SD-Wannabe – Defining SD-WAN

SD-Wan is causing a buzz amongst most IT professionals, and for good reason. SD-WAN is fast becoming the network of choice as more and more companies begin to understand the technology and the advantages that SD-WAN delivers, particularly as cloud computing becomes the norm. In this piece, Anthony Senter, MD of SDWAN Solutions explains why not all products are born equal and highlights the desperate need for industry standards.

With leading industry analysts publishing figures that the SD-WAN industry will be worth anything between £4Bn and £8Bn by 2023 it’s easier to see why every Telco, MSP, reseller, channel partner and agent wants a piece of the action.

Interest in SD-WAN has snowballed over the last 18 months. There are now around 50 bigger SD-WAN providers globally, and competition is booming.

Pure-play SD-WAN pioneers such as Talari and Velocloud are competing against (or partnering with) Tier 1 Telcos who are being forced to change their business models to include SD-WAN. Snapping at their heels are traditional WAN optimisation leaders. Traditional hardware and security vendors are scrambling around trying to squeeze into an SD-WAN mould, Industry exec start-ups, channel distributors and smaller local telco-types are promoting their version of SD-WAN.

Whilst competition is always healthy, there is a downside to the explosive SD-WAN demand –the trend to slap the SD-WAN label on any product or service that is even remotely related to SD-WAN.
The major factor contributing to the ubiquitous use of the term SD-WAN is the lack of any SD-WAN industry standard.

According to Gartner the key components of an SD-WAN solution must include:
1. A lightweight replacement for traditional WAN routers that are agnostic to WAN transport (i.e., support MPLS, Internet, LTE, etc.) and can physically terminate carrier circuits.
2. Support for load sharing of traffic across multiple WAN connections in an efficient and dynamic fashion that can be based on business and/or application policies.
3. SD-WAN solutions dramatically simplify the complexity associated with management, configuration and orchestration of WANs.
4. SD-WAN solutions must provide secure VPN and have the ability to integrate additional network services (i.e., firewall, Wan Optimization, SWG etc.)

Load sharing must not be confused or replaced with load balancing, bonding or failover. Yes, a true SD-WAN solution will usually perform all three to some extent, but also dynamically (characterised by constant change, activity and progress), and in my opinion intelligently, share the packets of a session mid-flow (without dropping the session, call etc) across multiple WAN links, according to defined policies and without the need for manual changes or intervention.

Load balancing is not SD-WAN, bonding is not SD-WAN, failover is not SD-WAN – period!

If we look at the SD-WAN vendors from the top down, firstly the actual vendors, followed by channel and distribution and then by smaller resellers, the SD-WAN product seems to become less and less authentic as we go down the chain. The UK needs a scoring system or different classifications under the SD-WAN banner to easily identify functionality of solutions. Equally important, there should be a set standard, clear definitions or classification as to what a true SD-WAN solution is.

There are plenty of examples of mis-selling and mis-information to be found online and in product brochures of channel partners of all sizes, even the top players. I believe that this is due to suppliers, agents and distributors haste in climbing on the SD-WAN bandwagon without the necessary experience, technical ability and fundamental understanding of SDWAN technology. This is a dangerous path for resellers as end customers are becoming more educated in SD-WAN and are beginning to see through pseudo SD-WAN type solutions resulting in a loss of faith in once trusted suppliers. Particularly smaller end customers rely heavily on the reputation of the channel suppliers and resellers and their product knowledge to provide them with correct information and ultimately the best solutions.

Channel resellers need to invest in on-going technical, sales, implementation and support training for SD-WAN or work with an experienced outsourced partner to provide credible SD-WAN solutions to keep their customer base loyal. SD-WAN technology is changing the way that end customers buy their WANs and the channel must upskill or adapt accordingly or get left behind.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine