Greg Hatfield
Greg Hatfield Executive Business Unit Head: SDN

A rapid proliferation of corporate connectivity solutions means that businesses are increasingly faced with challenging choices about the solutions they should implement, as all of them promise greater cost efficiency and value for money.

Enterprise-grade wide area networks (WANs) have proven to be an effective way for businesses to manage their IT infrastructure and networks over a large distance. As part of this, the growth and evolution of Software-Defined WANs (SD-WANs) has unlocked a new set of benefits and opportunities by boosting network performance and providing increased bandwidth across all of an enterprise’s sites at a lower cost..

SD-WAN is able to achieve this by routing encrypted data where it needs to be based on the business’s requirements – all driven through an easily configurable box placed on site which transmits data over the Internet. This gives companies the agility that they need to meet changing IT demands. More than just that, though, SD-WAN also gives businesses greater control of business-critical applications on the network.

The question for most businesses then doesn’t become about why to make the move to SD-WAN, but rather about whether to go one of the two routes available: do-it-yourself (DIY) or managed WAN services.

What it means to DIY your SD-WAN

DIY, as the name suggests, means managing and running the SD-WAN entirely in-house. That means the enterprise’s IT department is responsible for procuring last mile access, as well as deploying routers and network security appliances from the necessary vendors.

It is a complex process and massive undertaking because in-house IT have to configure, maintain and problem-solve the SD-WAN end-to-end. This includes taking into consideration factors such as application architecture, latency sensitivity, delivery and user experience of applications.

Essentially, unless the company’s IT department has highly developed architectural design and engineering skills, self-managing its SD-WAN is an extremely difficult task. This is why the general trend is outsourcing the management of SD-WAN services.

Choosing the right connectivity solution and technology

Managed SD-WAN services, on the other hand, mean that configuring, managing and problem-solving of the SD-WAN is outsourced to a service provider who understands the corporate connectivity landscape.

Having a service provider with in-depth knowledge of the particular SD-WAN solution of the business buffers against the risk of choosing the wrong connectivity solution and technology. WAN – and SD-WAN in particular – is designed according to unique business needs, meaning that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Having a service provider who understands those needs as well as the complexities of SD-WAN holds immense value.

Perhaps most importantly, choosing to use a managed SD-WAN services model means that the service provider can be held accountable should issues and challenges arise. The ability to outsource responsibility to a service provider with the depth and breadth of skills that actually come from running an SD-WAN on a daily basis helps to alleviate stress, and the benefits of this cannot be overstated.

That could well be why there is increasing uptake of managed SD-WAN services across industries in South Africa. Just recently, for example, a major retailer rolled out SD-WAN to 283 of its sites, with plans to roll the solution out to more in the coming months.

The industry of managed SD-WAN services

Retail isn’t the only industry that has seen the potential of managed SD-WAN services and although it is still the early stages of SD-WAN for the entire market, financial services, travel, oil and gas, and quick service restaurants, among others, have started to implement SD-WAN for reach, flexibility, more robust operations, lower risk application architecture and greater value for money.

Ultimately, there are numerous factors businesses need to consider when weighing up whether to make the move to SD-WAN and choosing between DIY or managed SD-WAN services.

Importantly, businesses need to recognise that it is not a silver bullet that will immediately halve the cost and complexity of the company’s IT infrastructure – but it is a solution that the business will see the benefits of once it has been deployed. Additionally, it is a low risk move with the right partner.

As such, businesses should critically assess their unique business needs, where SD-WAN can fit into those needs and how it can streamline and simplify their operations.