The Achilles Heel of Software-defined WAN & How to Leverage It

By Matt West

Director of Telecommunication Services, NPI

August 09, 2017

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The hype continues to grow surrounding software-defined (SD) WAN as the future of networking. While it’s true that SD WAN brings better control and efficiencies to corporate networking, its benefits can often introduce new complexities and management issues. One example is its “finding home” technology. SD WAN appliances are pre-configured so that the end user just plugs them into an internet network and they’re ready to go.  This may sound like a dream for IT network management, but there are several new cost and service management issues that should be taken into consideration – especially for the global enterprise.

The primary assumption in the "plug and play" SD WAN concept is that a reliable, cost effective and high-speed internet connection is readily available. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. There are a few parts of the world (parts of Europe and Asia) where a single supplier can install the same flavor of broadband internet (generally DSL) in a way that makes it easy to manage costs and service performance.  However, there are many other parts of the world – including the U.S. – where this is an inaccurate assumption.

In the U.S., broadband internet comes in hundreds of flavors and is delivered by more than 25 major providers.  The flavors may include only three media types (DSL, cable and Ethernet), but there are numerous options for uplink speed, downlink speed, dynamic IP, static IP, etc.  The suppliers include all the major telecomm carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Centurylink, FairPoint), cable (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter Spectrum, Cox Communications) and many more. 

The chances of just one or two of these providers delivering service to all enterprise locations are slim – and that means IT network management has its arms full. Things get especially challenging for the global enterprise that’s charged with managing numerous providers across multiple geographies and keeping costs and service standards predictable. Each provider, and likely each service, has a different price point, a different time to deliver service, a different SLA, and so on.

In these circumstances, enterprises need to focus on leverage. It may not be possible for the company’s broadband internet needs to be met by just one or two providers, but it is possible to optimize provider agreements for more pricing and service standardization (and thus predictability). One solution is to define minimum standards for internet uplink bandwidth and force a single price for each type (as long as the minimum uplink is satisfied). In addition to obtaining fixed pricing, enterprise customers can also demand standard service intervals for various aspects of the installation life cycle – including response times on order confirmations, qualification time frames, mean time to repair, etc.  The larger the footprint, the more the enterprise customer can demand.