CenturyLink Acts As MSP For SD-WAN With New Bundled Offering

CenturyLink is continuing to work toward its mission of becoming a full-fledged IT company -- in this case, a managed service provider -- with the launch of its software-defined WAN service Wednesday.

The latest service, CenturyLink SD-WAN, is an offering that packages network management and connectivity options together for business customers. It will bundle connectivity from several providers, premise-based equipment, software licensing, and configuration and monitoring, all accessible from an included analytics portal.

The service will be available to businesses directly and through channel partners immediately.

[Related: Partners Approve Of CenturyLink's ElasticBox Acquisition For Hybrid IT, Multi-Cloud Management]

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Instead of simply tacking on an SD-WAN service as a value-add to its existing networking offerings, the carrier will be acting as an MSP for SD-WAN, according to Eric Barrett, CenturyLink's network product management director. Through the service, CenturyLink will be reselling its own connectivity services, as well as connectivity from some of its competitors, including Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable.

"We are going a step further and we will resell third-party broadband services as part of the launch with specific providers that we have built relationships with," Barrett said.

Many businesses have employ a hybrid network, consisting of both private MPLS and even broadband internet, often located at branch office locations. CenturyLink's ability to package its connectivity with third-party provider connectivity offerings lets the carrier act as an aggregator giving the customer choice, which is a unique move in the industry, said Roopa Honnachari, industry director of business communication services and cloud computing services for Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Frost and Sullivan.

"When you look at combining public and private internet connections, one single provider can't have connections everywhere," she said. "CenturyLink is trying to expand their private and public internet links footprint by partnering with other providers."

While there are a slew of SD-WAN providers on the market, many are software or Software-as-a-Service providers that aren't offering the entire SD-WAN package, according to CenturyLink’s Barrett. As a result, SD-WAN, for many customers, becomes a do-it-yourself scenario, he said.

A customer with multiple sites will need to partner with a SD-WAN provider for the network management tools, as well as potentially several different broadband providers, depending on where its offices are located. The customer will also need premise-based devices in a hosted environment. This process can be just as daunting for solution providers to manage, he added.

"That's possibly a 20-vendor solution that you now have to manage," Barrett said.

For a monthly recurring price that is just about the same as the cost of their existing connectivity cost, CenturyLink is giving customers and partners a one-stop shop for SD-WAN, according to the company.

SD-WAN can help businesses battle bottleneck issues stemming from new applications, like video use and the Internet of Things. These applications are pushing bandwidth limitations for many customers, Barrett said.

"To upgrade to the kind of bandwidth they would need, it can be a two to four times cost increase, so those customers have been looking for alternative ways of accessing more bandwidth," he said.

CenturyLink SD-WAN will give businesses access to additional bandwidth efficiencies at a "T1-like price point" on an MPLS network, Barrett said.

The provider is offering a 90-day proof of concept for businesses and partners interested in testing SD-WAN within their existing WAN. Through the offer, CenturyLink will provide premise-based devices, portal access and customer support for up to five sites, the Monroe, La.-based provider said.