What is Managed SD WAN? (With Provider Comparison)
A managed software-defined wide-area network (SD WAN) is a software-controlled, automated, virtual WAN infrastructure which is offered by managed service providers allowing companies to outsource their end to end requirements. Typical managed SD WAN includes web based reporting, automation, traffic routing, configuration, SLA, NOC monitoring and support.
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SD WAN technology is not new; it’s been around since 2013. But the rapid changes in the global business and tech environments make its capabilities more valuable to enterprises than ever. This post describes the trends that make managed SD WAN solutions a practical, worthwhile telecom option.
SD WAN as a service vs managed SD WAN
Managed SD WAN refers to a service that a user typically pays a service provider for installing and delivering connectivity and services such as software monitoring and maintenance services. For service providers, managed SD WAN can be used by the provider to offer value-added services, including SD WAN security improvements. These services often include service level agreements (SLA) guaranteeing a minimum service level.
What is the purpose of SD WAN?
SD WAN as a Service refers to SD WAN connectivity as a managed service provided through software orchestration to users. SD WAN architecture is attractive because it can replace the typical WAN router and supports transport technologies, including MPLS, internet and cellular networks. An SD WAN also enables load sharing between WANs, facilitating faster data transfer. The SD WAN market value grew by 636.4 million between 2015 and 2017. Frost & Sullivan predicts it will be worth $1.50 billion by 2022.
Why SD WAN?
Times have changed as enterprise software and services are increasingly delivered by cloud and SaaS providers. While traditional customers connect directly to the company’s data centre to get business application functionality, today, users can access many of these applications in the cloud. In other words, traditional network infrastructure is no longer helpful for a business due to its reduced efficiency. Backhauling all traffic from a local office to the headquarters introduces latency, affecting performance.
The many faces of SD WAN-based Services
Rather than routing traffic based on addresses, SD WAN-managed solutions are application-aware. They automatically choose the “best” routes as defined by business requirements. This approach enables MSPs to control traffic in changing network conditions. Managed SD WAN services replace conventional branch routers with virtualized or appliance-based software. Intelligent routing transmits data packets via the most secure and efficient lines available.
SD WAN tools and services
The responsiveness of SD WAN solutions enables many tools and service options.
The IT and telecom assets kept at each branch of a customer’s facilities are collectively known as customer premises equipment (CPE). Automated SD WAN management capabilities reduce or eliminate the time-consuming tasks of seeking, measuring, and responding to out-of-limit network behaviour, improving the user experience.
CPE WAN Management Protocol
This protocol enables IT professionals to manage on-premises IT and telecom assets remotely and automatically. This method supports many capabilities, such as automatic configuration, performance and status management, and software module management.
Public cloud support for global ISP connectivity
Major ISPs such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and others operate and send traffic across long-distance networks on SD WAN software. Along these networks, SD WAN packages enable customers to build automated, site-to-site connectivity over global distances.
Configuration policy rules
SD WAN policy rules specify services, applications, and network traffic distribution profiles. These specifications determine how the software firewall selects the optimum path of an incoming packet. Configuration-related tasks include:
Planning the locations of network hubs and branch offices, link requirements, and IP addresses.
Planning link bundles and VPN security requirements for private links.
Identifying the applications that will optimize SD WAN quality of service.
Managed SD WAN connectivity
Managed SD WAN services are cloud-based security and connectivity capabilities provided by managed service providers (MSPs). Centralized SD WAN control functions use predefined application and routing policies to steer traffic along paths defined by enterprise rules and real-time network conditions. Business-driven SD WANs continuously adapt to changes such as congested traffic and outages, which can affect application performance.
SD WAN infrastructure management capabilities
Especially in organizations with many remote offices, SD WANs support efficient management by reducing recurring network costs and providing network-wide data control and visibility. Streamlining technology use by using centralized management methods. SD WAN capabilities make network management more efficient compared to traditional wan by supporting these capabilities:
100-percent centralized management. Network managers can easily make near-real-time changes to several sites by assigning multiple locations to a policy template.
Web-based consoles. SD WANs simplify network routing and provisioning tasks by using web-based consoles. IT professionals can reduce the time and effort of management tasks by detecting network changes and coordinating new or modified network configurations.
