A Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is a network that abstracts the hardware layer of equipment, making a virtual network overlay. With this technology, users can communicate across branch offices over large distances and at lower costs. SD-WAN also scales easily and rapidly compared to traditional technologies.
SD-WAN can connect several branch locations to a central hub site or cover large areas with a number of different connectivity types, such as a large university campus. Since SD-WAN is abstracted from its hardware, it is more adaptable and accessible than standard WAN technology.
How does SD-WAN work?
To understand whether a Telco is needed to implement SD-WAN, we need to understand how SD-WAN works.
A Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is intended to address a large number of difficulties related to traditional WAN technologies. SD-WAN abstracts away the networking layers, allowing the WAN to use a variety of different connection types, including LTE, MPLS, and broadband internet. This abstraction can improve network data transfer capacity, execution, and repetition, and empowers centralised administration and management.
SD-WAN works by creating a network of SD-WAN devices connected by encrypted tunnels. Each site on the WAN has its own SD-WAN device, and all traffic moves through these devices. Since all devices are centralised managed, change management strategies can be implemented all through the network. When traffic enters an SD-WAN network, the edge device dynamically routes the application traffic onto the best path, depending on the current state of accessible connections.
SD-WAN with or without TELCO?
With the increase in internet bandwidth and greater flexibility of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), SD-WAN implementations without traditional MPLS solutions are becoming increasingly popular. With SD-WAN being offered by a range of cloud providers and SaaS models, organisations now have more options to plan their ROI for shorter network contracts (1-2 years), compared to large MPLS investments, which typically last 3-5 years.
Before starting a SD-WAN implementation, the non-telco provider would need to go through a detailed assessment of the existing network setup. This is crucial for capturing the full requirements of the network in order to plan the design of the new SD-WAN network.
The main factor in picking a non-telco provider for your SD-WAN is the vendor’s unprejudiced perspective in the choices they make for your network. They may need to incorporate a hybrid mix of broadband, MPLS, and 4G/LTE connectivity choices in order to match your organisation’s needs and budget. The other advantage of partnering with a non-telco supplier is the SD-WAN innovation and latest technological features they can bring to the design. With 5G on the horizon, non-telco SD-WAN solutions are better equipped to leverage this technology and provide the required results at lower cost.
When it comes to implementation, there are two main choices for deploying the SD-WAN management platform. One is an on-premises installation, which requires your own hardware and management of infrastructure, which would be handled by your own team. The other is an SaaS-based or cloud-based approach, which removes the need for in-house management and ownership of the infrastructure. This decision is usually made based upon the budget, security and in-house capability of your team. SD-WAN implementations have dramatically increased in the past few years, and according to Gartner by 2023, 90% of WAN-Edge deployments will be either virtual or SD-WAN based.
The increasing awareness and popularity of SD-WAN in the last couple of years has brought this technology to the attention of many enterprise networking teams. They are starting to look into how to leverage SD-WAN solutions in the optimal way.
Many enterprises turn to their existing telecommunication companies to implement SD-WAN with new contracts. But this isn’t necessarily the ideal choice. Telco providers have vested interests in their legacy investments, for example, the fibre optic cables between locations and all of the metro dark fibres links. This implies that behind each client network offer, they’re striking a balance between the profitability of new investments and a return on legacy network investments.
Another issue with going with a telco is the support service or response time to ongoing issues. The response time for change management for end-users is typically longer as a telco would be dependent on external SD-WAN vendors such as Cisco or VMware for answers. Creating a ticket to simply add a new user or some other urgent requirement, and having to wait hours or even days to get support, may not sit very well with the end-customer.
Telcos likewise prefer to control how the client manages the infrastructure, which is typically leased by the telco to the client. They generally implement a sales model that calls for fees each time a change is requested by a client, and are also unlikely to stress innovations or cost optimisations which a cloud-based approach could yield.
Picking your current telco provider may appear simpler and more secure at first glance. However, it is almost certain that you will find a better and more cost-efficient service by either implementing the SD-WAN on your own or with a non-telco provider.
Since SD-WAN is software-defined, it has tremendous potential that should not be underestimated. Experience shows that the SD-WAN implementations from telcos are not adaptable and dynamic in the long term. While telcos are now under pressure to match the market pricing which non-telco vendors are offering, telcos are unlikely to win out, given their dependence on traditional legal investments.
As more customers adopt software defined-technologies and implement SD-WAN, this in turn will drive the demand for internet bandwidth and a decline in traditional WAN technologies such as MPLS.
With the diversity of options now in the SD-WAN space, both from traditional telco providers and non-telcos, there will be greater competition, thereby driving the cost of SD-WAN implementations down further. Additionally, with the new SaaS based offering of SD-WAN, a new ecosystem of SD-WAN vendors is on the rise, which further threatens traditional telcos.