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How do you compare SD WAN as a Service providers?

4 min. read

Last updated: November 12, 2021

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How do you compare SD WAN as a Service providers?

icon-cloud@2xWhat is the definition of SD WAN as a Service?

SD WAN as a Service offers the Enterprise access to an end to end Software WAN technology stack as a consumption-based solution. The customer is able to pay a monthly cost to access features which typically include: Managed or co-managed SD WAN, WAN edge, backbone connectivity, SASE security with Next-Generation Firewall and Advanced threat protection, connectivity underlay, resilience, route, cloud and WAN optimisation.

The Software WAN market is currently segmented into three market offerings which range from direct SD WAN vendor engagement, traditional service provider, and the specialist IT company offering some form of fully managed or co-managed service. As the market begins to mature, we are typically finding that the 'as a service' operation model is often used as a marketing term rather than a true capability. In order to offer true SDWaaS, the vendor or provider must control the complete technology stack end to end.

There has been a huge uplift in the use of Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings. It is the case that more applications and services are moving to the cloud with leading examples ranging from Office 365 to Google apps and with numerous other SaaS-based productivity applications. For the WAN to become the enabler to connecting these applications, the same SaaS service model should be followed to maintain good application performance and delivery.

And, to meet the demands of remote users with BYOD (Bring your own device) and guest services, SD WAN deployments and orchestration must be accessible in an instant.

What is the main consideration when evaluating SD WAN as a Service?

Regardless of where your business intends to procure technology, i.e. telco service provider, vendor or IT company, there is one critical element to consider: The SD WAN technology stack.

Cloud-native architecture (CnaaC) is the term used to define SD WAN capability with end to end control of the technology stack. In short, 'control of the stack' is where IT teams should begin to evaluate and compare their solution providers and vendors. While traditional service providers (think large telco) will invariably tell you their solution offers SD WAN as a Service, closer examination will demonstrate how their control is limited.

The definition of an 'as a service' product is often open to interpretation. In the world of WAN services, Netify state that solutions which offer instant 'on or off' consumption qualify as a good fit for the definition. Where processes are involved to glue the stack together, we would not typically class the solution within the 'as a service' product-set because the technology cannot easily be consumed.

When evaluating and comparing SD WAN as a Service providers, gaining an insight into how technology and partnerships are integrated will ultimately help your business decide whether to move forward.

Why is the Enterprise buying SD WAN as a Service?

Although SD WAN features are heavily marketed, the majority of solutions are actually focussed on business transformation in respect of simplification. To meet the demands of remote working with SaaS application access, vendors are typically offering powerful orchestration and zero-touch deployment. The need to deploy and managed WAN services quickly is the driving force behind the take-up of SD WAN. Where the traditional WAN was firmly about the HQ and branch-office, the Software driven WAN is about connecting the user in a secure way to their required resource. This current transformation is driving the adoption and transition from MPLS and private IP WAN technologies to agile Internet-based solutions.

The only way to manage users who are consuming their resources via SaaS products is to use the same approach across the WAN. SD WAN features are set behind an easy-to-use GUI interface which is the enabler to avoiding the typical multi-vendor complexity associated with traditional legacy WAN services. With each vendor delivering varying capability, the most crucial comparison points will surround how any behind the scenes partnerships are integrated, and the process behind how changes are deployed. Certain vendors are suggesting that if control of the complete technology stack is not possible (i.e. 3rd party partnerships are involved), the solution should not be positioned as a service.

How does the SD WAN underlay fit into the as a service model?

At some point, the Enterprise must evaluate underlay as the other major component of their SD WAN capability. While IT teams acknowledge the need to investigate the underlay, many believe the connectivity is just a matter of leveraging the lowest cost ISP in the best position to serve their branch-office location. With the majority of SD WAN providers marketing path selection, forward error correction with the ability to sense high latency and packet loss, the connectivity is often perceived to no longer matter. After all, are we not all celebrating the release from high cost, restrictive MPLS network services?

More than 80% of vendor solutions do not mention WAN connectivity as a component of their end SD WAN architecture. The market is generally split as follows:

1. SD WAN vendor only (buy underlay connectivity from any ISP)

2. SD WAN vendor with a private backbone network (buy underlay connectivity from any ISP)

3. SD WAN vendor with public SD WAN gateways (buy underlay connectivity from any ISP)

4. SD WAN vendor with last-mile monitoring (buy underlay connectivity from any ISP)

5. Traditional service provider partnered with selected vendors (typical integration between vendor and connectivity is poor, this outcome reflects the traditional WAN approach)

If we revert to the original statement, which suggests SD WAN as a Service should provide all elements on a consumable basis with control of the stack, only option 3 truly reflects this vision. With this said, if any of these options meet your needs and are delivered in an easy to consume way then the service is complete vs your specific requirements.

Let's say your business is currently in contract for Internet connectivity, perhaps managed by an IT reseller. In this scenario, your remit is to procure only the SD WAN overlay as a service - the stack is the solution components which deliver everything required vs your specific needs.

How to prepare your IT team for comparison?

To get ready to understand the SD WAN as a Service marketplace, you must be clear on the services you wish to consume. In this article, I've outlined the stance which Netify is taking to define the as a service model. As I alluded to earlier in the article, this is our take on the SD WAN as a Service definition - no doubt there are many interpretations across vendors and service providers.


Robert Sturt

Robert Sturt is Managing Director of Netify, an SD-WAN, SASE security & connectivity market network where you can login free to compare and shortlist vendors. Last Updated: 12.11.2021
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