Automation. SD WAN automation enables network managers to pre-configure or create dynamic responses to network traffic conditions.
Performance-based policy routing. IT leaders can simplify network management by creating application-specific, performance-based policy routes for network traffic. Or the software can make effective decisions on the fly.
Detailed reporting. Advanced SD WAN management platforms provide automation and centralized coordination capabilities. Platforms also include performance dashboards, which give network managers complete visibility into how applications perform on a network.
Quick setups for secure communication. SD WANs also reduce the time required to set up secure communications services. Network administrators can create secure connections in minutes, not days or longer.
Service-level agreements. Say goodbye to connecting offices by leasing dedicated Internet lines with a service level agreement (SLA). Now, organizations can use a private WAN to connect their offices stably and securely.
NOC services. Centralized, automated SD WAN capabilities streamline operations processes at an organization’s network operations centre (NOC). IT admins can use network monitoring to discover and remediate problems and reduce operations costs.
But what about security-related functions and problems? Modern network connectivity solutions have that covered.
SASE Security Across Managed SD WAN Solutions
SD WAN capabilities combined with cloud-based security services deliver uniform policy enforcement and network access control for devices, applications, and users. In a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solution, elements enable security functions to extend into physical networks. SASE solutions include SD WAN software to manage, control, and monitor connectivity between data centres, branch locations, and network edges.
The ins and outs of managed SD WAN solutions
Given the glowing reports of SD WAN solutions one often reads, it’s useful to look at the big picture issues of SD WAN operations. The following table provides the pros and cons of moving from legacy connectivity gear to an SD WAN solution.
Table 1: Pros and Cons of SD WAN Services
|Advantages||Disadvantages and Caveats|
|SD WANs offer time and cost savings enabled by easy access to portal configuration, centralized management, and basic security functions.||Businesses considering an SD WAN purchase need internal experts who understand the type of profiles to implement and how to provision MPLS edge devices with firewall security capabilities.|
|SD WAN vendors offer standalone devices with more robust capabilities than traditional legacy routers can provide.||SD WAN capabilities cannot satisfy the requirements of all networks, so cost savings might not always be possible.|
|Combining SD WAN and security capabilities in a single device consolidates communications and security functions.||Security marketed as a simple aspect of SD WAN deployment is misleading. IT or security professionals must have the knowledge and experience to recognize the consequences of making changes to system security.|
|SD WAN software makes application and user behaviour data more available and easier to understand.||Using zero-touch configuration’ across the internet can encourage a hands-off approach to networking because ‘it just works.’|
|Not every SD WAN service is equal. SD WAN sometimes services offer simple packet inspection functionality. Others deliver “good enough” services that might not be.|
The advantages of SD WAN over MPLS communications are substantial. But so are the caveats that repeat the same message: If you must manage SD WAN technology and solutions in-house, ensure that your IT team has the sophisticated knowledge and experience you’ll need to reap the benefits.
Finding the best managed SD WAN and SASE providers
The two quite different solutions meet different goals and operate in various deployment environments. SD WAN provides network reliability and performance comparable to MPLS systems but without dedicated circuits. On the other hand, SASE meets organizations’ increasingly complex security requirements and addresses an SD WAN limitation. SASE solutions address this limitation by combining optimized SD WAN network routing and security capabilities deployed as a cloud service. The convergence eliminates the need to reroute content back to the data centre for inspection and security policy enforcement services. Eliminating the need to divert traffic to headquarters simplifies data management and keeps network traffic moving quickly and reliably. Table 2 compares SD WAN and SASE capabilities and lists vendors who provide SASE capabilities.
Table 2: Using SD WAN versus SASE Solutions
SD WAN Capabilities
SASE/SD WAN Providers
|SD WAN enables organizations with multi-branch communications to:||SASE solutions combine network connectivity and security functions with SD WAN capabilities. The resulting solutions:||These vendors offer SASE solutions that integrate cloud-based security features and responsive, easy-to-manage connectivity:|
|Route WAN traffic efficiently to ensure optimum service delivery.||Provide responsive, secure network access for organizations with hybrid cloud environments.||
|Improve network speed and reliability.||Extend networking and security capabilities beyond where they’re typically available.|
|Streamline data and application management.||Enable users at any location to use a firewall-as-a-service, secure web gateways, zero-trust network access, and a wide variety of threat detection methods.|
|Manage connectivity across the WAN from a single dashboard.|
|Connect to cloud platforms more quickly, reliably, and efficiently.|
|Automate virtual private gateway deployment in cloud service environments.|
SD WAN management options
A careful look at Table 1 suggests that there’s more than one way to manage SD WAN and SASE-based networks. When is it better to outsource management duties or make it a DIY initiative? Table 3 has some answers.
