Managed Services (Like SD-WAN) Are Tough…but Game’s Changing

Whether you’re a product manager or operations leader at a managed service provider (MSP) – or the end customer of an MSP service – you know the challenges of building and deploying a successful WAN across dozens (or hundreds) of sites.  Truck rolls (yes, that’s usually plural) to each branch office to drop off, plug-in and properly configure equipment.  Often 5 to 7 pieces of equipment.  And the ongoing maintenance + equipment swap outs or additions as business needs or capacity requirements expand.

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But managed service offerings are starting to change.  Just as enterprise data centers evolved from physical servers/storage/networks to virtualized and orchestrated sets of resources, service providers are starting to leverage the latest in software-based networking products and architectures. Trends that started in the last few years, like Network Function Virtualization (NFV) from the European Telecom Standards Institute (ETSI), have the potential to fundamentally change how MSPs create – and enterprises consume – managed services.

NFV, and in particular virtualized network functions (VNF), can be a primary change catalyst for managed services.  Key capabilities like service virtualization, service chaining, and the ability to separate services from underlying hardware, provide the ability to create a “virtual Lego set” of network and security functions that can be assembled into rich multi-feature, yet very dynamic, managed services.

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Take managed SD-WAN… 

It can be built and operated like other traditional managed network services:

1) Find network hardware (SD-WAN) vendor

2) Design a deployment + management process around their products

3) Deploy dedicated SD-WAN appliances at each branch, along with separate security appliances or third party cloud security services

4) Deploy and manage a dedicated controller device at the head-end for each customer

5) Double the resources if high availability/fail-over is required

Or it can designed as a true cloud-like service:

1) Deploy multi-tenant SD-WAN software platform in the carrier cloud (e.g. PoP) with template service definitions and deployment processes

2) Instantly provision new customers via drop-shipping low-cost white box hardware populated with software that gets auto-provisioned to pre-defined templates

3) Instantly deploy a new customer using the multi-tenant SD-WAN software and management console

4) Continually monitor and improve each customer’s SD-WAN service via integrated multi-tenant big data analysis

Sound like a [WAN] pipe dream?  It shouldn’t, because innovative MSPs are doing exactly that right now.  Case-in-point: CenturyLink SD-WAN.

CenturyLink has embraced the potential of NFV, along with the benefits of Versa’s truly software-based networking model (hardware independence, multi-tenancy and elasticity), and created a highly innovative software- (aka NFV) based SD-WAN managed service.  With a tightly integrated set of security capabilities.

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And the winners are multiple.  CenturyLink customers get the industry’s broadest set of SD-WAN benefits, both operationally and technically – very rapid time-to-service, wide choice of (fully managed) connectivity, full set of Internet security functions, and ongoing big data analytics to improve service experience.  CenturyLink gains the ability to innovate and scale services far faster than if it deployed a proprietary hardware-based managed service.

So while managed network services will never be an easy game, key industry innovation like NFV, and innovative new vendors like Versa, can make MSPs’ and their enterprise customers’ businesses that much better.

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