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SD-WAN technology offers channel partner opportunities

SD-WAN promises to reduce the cost and complexity of WANs, while boosting the performance of real-time applications, according to channel partners and tech vendors.

For technology distributor Avant software-defined wide area networking, or SD-WAN, may be one of the greatest things since, well, sliced bread. SD-WAN brings "a lot of brains internally to companies at the core of the network," so technologies can be added without having to rely on edge devices, explained Drew Lydecker, president.

In a traditional WAN, edge devices have to talk to core devices and it requires the use of hardware like routers and switches, creating a "lot of moving parts and complexity," he said. Software-defined networking (SDN), however, greatly simplifies that process. SD-WAN takes hardware out of the equation and automates the process of configuring WAN edge routers.

Additionally, "You're not relying on one or two companies that are providing a lot of gear used in a traditional WAN, which allows the pace of change to happen faster, and that to me is disruptive," Lydecker said.

Avant has partnered with SD-WAN-as-a-service provider Aryaka Networks to offer the technology to its customers. This will enable Avant's customers to be able to "future-proof" their WANs, according to Sean Dublin, director of channel sales at Aryaka.

Avant leverages the cloud and uses no hardware, Lydecker said. "Utilizing Aryaka will enhance my performance connecting to the various cloud providers I consume," which he said is probably one of the biggest use cases. SD-WAN is about "connecting to your offices in ways you never have before." Aryaka has a content delivery network (CDN) built into its network, and "When you add on CDN and deduping and all the things they do to give your packet a faster ride, that's huge," Lydecker noted. "You're not relying on the traditional way of moving packets across a wide area network."

While SDN is still in its infancy, SD-WAN is what customers are looking for -- but they don't necessarily know what to call it; they describe wanting better Internet connectivity at their remote locations, Lydecker said. So, Avant is educating its distribution partners about the benefits, he added. "We're showing people what they have today and what they could potentially do with a product like Aryaka. They show a completely different way of connecting WANs and connecting to cloud nodes and partners, and that's the most exciting thing."


Increasingly, Lydecker hears from his sales team that some customers that have very expensive private networks believe they can do more and more over the comparatively inexpensive Internet. "We're replacing traditional, private networks with Internet-based networks … at an alarming rate. A lot of people bought MPLSes (multiprotocol label switching) and private lines and they don't need it," Lydecker explained. "They work great, but more and more they need Internet connectivity as things move to the cloud."

It's nice to be able to tell a customer that a product is going to reduce complexity, save money and still provide the same level of service and transparency in place today.
Jason Parryvice president, client solutions, Force3

EarthLink has also spent many years managing a lot of customers' WANs with MPLS, and now, with so much moving into the cloud, is eyeing SD-WAN instead, said Brian Fink, executive vice president and CTO. SD-WAN "gets people excited" because of the lower cost and the ability to use Internet connections to "build business-class wide area networks," he said. "I can take multiple WANs and put them into SD-WAN edge devices and that device will use both Internet connections to do application-based routing. It will sit and look at those Internet connections and say 'Which one is the best WAN connection for this type of app?'" This approach enables IT to assess what it needs to do and push through the highest priority apps on the highest-quality connection, he said.

There's another benefit for providers that manage their customers' networks: If there are multiple WAN connections and one fails, the SD-WAN software on the edge will automatically use the other link, according to Fink.

"You're not hard-coded to a specific WAN link," he said. If a company has an existing MPLS connection, it can add a new Internet connection as a new WAN link. "Now you have two active WAN connections at the customer end so it's a much more reliable WAN solution at a much lower cost because Internet connections are less expensive than a private MPLS connection."

An SD-WAN network can be configured more quickly than an MPLS network, he added -- another inherent advantage. "And you can manage the overall network with visibility to all apps running over the wide area network," Fink said.

The IT mantra is to deploy more quickly, with flexibility and agility, he said, "so SD-WAN is following that same underlying transformational business."

Cisco is projecting that business Internet traffic will grow at a faster pace than IP WAN, which will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23%, compared with a CAGR of 20% for fixed business Internet and 51% for mobile business Internet. SD-WAN will also gain greater momentum as more private apps that ran in data centers are being pushed to public cloud domains, Fink said.

"If there's a higher percentage of apps moving to the public cloud [businesses will say] 'so if I know my apps moving to the cloud are Internet-based, why not design my WAN so that it can take better advantage of the public Internet rather than my private data center?'"

Channel partners and SDN technology

Managed service providers will need to shift the business proposition slightly as they look to position and sell the technology to their customers, he said, but the channel has been very successful at selling MPLS and hosted voice, and SD-WAN "takes on similar characteristics." The time to discuss SD-WAN is when a customer is looking to add additional broadband or a new location that needs additional bandwidth capacity. Providers can ask if the customer has considered just adding Internet instead of private MPLS broadband. "That gets the conversation growing," Fink said. "It's cost-driven because they can add an Internet connection for less than MPLS.

Jason Parry, vice president of client solutions at Force3Jason Parry

Jason Parry, vice president of client solutions at Force3, a networking security provider, suggested that the potential cost savings simplifies the sales process.

"From a service provider and consulting perspective, it's easy to position a solution to a customer that is going to save a substantial cost and provide the same functionality -- unlike some other solutions where the benefits are softer," Parry said. "It's nice to be able to tell a customer that a product is going to reduce complexity, save money and still provide the same level of service and transparency in place today. For those reasons, SD-WAN a much easier sell than some other solutions at this point."

There's also room to help customers improve application performance.

A lot of times, EarthLink sees companies that have implemented hosted voice or real-time applications across a WAN and have performance issues without control over one of those apps and they struggle with how to get it performing better, Fink said. With SD-WAN, a partner can create an active connection to improve performance with two WAN links and then select the best one for the performance a particular app needs.

EarthLink also sees that some companies don't know what's running on their network due to software as a service sprawl, so they increase their spend on private MPLS connections, Fink said. A direct Internet connection gives IT greater visibility into the packet types running across the network with SD-WAN, he said.

The bottom line, according to Dublin: "As more apps move [off-premises] to the cloud, you're only as good as your connection. [SD-WAN] provides that with greater connectivity, cheaper. You just need to do little bit of routing. What Aryaka is doing is removing the complexity and cost and lead times built by the carriers."

"SD-WAN allows you to decouple software capabilities from the hardware so you can perform centralized management configuration much easier," Parry added. "The solution ultimately allows users to save money and reduce complexity."

Additional reporting by John Moore

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