Over the last several years, SD-WAN has become one of the hottest topics across the IT and Telecom space. I want to use this blog to provide some context for sourcing professionals looking to gain a better understanding of the technology and make more strategic supplier selections.

To start, let’s take a high level look at  what it is: SD-WAN (Software-defined wide area network) is an application of SDN (software-defined networking) technology that is applied to WAN (wide area network) connections. It alleviates some of the management required for a WAN by migrating the majority of the management functions to a cloud based platform such as Velocloud.

Providers that have become strong players in the SD-WAN category include telecom giants such as AT&T and Verizon Business, as well as growing providers like CenturyLink and Zayo. Our clients have consistently brought all four providers into consideration. Depending on what you’re hoping to accomplish with SD-WAN, each provider will rank differently for you. There are a few components that each client has weighed differently. Each are important to consider when assessing potential SD-WAN providers:

Cost: Is your decision to implement SD-WAN primarily driven by cost-savings? If so, then SD-WAN will allow you to move away from primarily using costly MPLS connections, and leverage cheaper transports instead. This will enable  you to scale your bandwidth at a more affordable  rate.

Transport: Since SD-WAN is software based, it should be transport agnostic. You should always ensure, however, that the solution you are evaluating is adaptable enough to overlay on top of the transports deployed in your current network.

Security: A caveat to the above is that MPLS connections are the most secure transport. Therefore, if you are trying to move away or reduce your reliance on MPLS, you will want to understand the security that is built into the SD-WAN service offering and make sure it aligns with  the network requirements.

Management: Do you want your network team to  serve as the primary managers of the network, or would you prefer to have it managed by a provider? Some of the major telecom providers  offer fully-managed solutions. Others take a more co-managed approach.

Scalability: SD-WAN will make scaling your network with higher bandwidths easier and less expensive because you will not need  to deploy MPLS connections.

Cloud Connectivity: Most providers  can connect to the primary cloud platforms such as Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Salesforce, but some  are limitated to other third party/public cloud providers. It is important to include this in your inquiry if your business relies on these services to operate.

These aren’t the only technical considerations you’ll need to evaluate SD-WAN offers. They should, however, prove sufficient for any Procurement professional looking to build out the criteria for evaluating a provider’s proposal.
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