SD-WAN Deployment Options: DIY vs.Cloud Managed

So you can implement SD-WAN. Now you must make a decision: do it yourself or buy it as a managed service?

So you can implement SD-WAN. Now you must make a decision: do it yourself or buy it as a managed service?


As the market for software defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) continues to grow significantly, the way that companies use SD-WAN Deployment Service, and the way that vendors sell it, is evolving.


According to Lee Doyle, director of Doyle Research, there are three main models. At one end of the spectrum is DIY, where end users install and manage software and service. At the other extreme is a fully managed approach, where a vendor performs the installation and ongoing support of the deployment. A hybrid option combines the two, with the provider managing some aspects of installation and administration, and end users can tailor the solution to their needs.


"There is currently a real mix of customer attitudes towards deployments," said Ramesh Prabagaran, senior director of SD-WAN at Cisco. How do companies know which approach is the right one? He says it depends on your comfort level.


Many of the larger companies like Fortune 50 still use this technology, Prabagaran says.


Medium-sized companies are rather mixed. Some have the experience to manage installation and ongoing support, while others want some level of help from their vendor.


The hybrid option with managed service providers, with which customers can tailor certain aspects of provision, is becoming increasingly popular. According to Robert McBride, head of product marketing at software vendor SD-WAN Versa, this approach enables customers to control things like providing new network connections, setting compliance rules, and creating policies for specific applications. Versa, which sells its software to a variety of managed service providers and telecommunications providers, enables it through role-based access controls of multiple tenants in SD-WAN software. In this way, a supplier can enable the provision of certain aspects of the provision by the customer.


DIY vs. Managed SD-WAN

Deciding whether to manage an SD-WAN deployment yourself or use it as a service depends on the client's ability to run it. Does the customer have in-house staff to manage the deployment and resources to redesign WAN connections to branch offices and remote locations? As a rule, the largest companies have sufficient resources, says McBride. Smaller companies do not have this experience and use SD-WAN as a service. Medium customers are divided between the two approaches.

Capital One’s SD-WAN Deployment 

Capital One took a hybrid approach to implementing SD-WAN, Jason Abfalter, chief technology officer for Capital One's retail and direct banking division, said at the Open Networking User Group meeting in New York last fall. The company recently completed its SD-WAN installation at branch number 75 in the past five months. The company performs at least one new installation a week, sometimes even two a day. Capital One does this primarily in-house, but plans to install Versa installations, which are also available during installation, to resolve issues.


Andrew Dugan, senior vice president of technology planning, network architecture and security at CenturyLink, which offers a managed SD-WAN service, says working with a managed SD-WAN provider brings benefits. "Many customers come to us because they not only want to use SD-WAN, but also want to integrate it more fully into a range of network services that we can offer," he says. Customers combine various types of broadband connections, MPLS with a private connection, and even mobile or LTE services at their branches. A service provider can group these services on a consolidated invoice while performing ongoing maintenance.


Another advantage of working with a service provider, according to McBride, is that you can have direct connections to public cloud services, be it IaaS providers like Amazon Web Service or Microsoft Azure, or SaaS providers like Salesforce. It can be difficult for individual organizations to connect directly to cloud providers unless they go through a connection point.

The Next Wave: SD-Branch

There is currently an even bigger trend in the industry, which can be seen as the next development beyond SD-WAN. This involves creating a software-defined branch (SD branch) and managing many network functions in the branch through software. McBride says that many customer sites have six to ten network management devices, including routers, wireless access points, firewalls, unified threat management systems, and WAN optimization. The purpose of SD-Branch is to consolidate all of this into one system.


SD-WAN is considered one of the applications that can be consolidated into an SD branch. If customers want to combine these multiple branches into a single system, they face similar decisions to do it themselves or to work with a service provider. As with SD-WAN, customer appetite depends on the resources they have to move on to the next wave of branch virtualization.


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