Software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) took off in 2016 as enterprise IT people realized they could save lots of money using the technology. The math is pretty straightforward: Eliminate some expensive MPLS connections, replace them with cheaper broadband connections, and manage it all with SD-WAN software.
It makes for an easy and convincing sales pitch. So, not surprisingly, lots of vendors have materialized to offer SD-WAN.
However, some issues have arisen pertaining to the nascent technology. A couple of wrinkles include the complexity of establishing broadband contracts with myriad providers and the need to include the cloud in branch office networking.
Contracts With Broadband Providers
If a company wants to manage all its branch offices with SD-WAN, it needs to corral all the contracts with the various broadband providers that are supplying the connections to those offices. Then, the SD-WAN can centrally manage the connections.
Gary Sevounts, Aryaka’s chief marketing officer, says, “Companies are stitching together agreements from tens of service providers. They become service providers themselves.”
In some cases, traditional service providers – such as CenturyLink — are creating connectivity agreements with other service providers, saving their customers from having to do this. And that could turn out to be a good thing for CenturyLink, allowing it to expand its footprint beyond its own regions.
But for global enterprises wanting to use SD-WAN, or for global service providers offering SD-WAN, that entails a lot of work.
John Isch, a practice director at Orange Business Services, says, “Customers aren’t looking to create contractual relationships with ISPs for each of their locations globally. A key element of Orange’s hybrid network solutions is our ability to source business-quality local ISP services in over 100 countries globally all on one contract with the customer.”
For its part, Aryaka stresses the international aspect of its SD-WAN, which is built on a global private network that the company put together by buying Layer 2 capacity from Tier 1 and Tier 2 service providers.
Similarly, the Canadian vendor TELoIP established points of presence (PoPs) across North America. TELoIP’s Founder and CTO Pat Saavedra’s original vision was basically that of a service provider. He wanted to create technology to deliver voice, video, and data over the Internet. “It didn’t take long to recognize we needed multiple and diverse connections,” Saavedra says. The company now sells a multitenant, multi-PoP overlay SD-WAN network.
But for those vendors that don’t have PoPs, they may be sticking their customers with a big task to wrangle all those broadband contracts.
It’s Getting Cloudy
Many of the startups that are peddling SD-WAN created their technologies to help enterprises save money on private branch connections. But now, some vendors are saying it’s crucial for SD-WAN to connect to the cloud.
“Most SD-WAN startups are like-for-like replacements of existing VPNs,” says Nuage’s founder and CEO, Sunil Khandekar. “But our premise is: the nature of connectivity itself is changing because of the cloud. Don’t just connect branches together and forget about automating the cloud.”
According to Nuage (which is owned by Nokia), the key is using a single network policy framework that distributes business policies across both the WAN and the data center. For example, with Nuage’s SD-WAN, branches can securely connect to workloads in a public cloud such as Amazon Web Services (AWS). And the SD-WAN will enforce the same uniform policies for all branches.
CloudGenix also added functionality to its SD-WAN so that remote offices can access applications in the data center. The vendor’s customers say they want to specify an application policy for performance, security, and compliance. And they want to have it delivered from the data center or the cloud, across the WAN, to the remote office.
The vendor 128 Technology doesn’t even like the term “WAN.” Patrick MeLampy, COO of 128 Technology, said the concept of a wide area network is becoming less relevant. “What is the definition of WAN?” MeLampy asked. “It’s a wide area private network managed by one party. How does that work when you have 10 different parties?”
By different parties, he’s referring to all the different data centers and networks that enterprise application traffic might traverse. The traffic may start in a private network but then travel to a variety of other private and public networks, before terminating in the private network.
Even though the company offers a more efficient and economical way for branch offices to connect to each other, it doesn’t call its service “SD-WAN.” It’s more focused on creating an end-to-end policy control for a service.
Juniper Networks also identified the importance of the cloud to branch offices, and was forward-thinking enough to name its SD-WAN technology “Cloud-Enabled Branch (CEB).” CEB manages branch connections securely. And branches can deploy applications and services from the cloud via an open platform for third party services.
Any SD-WAN vendors that failed to consider the impact of the cloud may need to do some more engineering in 2017.