30 January 2019

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5 Ways to Evaluate SD-WAN Providers and Get the Best Service

Business Internet Service by Tom Collins

Adopting SD-WAN can provide businesses with a long list of attractive benefits, like lower costs, stronger performance, security, and agility. However, before you can unlock this potential, you need to cut through the confusion of picking the right service.

There are at least 50 distinct options for SD-WAN technology. Growing demand from businesses has resulted in countless new vendors entering the marketplace.

Many organizations are confident in the idea of SD-WAN but unsure of how to start choosing the right solution. The state of the SD-WAN ecosystem is so complex, it's been described by industry analysts as a vendor "free-for-all." If you are wondering whether there's a big difference in SD-WAN Providers, you're not alone. But how do you know which is best?

There are countless resources which detail the features of various SD-WAN solutions. While these are valuable, they don’t necessarily reveal the full picture of differences between providers. In this post, we’ll move beyond the feature sets of solutions to address factors which impact your long-term satisfaction with the system and total cost of ownership (TCO)--things like value, ease-of-use, and flexibility.

SD-WAN Providers: 5 Evaluation Criteria

Software-Defined Wide Area Networking or SD-WAN is a solution to automate and optimize the management of enterprise Wide Area Network (WAN) circuits by providing access to a centralized user portal for administration. SD-WANs are generally cloud-based solutions offered as a service, but may occasionally be deployed on-premises with physical hardware. This technology is designed to measure the performance of multiple networks and dynamically assign bandwidth resources.

SD-WAN is an alternative to time-consuming manual WAN administration and also to costly Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) solutions used in complex enterprise networks. Switching to SD-WAN can enable businesses to improve network performance metrics without manual management or deploying physical routers for MPLS technology.

Learn more about software-defined WAN and alternative technologies in SD-WAN Explained: Answering the Common Misconceptions.

SD-WAN technology must include certain features: 

  • Support for multiple WAN and connection types
  • Easy, remote WAN creation (zero-touch provisioning)
  • Reliable, automated connections
  • Centralized management orchestration console
  • Dynamic resource optimization (path selection)
  • Cloud-Era IT agility

Evaluating vendors according to features is an important way to weed out networking technologies which vendors have rebranded as SD-WAN or solutions which aren't cloud-optimized.

However, remember that a product's features are just one factor that can drive ROI. Accessibility, TCO, ease-of-use, and pricing also impact the quality of SD-WAN providers. Moving beyond a features-based checklist can help you find the best SD-WAN as a service provider for your needs.

1. Accessibility

Adoption of the cloud grew 15% in 2018 to reach record highs and shows no signs of slowing. The average enterprise is using hundreds of distinct cloud services for apps, services, and platforms. "Cloud migration is one of the key drivers of SD-WAN adoption," says Forbes contributor Shawn Farschi. Businesses are embracing managed SD-WAN to optimize the performance of multiple physical and cloud environments.

The "as-a-service" technology model can offer significant benefits compared to physical deployments, and SD-WAN is no exception. Managed SD-WAN deployments through a cloud vendor can allow businesses to realize compelling use cases such as hybrid cloud optimization, hybrid WAN, and granular policy-based network administration. However, achieving these benefits requires an SD-WAN service provider who is accessible to clients.

The best SD-WAN providers don’t just help their clients deploy cloud-based tools for networking. The right vendors help their clients build better WANs and networking strategies on-premises and in the cloud. Leading SD-WAN providers help clients achieve long-term optimization of components such as network security and extensibility.

Consider customer service and relationships when evaluating options for an SD-WAN provider, and fast-track vendors who offer an expert point of contact for customers. You may be granted a dedicated rep when you purchase SD-WAN from a global telecommunications conglomerate, but this representative may not be local or easy-to-reach. If your rep at a huge company is unwilling to help, you may have limited resources for personalized support.

Small, service-oriented providers usually foster responsible business practices. When you partner with a locally based vendor, you're more likely to gain access to a dedicated account rep for face-to-face interactions, on-site support, and individualized guidance.

2. Total Cost of Ownership

SD-WAN solutions generally offer immediate ROI. Businesses may notice instant resource savings based on simpler administration tasks and better workload performance. Compared to alternatives such as SD-WAN or manual administration, SD-WAN solutions are likely to offer hard and soft cost savings through factors such as:

  • Avoiding the costs of MPLS
  • Lighter IT support workloads
  • Increased agility
  • Fewer data bottlenecks
  • Improved system performance
  • Better network visibility

However, not all SD-WAN solutions offer the same ratio of value to cost. Estimating the TCO for SD-WAN solutions can reveal which providers are most likely to drive cost optimization benefits over the system lifetime.

TCO projections for networking technologies such as SD-WAN are generally calculated for a period of five years. Work with short-listed vendors to evaluate how a solution will drive cost savings across the following components:

  • Initial technology investments in hardware, software subscriptions, and support
  • Monthly subscription costs for managed services
  • Savings on security safeguards such as firewalls
  • Estimated network savings via hybrid WAN capabilities
  • IT time savings on provisioning, configuration, updates, and management
  • Network uptime based on provider SLAs and uptime guarantees

TCO calculations for technologies deployed as-a-service are notoriously complex. Cloud services can drive reductions in capital expenditures (CapEx) and operational expenses (OpEx), and it is challenging to project OpEx savings. Never hesitate to ask a prospective vendor if they have any data to share, resources to calculate TCO, or case studies from relevant clients.

