Cloud and associated networking technologies such as Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) offer significant benefits in terms of business agility and cost reduction of total cost of ownership. SD-WAN, or software-defined networking in a wide area network, is one of the latest technologies driving real transformation in enterprise WAN architectures. SD-WAN helps businesses drive down circuit costs as well as provide service agility, which means speed in providing solutions for their customers.
Many Enterprises rely on their circuit providers for Managed SD-WAN offerings. These Managed Service Providers (MSPs) not only generate new revenue streams with Managed SD-WAN and Cloud VPN-type services but it can drive down their costs due to reduction in truck rolls and a higher level of automation.
While SD-WAN has a number of benefits, adoption has been slow and cautious. One of the key hindrances in adoption of SDN/NFV technologies is the operationalization of a hybrid network consisting of both physical and virtualized technologies.
Software-defined technologies is known to drive down operational costs due to automation. However, the challenge is that you need to go through complete operational transformation which affects both IT and the business. In Cisco Managed Services practice, we encounter the same challenge. In this blog, we will discuss some of the key operational challenges MSPs need to consider.
Operational Processes – Process management is a main issue for large scale environments so process plays a key role in controlling the customer experience. As we move from traditional physical networks to a hybrid environment—with physical and virtual assets, changes should be anticipated in most of these operational processes. Some of these anticipated changes include: monitoring changes that shift away from SNMP and toward those that are telemetry-based; orchestrator-facilitated changes instead of clunky scripts or manual intervention; and shifting away from manual troubleshooting of issues with WAN transport and toward automated switching of traffic from one circuit to another.
Technical Skills – Traditionally, IT personnel experts are trained to align with technology architectures such as network infrastructures, threat prevention and assessment, and data center servers and virtualization. However, this narrow specialization is no longer the case. With these technologies converging on a single appliance with VNFs (virtual network functions) running on top, operations professionals require skills that not only span multiple technical domains, but they also need to have experience with software management and troubleshooting, writing Yang models, and developing applications to take advantage of network programmability. Finding all this expertise in one technical professional is very difficult, not to mention, training someone to address all these technologies.
Organizational structure – With networking and data center technologies converging onto single boxes with virtualized solutions, isolated technology silos should disappear over time. Similarly, with controllers hosted in a telco cloud or public cloud environment, the whole stack needs to be managed by single unified team. The real question becomes, how does this impact organizational structures? And if you still maintain silos, who owns the problem if outages occur? All these issues need to analyzed and addressed appropriately, which will drive transformation and evolution of organizational structures and operational activities.
Operational tools – A “one size fits all” approach doesn’t apply for SD-WAN as different segments, depending on their size and/or industry are at different points of the SD-WAN journey and therefore have different needs. MSPs may opt for multiple solutions from the same or multiple vendors. For every solution, there may be a need to make significant tooling investments to integrate with vendor systems to provide a single pane of glass (as much as possible) , from monitoring to ticketing to change and performance/capacity management. This is a very expensive proposition no matter how you look at it.
Cultural shift – Operators jumping on the SD-WAN bandwagon are realizing that “Hybrid WAN ain’t no picnic”, as reported by Light Reading. SDN/NFV in general, and SD-WAN in particular, are disruptive by its very nature, as the network is changing from traditional hardware boxes to software, programmability, automation, and converged architectures. On top of that, the “need for speed” is persistent to maintain or gain the competitive edge and continue delivering the same superior customer experience while simultaneously going through the transformation process. In order to be successful, a different mindset is necessary, in managing legacy networks. Operations teams will require significant training and hands-on experience before they become comfortable with this new way of managing hybrid and converged operations.
As MSPs embark on their journey to offer SD-WAN services to their enterprise or SMB customers, they need to look into and address the above issues and plan accordingly because this can negatively affect their go-to-market plans. At the same time, they should also look at alternate options that are available to help them bridge the gap in terms of time to market and the investment needed to enter the market, while the technology makes progress on the maturity curve. Our Managed SD-WAN for SPs enables service providers to roll out Managed SD-WAN offerings based on industry leading Cisco SD-WAN technologies, VMS IWAN, and Meraki SD-WAN, faster and with minimal investments in a BOT (build, operate, transfer) model.
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Written by Tilak Madan, Offer Manager, CMS SP Networks