Get ready for SD-WAN: By Neil Wilson, Head of Products and Marketing, Virtual1 

SD-WANs are not everything they’re cracked up to be yet, but they soon will be, so the channel needs to be ready. The rise of the SD-WAN is a curious conundrum for our industry – it’s reminiscent of the introduction of the iPhone into business communications. The iPhone was more expensive, less integrated and more consumer focused than its business contemporaries, but that didn’t matter, people wanted one. 

Of course, the secret of this attraction was an easily accessible customer experience where Apple had done the heavily lifting, making the complex simple for the user.

In many ways the SD-WAN is the connectivity industry’s iPhone. In a world where the rest of the IT and telecoms estate can be delivered 'as a Service', many enterprises have become frustrated by expensive, inflexible connectivity services with limited service visibility. 

The very definition of what a SD-WAN solution actually is, and what features it contains, are still very much up for debate

They want the nirvana of a cheaper, more flexible, higher performing and simple wide area network. This has seen increasing volumes of end customers asking specifically for an SDWAN solution, even if they are not entirely sure what it is and if they actually need it! Sounds familiar, right?

In truth, SD-WANs aren’t quite there yet. They have been marketed as the solution to these challenges, and for many businesses they will be, but in common with many breakthrough technologies it is not necessarily that simple. 

The very definition of what a SD-WAN solution actually is, and what features it contains, are still very much up for debate. 

I sat on a panel debate recently and the channel audience was somewhat surprised to hear that SD-WANs can be more expensive, more complex to manage and introduce new security challenges to businesses. 

The challenges of network management control in real-time present the big opportunity for the channel to drive increased revenues

With great power over a network comes great responsibility to use that power both knowledgeably and effectively. Furthermore, skills and knowledge being prerequisite was something not previously encountered with a managed MPLS solution. 

So, while it may seem from the blurred definitions and overly ambitious expectations that the SD-WAN sits in Gartner’s Trough of Disillusionment, I doubt it will be there for long. 

In July, the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF), helped the industry take a good step forward by releasing its definition of SD-WAN services. Representing a collaboration of the largest global carriers and hardware vendors, they have come together to specifically describe the nature and terminology of SD-WAN solutions. 

It describes requirements for an application-aware, over-the-top WAN connectivity service, managed via a management interface that uses policies to determine how application flows are directed. These services can operate over multiple underlying networks irrespective of the underlay technologies or service providers who deliver them.

In the real world, this translates to a network that can dynamically make decisions to route traffic most effectively, based upon network performance and application demands. Most significantly those policies can also be adapted in real-time by a customer business directly, delivering the real-time visibility and control of their network that many have been demanding.

While the service definition isn’t a page turner, this is a highly significant step to delivering consistent products to the market and enabling businesses to have a clear understanding of what they are buying.

This certainty is reflected in a new IDC Forecast, also from July, that predicts the value of the SD-WAN Infrastructure Market will hit $5.25 billion by 2023.

In my view, the challenges of network management control in real-time present the big opportunity for the channel to drive increased revenues. Many businesses will lack the skills, expertise and time to take on the management of these solutions. Offering a managed or co-managed SDWAN solution to end customers will give them much of the safety net they will need to realise the utopia of an SDWAN solution.

And, research by mid-market growth analyst ACG shows that this isn’t just my view, the managed SD-WAN market is growing at a CAGR of 59 pert cent, double that of the SD-WAN market as a whole.

This significantly higher growth rate in managed SD-WAN services really takes us back to the heart of the matter for me. The rise of SD-WAN is really a drive for a better customer experience and a faster response to changes for end businesses, rather than a hankering after new networking technology. It is this focus on customer experience that has always been the channel’s speciality.


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