SD-WAN Primed For Solution Providers Who Can Talk Business Outcomes, Not Technology

New opportunities around SD-WAN are opening up for solution providers ready to talk business outcomes, not the speeds and feeds of the technology.

SD-WAN might be the hottest buzzword in IT right now, but it's still a nebulous concept for many business customers. Solution providers that can position SD-WAN as a tool to help customers better achieve their business goals will land more sales in a market ripe for disruption, according to solution providers CRN spoke with at The Channel Company's XChange 2017 conference in Orlando, Fla., this week.

"If you just go in talking about SD-WAN, you're not going to get sales," said Michael Knight, CTO of solution provider Encore Technology Group. "It's similar to the IoT discussion in the sense that solution providers need to stop talking about SD-WAN, and talk about outcomes."

[Related: Talari President: SD-WAN Should Be A 'Small Part' Of Overall Solution Provider Offering]

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Research firm IDC estimates that worldwide SD-WAN infrastructure and services revenues will grow 70 percent annually for the next four years, reaching more than $8 billion in 2021.

Greenville, S.C.-based Encore Technology Group just cinched its first major SD-WAN deal with a 35-site-plus customer. The solution provider has built its own SD-WAN solution in partnership with Cisco Meraki.

For Encore Technology Group, the SD-WAN sale didn't begin with a conversation about the latest service. The customer was seeking to reduce its MPLS costs. At the same time, Encore Technology Group realized that the customer had no insight into how much bandwidth it was using, which devices were connected, or what kind of traffic was traversing the network and "burning up" expensive MPLS links, Knight said.

Encore Technology Group posed a solution that combined network management, security and SD-WAN into a single dashboard that would allow the customer's IT team to understand the traffic, and match that traffic to users and applications.

Once you determine what the specific pain points are for a customer, SD-WAN becomes a very easy sell, Knight said.

SD-WAN takes a new approach to network connectivity aimed at lowering operational costs and improving resource usage for multisite deployments. The technology enables network administrators to use bandwidth more efficiently and ensure the highest level of performance for applications.

"The [customer] is getting full visibility and control, and SD-WAN, and they are able to manage their network down to each site," he said. "It's a complete solution for them, and they are going to reduce their MPLS costs."

Solution providers that are able to productize SD-WAN to help their customers solve problems such as network visibility will then free them to focus on more "interesting" IT ventures, said John Shaw, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Digital Nebula, a solution provider that specializes in artificial intelligence and data management.

"Once you have a handle on the network, the cost savings will also let customers [focus] on things like cloud adoption," he said.

Some solution providers are still waiting to see how the market plays out over the next 12 months before placing their bets. The SD-WAN vendor landscape is still maturing with several startups coming out of stealth over the past few years, including CloudGenix and VeloCloud.

Networking vendors Riverbed and Cisco Systems, meanwhile, have been doubling down on their SD-WAN technologies through acquisitions this year. Riverbed said it acquired Xirrus in a move to deliver an "unmatched SD-WAN offering" to fuel growth in the growing market, while Cisco spent $610 million to buy startup Viptela to boost its own SD-WAN portfolio.

John Samborski, vice president of Ace Tech Partners, an Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based solution provider, said his company has yet to take a serious look at SD-WAN.

"We don't do any [SD-WAN] business just yet. I don't know if it's for everyone quite yet. It's a new way of looking at things from a customer standpoint," said Samborski. "I know a lot of us are still waiting to see how some of this all plays out in customers' environments. We'll probably take another look at it in a few months."

Solution providers interested in capitalizing on the SD-WAN opportunity should start by learning more about their end customers such as their size, the vertical they play in, and what day-to-day operations look like, Encore Technology Group's Knight said. This will better inform solution providers of customers' specific needs and price points.

Solution providers also should consider wrapping their own solutions around SD-WAN to boost their value in the eyes of their customers.

"If you talk to [customers] about network visualization and controlling things down to a given endpoint, for example, they'll want to know about that and they'll see you as a thought leader," said Knight.

Also important is partnering with several SD-WAN providers so if one offering doesn't match a customer's budget, SD-WAN won't be ruled out, he said.

In addition to Meraki's technology, Encore Technology Group is also currently evaluating Barracuda Networks' NextGen firewall platform.

Ultimately, solution providers selling SD-WAN must choose to either become an agent partner that resells an SD-WAN service from a provider or invest in building their own SD-WAN solution, Knight said. The latter, he said, will make partners more money over time.