Most organizations struggle with managing their carriers, bandwidth, and adding new applications to their WAN. The complexity, cost, and time of managing these networks has a real impact on their ability to respond quickly and that, in turn, has real business impact. Enter SD-WAN, which allows companies to vastly simplify their network, making it more agile, and in the process, making the business more nimble as well. Research firm IDC estimates that worldwide SD-WAN infrastructure and services revenues will reach $8.05 billion in 2021—a CAGR of nearly 70%.

White Paper Download: Navigating the SD-WAN Marketplace: A Guide to Selecting the Best Option for Your Business

There are a few consumption models for SD-WAN, however, and businesses need to choose carefully based on their unique requirements. Let’s look at these models and the benefits—and challenges—for businesses:

  1. Carrier-managed SD-WAN, also called SD-WAN-as-a-service. For many businesses, the easiest path is allowing carriers to manage their network end-to-end, shifting their network spend entirely into an OpEx model. This is an “easy button” for many businesses—it’s simple to manage since they don’t own the equipment and don’t need extensive in-house expertise or technical knowledge of routing protocols. It also takes the guesswork out of vendor selection; if the SD-WAN vendor selected by the carrier goes out of business, it’s not the enterprise’s problem.

However, there are several trade-offs to a carrier-managed model, and enterprises may find they don’t have the business agility they need or expect:

  • It may be more expensive. Because carriers have built expensive MPLS networks, they want to leverage them, even if the customer only requires less-expensive commodity broadband service.
  • Service turn-up can be slow, which can impact business processes and the company’s bottom line. While design time may be reduced due to templatization of the managed offering, most carriers aren’t known to be agile or fast.
  • Businesses put all their eggs in one basket when they choose a carrier-managed service, making it difficult to expand to other geographic areas where the provider may not offer service.
  • Carriers may be unwilling or unable to customize the solution to meet individual customers’ specific business requirements. Don’t assume that because a carrier is leveraging a specific SD-WAN solution that all features will be supported.
  • One of the primary benefits of SD-WAN is the ability to constantly monitor network conditions in real-time and ensure that applications take the optimal path through the network. Asking the carriers to police their networks for packet loss and jitter can be a conflict of interest when financial penalties and SLAs are on the line.
  1. Customer managed SD-WAN, in which the enterprise pays the carrier for the WAN service, but owns and manages the routing devices at the network’s edge. This allows businesses to leverage the SD-WAN solution that best meets their business needs, providing the agility they need to customize services for their specific use case. They also have increased flexibility in carrier selection for the underlying network transport.

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However, this model drives internal costs higher because enterprises need to have expert-level resources in house to implement and manage SD-WAN solutions. The business is also ultimately responsible for ensuring devices are configured correctly. Although the agility of this model is appealing, it also leaves the customer to sort through the myriad SD-WAN vendors to find the right solution.

  1. Partner-managed SD-WAN, which might be the best of both worlds. A third-party partner or managed services provider can bring together multiple carrier solutions and overlay the best SD-WAN product for a customer’s specific business needs. Partners can also provide consolidated billing across a large number of services.

The benefits of a partner-managed solution include:

  • The flexibility to consume SD-WAN services in a CapEx, OpEx or blended model
  • Carrier-neutral solutions
  • Accelerated time to market
  • Customized solutions without complex management requirements

The task of choosing an SD-WAN solution can be daunting, but it starts with the selecting the consumption model that works best for your business and its ever-changing needs.