is leading the charge with SD-WAN 2.0, the next generation of SD-WAN. According to Knight, centralization, prioritization of traffic, and an improved cloud experience are all great, but SD-WAN can deliver even more to the enterprise.

Why the excitement over SD-WAN 2.0? Knight explains: “2.0 combines what people buy in multiple products today. Gone are the days of having to purchase a firewall, managed WiFi, network diagnostics packages, and LAN management all separately. And, gone are the days of needing IT people at every branch location. With 2.0, businesses can go deeper into their networks. This next generation of SD-WAN is for the business ahead of its time and for partners who are ready to sell the future.”

“I don’t actually believe that growth-oriented partners need to be well-rounded. Instead, I think partners must focus on specific verticals and solution sets in which they have – or can develop – a competitive advantage.”
– Cary Tengler, Executive Director of National Partner Programs at Comcast

SD-WAN Partner Success

Cary Tengler is the Executive Director of National Partner Programs at Comcast. Here are his thoughts:

…on the benefits of SD-WAN:

  • The principal benefit is that it frees the end-user from the tyranny of MPLS, a 20+ year old technology that is expensive, difficult to manage and totally unsuited for utilizing cloud-based solutions.
  • SD-WAN removes both the technical and economic barriers and allows end-users to mix and match network technologies to better manage their solutions and desired business outcomes.

…on selling SD-WAN and other hosted technologies:

  • Partners should identify the solutions and verticals in which they have or can establish a competitive advantage.
  • The decentralization of IT budgets requires that sales partners speak the language of the “line of business” manager which typically moves beyond speeds-and-feeds into business outcomes.
  • Focus, focus, focus.
“Good technology is never enough by itself. It’s the combination of technology and good service that makes customers happy.”
– John Hogan, VP of Partner Sales & Business Development for Bigleaf Networks

John Hogan is the VP of Partner Sales & Business Development for Bigleaf Networks. Here’s what he has to say about:

Selling SD-WAN:

  • Partners looking to become educated on their SD-WAN options need 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.
  • 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.
  • Embrace the “every quote” opportunity with SD-WAN.

How Partners can educate themselves on SD-WAN:

  • 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.
  • 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.

How Partners should look at MPLS now that SD-WAN is growing in popularity:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The future of your customers’ WANs is 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.

Case Study: WAN optimization with TPx

A TPx customer was experiencing challenges at a remote location with limited telco infrastructure. A chronically poor circuit was causing issues with poor voice quality; a Managed Service Router (MSR) was key in turning things around.

The Problem:
A Texas-based manufacturer had a “chronic” MPLS circuit in a remote location in Texas.

The Solution:
TPx deployed an MSR at the remote site.

The Results:
The MSR corrected for latency, packet loss and jitter, significantly improving the issues with voice quality and enhanced the customer’s entire online experience.

Case Study: A secure, reliable healthcare network through CBTS

In healthcare, providers need to collaborate in order to support patients that visit different specialists at different locations. A CBTS customer in the healthcare industry was in search of a networking solution for 25 freestanding imaging centers in seven states, as well as hundreds of physicians and medical centers across the country.

The Problem:
Client needed a flexible network infrastructure to securely share patient data across its 25 imaging centers, as well as with medical centers across the United States.

The Solution:
SD-WAN from VeloCloud allowed the healthcare client’s branches to securely share patient data with all relevant parties.

The Results:
The client now has the infrastructure to facilitate collaboration among multiple professionals across the country on behalf of a single patient.

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