“SD-WAN is an MPLS killer” is a common message from SD-WAN vendors trying to drum up new business and from broadband managed service providers competing with traditional enterprise-focused service providers. The idea is simple: enterprises can use the internet as a backbone with lower cost business broadband, use SD-WAN products to manage multiple links, and get rid of more expensive private WAN services.
Sounds good, right? It plays on the frustrations of some enterprise IT professionals who are, for one reason or another, dissatisfied with their current WAN provider and want to kick them to the curb. The fact is, however, that’s like eating a big bar of chocolate: it feels great in the moment but leaves you wanting more after an hour. Here are four reasons — from most to least important — why it’s a misguided message.
No. 1: You’re Not Listening
Every time I hear someone dissatisfied with their WAN, it’s never because of the technology. A few moments of discussion leads you to the real reason for the dissatisfaction — enterprise IT is tired of paying for services that aren’t providing the expected value. The actual reasons for dissatisfaction are numerous:
- The service is expensive for low capacity services,
- Service starts can be very slow taking weeks or months to be delivered,
- Changes to the service can be just as slow, and
- Troubleshooting can be an exercise in frustration.
Every outage and slow service delivery impacts the enterprise’s goals. Enterprises must interconnect over a WAN, so they are forced into this awkward position of having to pay for a service that doesn’t meet expectations. Service providers are listening and building self-service, which are more efficient processes that will address many of these complaints.
No. 2: For Every Dissatisfied Customer, There’s a Satisfied One
In a recent study from GlobalData, we asked network IT professionals about their satisfaction with their WAN provider and none reported being dissatisfied. At worst, respondents reported being neutral, which frankly surprised me. The associated commentary shed some context. A few of the respondents, the 36 percent who were very satisfied, had relatively static WANs and indicated a good working relationship with their account representative. The rest noted some of the issues mentioned above, but none so severe that they’d leave their current provider. Most of the respondents wanted lower WAN costs but the level of service they received was good enough that merely reducing costs was not a primary driver for change. Dissatisfaction with MPLS is overstated and companies still have compelling reasons to rely on it for mission critical and non-mission critical traffic. The motivator for SD-WAN is not to replace their current WAN — it’s to augment their current WAN.
No. 3: Trading One Set of Problems for Another
If you think switching from one service provider to another will magically make the service you receive better, that may not be the case. Sometimes, the bad service that enterprises receive — like slow service, turn up, and slow service changes — are systematic to the service provider, and in response, many are changing internal processes to be more efficient. Other types of bad service are regional, which can span multi-state, a single state, a county, or a town. Sometimes it’s a result of a combination of factors – legacy hardware still in the field, the physical plant is exposed to the elements, the service reps are poorly trained, and so on. These are difficult issues to learn about during an evaluation but they are ones that can plague any service provider. Switching providers is an endless game of whack-a-mole and while SD-WAN makes switching easier by abstracting the interconnections from the WAN, companies still need a WAN provider for the infrastructure.
No. 4: Private WAN Connections Are a Requirement
Many companies require private WAN connections like MPLS for any number of reasons. Perhaps they want to guarantee that an end-to-end SLA guarantees a WAN service offer. Perhaps the companies have regulatory requirements they can best satisfy using private WAN. Perhaps enterprises don’t want to use the Internet as a backbone, and they prefer a private service. Perhaps the company wants to use private WANs for mission critical traffic and offload all other traffic to a business broadband service. Regardless, what is clear is that many companies are tied to private WANs, and that isn’t changing very quickly. Our forecasts out to 2021 show that both MPLS and business broadband is growing year-over-year, thus demand for MPLS will continue for the near future.
Finding The Value of SD-WAN
Enterprise IT doesn’t want to pay less for worse service. Tell a network professional you can cut their monthly WAN spending by two-thirds, but network and application performance will degrade by half, and I bet they won’t even consider it. The cost savings aren’t worth the impact to productivity. Tell that same network professional person you can drastically improve reliable connectivity between branches for less than a traditional WAN circuit while streamlining operations and you’ve got their attention, because now you’re talking value. With a reliable, high-capacity WAN in place, the business can move on with its plans to increase revenue with a faster, more stable WAN.