The service provider isn’t worrying about cutting into its own MPLS business. Rather, it sees this managed SD-WAN service as a big opportunity, initially, to serve large enterprises that have a lot of branch locations.
Many of those branch locations are connected with T-1 lines that aren’t robust enough for today’s connectivity needs. With SD-WAN, the enterprise can supplement or replace those T-1 lines with broadband and manage all their connections as one.
Some of these enterprises had already been going down the do-it-yourself-path with SD-WAN, according to Eric Barrett, network product management director at CenturyLink.
“But just doing broadband at 200 locations, you might have to manage 15 different providers,” he says.
After an enterprise contracts with all the necessary broadband providers, it then would have to find an SD-WAN vendor. It would need to figure out which hardware to house a director and controller. It would need to create data center relationships. At the end of the day, it might be managing as many as 20 vendors for its SD-WAN.
“Most customers want to be less in the network business and not more in the network business,” says Barrett.
CenturyLink already has data centers, and it’s using Versa’s technology for the SD-WAN director and controller. To provide the underlying local broadband access, CenturyLink has its own network, of course. And it has created relationships with Comcast, Charter, Time Warner Cable, and Cox to provide third-party broadband when out of region. It’s also partnered with two aggregators — Vital and Sage Networks — to provide broadband in all other regions of the U.S. that aren’t otherwise covered.
The service provider also plans to eventually expand its SD-WAN service internationally.
“We’ll be able to deliver SD-WAN outside of CenturyLink,” says Bill Hurley, CenturyLink’s chief marketing officer.
SD-WAN vendors have been touting the benefits of their technology for enterprises as a way to cut back on their expensive MPLS connections. A recent study conducted by Silver Peak and IDG found that unhappiness with MPLS, especially its cost, is spurring the adoption of SD-WAN.
So why does a service provider who earns great margins with MPLS want to get into the SD-WAN business?
CenturyLink is angling its SD-WAN offering more as an opportunity for enterprises to supplement or replace their aging T-1 connections at branch sites.
“We haven’t heard of any customers moving from core sites where they want to move from MPLS to broadband Internet,” says Barrett. “We don’t see this as a problem in the next several years.”
Barrett says enterprises want to keep their MPLS connections for core sites, supplement or replace their T-1s with broadband at remote sites, and manage it all under one SD-WAN technology.
“They’re not saying ‘I want to move away from MPLS day 1 or even day 2,’ but they want to bring branches into the fold,” says Barrett.
For the customer, SD-WAN costs about the same as the T-1 connection. But with SD-WAN they get higher bandwidth via the broadband, which they need to handle demands such as more digital signage, video conferencing, and other cloud-based applications.
The T-1 costs on average about $300-$400 per month, says Barrett. The CenturyLink SD-WAN provides 20 Mbp/s and costs $350 per month.
“It solves a problem for the customer,” says Barrett. “It’s not a write-down in revenue. We look at it as an opportunity. There are a whole lot of retail and restaurants that service providers weren’t winning. Aggregators were winning. Others may play defense and not take an aggressive approach.”
SD-WAN Trial Program
To ease customer adoption of its SD-WAN offering, CenturyLink is providing businesses with a free 90-day proof-of-concept (PoC) program to trial the service at up to five sites.
They’ll receive a customer premises device provided by CenturyLink and the SD-WAN software technology from Versa, all bundled into one service with the necessary broadband connections and a customer portal. Customers can manage their own policies or have CenturyLink manage them.
CenturyLink SD-WAN is being piloted today by more than 10 enterprises and will be generally available in the third quarter of 2016.
CenturyLink sees Ethernet services as another candidate for SD-WAN, and the company has “several efforts underway” to explore that opportunity, adds Barrett.