Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) got its start as a way for end users to save money. SD-WAN let users create their own virtual private networks (VPNs) using low-cost broadband connections. Users quickly learned that being their own network operator brought a lot of unwanted complexity and headaches. Now, these same enterprises are asking service providers to offer managed SD-WAN services. (See my earlier SD-WAN blog post for more on this trend.)

In the beginning, service providers may have looked at SD-WAN as a threat to MPLS VPN revenue. Now, they see it as a necessity, or even better, an opportunity. What’s the current status of managed SD-WAN offerings? Let’s take a look.

Current SD-WAN Managed Offerings

There is a long list of suppliers of SD-WAN solutions, and a longer list of service providers who have launched managed SD-WAN offerings. The table below shows some of the SD-WAN suppliers (in alphabetical order) and some of their announced wins with service providers.

SD-WAN Supplier Announced Service Provider Wins
Cisco IWAN  Telstra, Vodafone, BT
Cisco Viptela  Verizon, NTTPC, Singtel, PCTL
Nuage
BT, NTT Data Intellilink, Exponential-e, China Mobile, Telia Sonera, Telefonica, MyRepublic, Telus
Riverbed
Orange, Verizon
Silver Peak
Masergy, China Telecom, NTT, Interoute
TELoIP
Access One, X10 Networks, California Telecom, Freewire
VeloCloud
AT&T, Windstream, TelePacific, MegaPath, Global Capacity, Sprint, GTT, MetTel, Telstra, Macquarie Telecom, CHT Global, Vonage
Versa

CenturyLink, Tata, Comcast, Colt, RCN, S-Net, Verizon, China Telecom Global


HARDWARE Appliances for SOFTWARE-Defined WAN?

There is one interesting aspect that almost all these offerings have in common. The service providers have implemented them with closed SD-WAN appliances at the customer site. The exceptions are current deployments at Masergy and Verizon and a future deployment at Orange. At the same time, most service providers are looking at how they can move away from closed appliances. The goal is software implementations running on open servers and/or universal CPE (uCPE) platforms. 

Service providers know that appliances are problematic. One issue is that using an appliance ties a service to the infrastructure. That’s contrary to the service provider’s vision of being able to treat services like applications. In that cloud-centric model, services are defined, built, delivered and managed at the speed of software. This eliminates the need to change underlying hardware and frees us from worrying about its details. Using a software version of SD-WAN is much more consistent with that cloud vision.

Another issue is vendor lock-in. Using an appliance makes it difficult to change SD-WAN suppliers. Moving from an appliance to a software implementation enables best-of-breed offerings. They can also offer multiple options to meet the price and feature demands of customers.

Managed SD-WAN Is the Future

End users want managed SD-WAN offerings, and they will get them. Service providers need to give their customers a variety of managed SD-WAN offerings and tie them into a larger portfolio of dynamic and virtualized services. That’s the way to a win-win for end users and service providers.