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What to consider when buying SD WAN as a managed service?

Written by 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.

icon-cloud@2xWhy CNaC (Cloud-native Carrier) is the SD WAN as a managed service IT teams have been looking for?

The Cloud-native carrier positions technology as a cloud compute stack which is made accessible via easy to use GUI interfaces. Changes across deployment, user provisioning, security, optimisation and reporting are made simpler. CNaC managed services engineering is much more efficient as support control and understand the complete end-to-end solution.

It is the opinion of Netify (appreciate I'm now speaking for the team) that the service providers have missed the point with Managed SD WAN. I guess I'll apologise ahead of time for any of our telco partners reading this article but putting in place the same restrictive and slow process across SD WAN kind of defeats the software agility benefit.

When we think about managed services, the traditional telco almost always springs to mind. BT, Century Link, Verizon, COLT all offer the usual managed WAN with a service wrap backed up by a commercial SLA agreement.

The Netify team find the service provider approach to WAN as a managed service akin to fitting a square peg into a round hole. The reason is simple - the very same processes and strategy which service providers apply to legacy MPLS surround their managed variant of SD WAN.

Is CNaC (Cloud-native carrier) the alternative approach to buying SD WAN as a managed service?

In the past, the Enterprise put up with the traditional low satisfaction telco approach simply because there wasn't an alternative unless your business had the resources to internally manage your solution. And even then, the telco remained slow to react whenever their involvement became a requirement - think deployment of services.

One of the reasons why managed MPLS is in decline revolves around the lack of agility which does not align with how most businesses work today. See MPLS vs SD WAN article to learn more.

Without totally disparaging the telco experience, the managed service is typically sold at a premium with the experience limited to basic site to site connectivity with telco intervention required to facilitate the changes. Almost all businesses are adopting public cloud applications with source traffic originating from practically anywhere on a global basis. As a workforce, we are almost 100% mobile even if the core of our working day is spent in the office. In order to manage the new world order, agility must be at the core of our approach. The telco relationship takes days, weeks and months to progress whether the requirement is a simple change or a new circuit.

How CNaC is the managed services approach your business should consider

The Cloud-native Carrier is your alternative to the traditional WAN as a managed service approach. The telco solution is to integrate all elements of third party appliances from routers to firewall and WAN optimisation where as CNaC is the convergence of the networking and secure SD WAN security stack into a cloud compute model. All of the intelligence exists in the cloud which removes the need for high-cost edge hardware and the proprietary nature of these devices.

The CNaC approach leverages the network infrastructure which already exists today, i.e. the telco IP network. In this respect, the telco's investment into IP networking over the years is today leveraged by SD WAN technology.

The typical SD WAN market architecture is one of two types:

1. End to end public network with private elements, select from Ethernet leased lines, Broadband, 4G and 5G to create hybrid public and private WAN architecture.

2. Local VPN access into a private core network, ideal for branch infrastructure and client access when deploying for global organisations SD WAN is the interface into each element via easy to use graphical user interfaces.

The average Enterprise is capable of self-service, IT can deploy and provision new users, routing, access policies, QoS, WAN optimisation and security. If all of these elements remain available to the Enterprise, isn't the wrap co-managed rather than fully managed?

As we previously mentioned, the CNaC approach surrounds the vendor running their own software stack. With end to end control, expertise is accessible to the customer on the first call or touchpoint. While CNaC managed services still require interaction with the vendor support team, time to resolution or change is drastically reduced because the expertise and portal exists without the need to transfer and process requirements between teams and processes.

What elements make up an SD WAN managed service?

Last-mile management - the SD WAN vendor market is split between solutions which build in management of the last mile vs vendors which totally leave this aspect to the customer.

Hands free management - the GUI approach to each element is at the core of SD WAN, we do not know of any SD WAN vendor offering a command-line approach other than ground up open-source implementations.

Managed security with threat detection and response - continuous monitoring of the network for compromised malware.

Remote user and branch-office site deployment - Zero touch devices and clients with the ability to deliver and deploy across any connection.

Adds, moves and changes - make instant adds moves and changes with professional services consultancy to validate changes for more complex requirements.

Application performance - reporting across network traffic analytics, uptime, security and user access to make informed decisions based on real time network performance, WAN connection upgrades and uptime.

Why co-managed is the new fully managed?

Finding the right SD WAN solution vendor for your business depends on several factors which is why we've developed Netify. We've come up with the research data-points to help enterprises make more informed decisions specifically to select the best possible managed SD WAN provider based on business needs.

SD WAN does not align well to fully outsourced deployments simply because the management interface is at the core of every approach. Is is, therefore, our opinion that fully managed means retaining control of simple requests but involving the vendor to sanity check any changes where required.

With CNaC, making contact with vendor support is made much more efficient because the stack and knowledge is inherently built into vendor process. In the early stages of setup, the vendor may offer professional services to ensure the right configuration and policies are initially built. We've written extensively about Enterprise SD WAN features and the benefits they offer to Enterprise businesses across cloud and security enablement.

With software-driven capability, SD WAN is providing agility to make changes across the WAN quickly. And, this very agility is why, on the surface, managed SD WAN doesn't make a whole lot of sense. One of the reasons sighted for the demise of MPLS is the SD WAN GUI which essentially positions IT teams to make changes across the entire WAN solution.

Within reach of a few clicks, changes across security, deployment, QoS, reporting and remote can be actioned and made live. In comparison, the reverse is true across managed services where the typical adds, moves and changes process is delivered by service providers.

I suspect many readers will today receive the typical 72 working hour SLA across changes. While transitioning from a fully managed service to co-managed may initially appear to be daunting, this setup is well aligned to SD WAN capability. We conduct SD WAN interface demonstrations to show exactly how services are configured and monitored using sophisticated behind the scenes orchestration with zero-touch SD WAN deployment.

Final thoughts

In the UK, we've traditionally opted for managed services. In contrast, the US has always taken on the managed Cisco edge (other WAN edge vendors are available) when deploying MPLS provider services. In the legacy MPLS world, managed services required configuration resource and expertise via command line and, ultimately, DIY offered limited value.

In general terms, SD WAN has been developed to facilitate control of our WAN services via GUI software tools. The software evolution has brought with it simplicity which is positioning IT teams to take back the control, which in turn is changing the managed SD WAN platform service offering.

If the traditional telco is not putting forward a CNaC approach, your IT team must consider how their managed SD WAN service will provide the agility your business requires.


Robert Sturt Last Updated: 17.08.2020

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