Enterprise Management Associates created a complex mathematical model to estimate an average 600% ROI of Riverbed SD-WAN deployments using SteelConnect. According to EMA’s analytics, companies who use Riverbed SD-WAN to manage 100 WANs can anticipate an average five-year ROI of $2,330,788. Businesses switching to Riverbed from costlier MPLS can appreciate 70%+ reductions in both CapEx and OpEx.

3. Ease of Deployment

No two SD-WAN solutions should be architected or deployed identically, even if the same vendor offers them. Your deployment should be designed based on your company's networking needs, including the sites managed, budget, and technology goals.

Complex technical migrations can seem overwhelming to organizations researching managed SD-WAN services. However, the right vendor should do the majority of heavy lifting for clients. Providers should offer ease of deployment and intelligently architected solutions.

While provider processes can vary, a comprehensive SD-WAN solution should be built based on an in-depth analysis of your needs. The provider should offer a defined onboarding process for clients to design right-sized deployments according to:

  • Quantity of remote sites
  • Number of users
  • Premises and cloud apps and services
  • Workload patterns
  • Anticipated WAN usage
  • Budget

These factors can be used to determine which types of WAN connectivity architectures are available, and an optimal model for deployment. A provider’s deployment plan should incorporate a clear strategy for monitoring network data after migration for continuous improvements.

4. Ease of Management

While a centralized, intuitive administration portal is a defining feature for SD-WAN technologies, you're not necessarily guaranteed ease of management. You may gain access to a point-and-click graphical user interface, but the wrong solution won't make it easier to optimize network performance.

User satisfaction can vary because SD-WAN providers don't all take a uniform approach to software-defined networking. The ease of successful management can be impacted by how well a solution fits your needs and requirements for complexity. Factors which influence ease of management just as much as the user experience (UX) include:

  • How a solution integrates with your existing architecture
  • Appropriate accommodations for traffic prioritization needs
  • Transparency across WAN, hybrid environments, and users

If you've never deployed an SD-WAN before, it's difficult to understand how solution differences impact ease of management. However, understanding your goals and needs can reveal which types of management capabilities are important. If your business has complex requirements, such as heightened network security or hybrid deployments, carefully consider if the following is offered:

  • Resource prioritization by traffic or application type
  • Sufficient control over network security policies
  • Traffic and application QoS for premises and cloud deployments
  • Integration with legacy WAN infrastructure
  • Support for legacy protocols for routing
  • Advanced security capabilities

Ease of management played a significant part in Atlantech Online's decision to offer clients the Riverbed SteelHead SD-WAN solution. Riverbed provides a clean, intuitive management portal and high-quality hardware to simplify management for even the most complex enterprise deployments. Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for SD-WAN states “Riverbed is a fit for all organizations seeking SD-WAN, WAN optimization or both within an integrated device."

5. Pricing

SD-WAN pricing can vary significantly between providers. It's important to not only find a solution which fits your budget, but consider whether a provider's pricing model makes sense. The cost you pay for an SD-WAN solution should have a clear tie to value.

Robust, industry-leading solutions are likely to cost more than providers with limited features and support, but the costlier solution may have better TCO. Avoid comparing apples to oranges when evaluating vendor pricing. Instead, take pricing into account as one component of the system’s potential to drive ROI.

Work to understand how providers can meet your budget and goals based on potential value delivered via enhanced support, engineering expertise, or 24/7 monitoring.

The best SD-WAN providers aren't necessarily the absolute cheapest, but their product is priced reasonably based on value. Factors to consider when evaluating provider pricing include the quality of managed services, SLAs, and agility.

Quality of Managed Services

The definition of a managed service offering can vary significantly between cloud vendors. Fully managed services should include a customized deployment and lifetime management of system components.

Cost Optimization Potential

SD-WAN can enable organizations to optimize cost in numerous ways. Consider whether solutions support your cost and performance goals, such as features to seamlessly switch workloads between the cloud and premises-based resources.

Service-Level Agreements

Managed SD-WAN providers should provide an SLA which dictates network performance and parameters for metrics such as availability, latency, and jitter. The SLA should encompass network health on-premises, in the cloud, and hybrid environments.

Agility

SD-WAN can deliver value by automating agile network optimization. Application-aware routing is an essential feature for SD-WAN, defined as path optimization based on the requirements of an individual application.

Flexibility

Providers should offer the flexibility to meet your unique business requirements in the present and future. SD-WAN should provide support for your use cases and compliance requirements. Solutions should offer flexible features, such as tiered service support which prioritize workloads in order of mission-critical, high, medium, and low-priority performance.

Partnering With A Telecom Provider

There's no question that comparing SD-WAN providers is a confusing, complicated process. However, evaluating solutions based solely on features is a mistake. Partnering with the right managed services vendor is critical to unlocking SD-WAN's potential. The best SD-WAN providers deliver accessible, cost-effective, and easy-to-use solutions.

Streamline your search by asking your telecom vendor if they offer SD-WAN services. Purchasing SD-WAN from your cloud communications partner could offer the potential to save money through bundling and achieve superior deployment architecture, direct cloud connectivity, and exceptional quality of service (QoS). Atlantech_Unified-Communications-as-a-Service_UCaaS







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About the author:

Tom Collins (Twitter, LinkedIn) - is the Director of Enterprise Sales & Marketing for Atlantech Online. He has over 20 years of professional experience in the Internet Service Provider industry and is known for translating technology into positive results for business. A native of Washington, DC, a graduate from University of Maryland (degrees in Government & Politics and Secondary Education), Tom is also a five-time Ironman finisher.