In December 2017, Gaspar Valdivia at Gartner predicted, that by 2020, more than 50% of all WAN refresh initiatives will be based on SD-WAN, up from the less than 5% seen in 2017.  From my experience working with enterprises in the APAC region we are already seeing more than 50% of all WAN RFPs and proposals requesting SD-WAN - at least as an option to traditional routing technology.

With this sea change in WAN edge technology not seen since the wide-scale deployment of MPLS as the WAN technology of choice in the early 2000s, can communication service providers (CSPs) really still offer values in the market and not be relegated to only the role of commoditized ‘transport’ provider? In addition, the increasing use of internet as a transport layer for enterprise applications is also eroding the importance of the private MPLS backbone, the main source of revenue for most global CSPs. Most SD-WAN vendors market themselves as an enabler for enterprises to free themselves from CSPs. Promoting an ability to aggregate many kinds of WAN transports including; MPLS, internet and 4G/LTE from any providers, lowering cost and increasing speed of service provisioning. While these are notable benefits of moving to SD-WAN, the role and values of CSPs in this transformation should not be underestimated.

CSPs are moving with the market and all major global or regional CSPs currently have a managed SD-WAN service in their portfolio. CSPs are combining their strength in managing networks and WAN edge devices over many years to emerge as key players and partners of SD-WAN technology vendors in the market.  The value propositions of a CSP in SD-WAN transformation are:

  • CSPs have established processes and resources for provisioning both transport services (both MPLS and internet) and WAN edge devices and services that very few enterprises can match if they need to coordinate all these activities using their own resources
  • CSPs have established tools, processes and resources for incident management, problem management and change management for both WAN transport and WAN edge devices 24x7, that few enterprises can afford to set up on their own
  • CSPs tend to have superior and extensive technical resources to support services in its portfolio.  SD-WAN being an emerging technology implies that more efforts are required for troubleshooting during an incident, and patch management is expected to be a lot more frequent than when using a traditional router
  • CSP SD-WAN overlay and transport underlay monitoring and management capabilities offer enterprises end-to-end seamless support that are often backed by SLAs.  Even when using internet as a transport layer, CSPs often have long established relationships with ISPs to enable faster resolution of end-to-end routing issues
  • Major CSPs also own and operate an extensive global IP transit network connected to major regional ISPs and cloud providers, providing customers with superior internet routing between key sites, DCs and cloud services
  • CSPs can integrate their suite of cloud-based VNFs (such as cloud-based secure web gateway, cloud-based SSL VPN and cloud-based SD-WAN GW) and dedicated cloud connectivity services such as AWS direct connect and Azure express routes into the enterprise SD-WAN, offering customers multiple deployment models to suit their diverse requirements globally

While many CSPs might be caught off-guard initially in the pace of development in the SD-WAN market, most are embracing the SD-WAN transformation by developing new tools and processes to improve their flexibility and ability to support enterprises moving to SD-WAN.