Table 3: Who Should Manage SD WAN Services?
|DIY Management||Co-managed Services||Fully Outsourced Services|
|Best for:||Best when organizations prefer to:||Best when your organization:|
|Companies who prefer to control their SD WAN network on-premises.||Avoid a significant startup investment in physical and human resources.||Prefers to avoid upfront investments in hardware, software, and human capital.|
|Technology decision-makers who believe that there’s too much risk in outsourcing network management.||Spread SD WAN deployment costs through a cloud-based subscription service.||Prefers to spread SD WAN deployment costs by choosing subscription, cloud-based services.|
|Companies have a robust IT department with a specialized communications team with deep networking knowledge.||Wants to delegate selected network management functions such as system-wide connectivity.||Lacks the workforce or IT knowledge to manage SD WAN networks.|
|Discovers that professional services support can provide significant value (faster time to value of critical SD WAN networks, for example).|
|IT/security team lacks the skills, knowledge, and experience to run modern networks.||-||-|
Going Global with SD WAN
In marketing materials, you’ll often see references to SD WAN technology enabling “connect-from-anywhere” communications. Recently, this claim has become more than hype. When combined with global network backbones and point of presence (PoP) technologies, SD WAN can extend reliable, centralized, easy-to-manage connectivity to anywhere with reliable broadband or fiber connection. So, now it’s possible to build global SD WAN capabilities.
Why bother? By running an SD WAN on top of your existing network infrastructure, you can significantly improve network performance while you expand network capabilities. Benefits include:
Network performance enables consistent service quality and application performance throughout the network.
Efficient data and application management helps you manage all applications and data running in the global SD WAN from a centralized management panel.
More flexible operations enable you to use several internet services or switch or add services easily.
Scaling SD WAN networks
Building a global SD WAN network starts as any well-run project begins, with planning. This process begins with project managers identifying major stakeholders and business requirements to support a design meeting organizational business goals. Next, assess your reason for changing your network design. Will the change support organization-wide business goals? Then, choose how to design, implement, and start your SD WAN network. Your choices include:
- Doing it in-house (DIY)
- Outsourcing network design
- Installation and startup
- Choosing an SD WAN managed service provider (MSP)
Next, decide on the type of SD WAN network connectivity you will use:
- Private, such as MPLS or Ethernet
- Public, such as dedicated internet or broadband
And finally, unless this will be an in-house initiative, you must choose a partner to design and build your network.
Finding the right company to help build your network
When it’s time to look for a network design and deployment partner, you need someone who can make the most of SD WAN capabilities and minimize the effects of SD WAN shortcomings. Table 4 lists the global SD WAN vendors who can do precisely that.
Table 4: Global SD WAN Connectivity
|Fast, reliable access to connectivity providers enables networks with a global reach.||SD WAN lacks on-site security features.||
|Speed up SaaS and web application performance globally, even at remote locations.||SD WAN connects every branch to the internet, which increases the attack surface.|
|Enable faster network access to and performance on cloud platforms.||With global connectivity, an ill-defended network becomes a global target.|
|Less time, effort, and expense spent deploying, maintaining, and upgrading connectivity hardware.|
How does SD WAN solve today’s IT challenges?
Some business branches use complicated infrastructures, which are difficult for customers and complex to manage. SD WAN enables companies to overcome challenges such as excessive bandwidth, branch complexity, and rigid architecture. SD WAN software allows quick response for varying requirements. SD WAN can make large networks 100x faster and save 30% on infrastructure and maintenance costs. It offers many deployment options, from completely cloud, software or hardware-based.
It’s easy to avoid the security shortcomings of SD WAN technology. Move up to SASE solutions, where the most prominent advantages and capabilities are found. After all, SASE consists of SD WAN plus four robust security solutions (SWG, CASB, ZTNA and FWaaS).
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