SD-WAN: The Great Network Enabler Is 'Just An Ingredient' In The Overall Solution

QOS Consulting is an El Segundo, Calif.-based solution provider that has been selling SD-WAN integrated with its SIP and network security solutions for the past two years. SD-WAN is a great way to add recurring revenue for channel partners, but the technology is only part of the part of the overall IT solution, according to Frank Cittadino, CEO of QOS Consulting.

It's an increasingly important part, too, as a network bolstered by SD-WAN technology is powering a slew of new use cases for customers that weren't possible before, Cittadino said.

"SD-WAN isn't an option for us as a partner; it's more of a requirement," he said.

[ The Software-Defined Wave: CRN's 2017 SD-WAN Roundtable]

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SD-WAN providers are OK with sticking to the sidelines. A panel of SD-WAN startups and established networking vendors agreed that the next-generation networking technology should be just a piece of the total solution that partners are bringing to the table for their end customers, the companies said during an SD-WAN roundtable held by CRN's parent company, The Channel Company.

Talari Networks, a 10-year old networking vendor that specializes in WAN management, is helping its channel partners build reliable, resilient and agile networks through software-defined technology. SD-WAN is only a piece of the technology that solution providers need in the background to solve networking dilemmas for their customers, said John Dickey, president, CTO and co-founder of San Jose, Calif.-based Talari Networks.

"I want to be an ingredient in [the overall solution]. I don't want to be dominant. I want to be the side of the dish, not the main course," he said.

This concept isn't foreign to many channel partners, especially MSPs who are used to "taking ingredients, packaging them together, and selling it as a service," said Kelly Ahuja, CEO of Versa Networks, a SD-WAN and SD-Security startup based in San Jose, California.

According to Ahuja, the WAN is only the entry point for solution providers. The real opportunity for partners, he said, lies in powering branch office operations, such as connecting to public and private clouds and SaaS-based services.

"It's really about software-defining the branch, and software-defining that branch with network, security, and with all of the other services that might be happening at that site, including in the future IoT," Ahuja said.

By providing SD-WAN, a networking "enabler" that can boost the entire IT partners are already providing, solution providers will shine because they'll be fulfilling their promise of adding value to their end customers, Talari's Dickey said.

"We're trying to help [partners] be successful because we're trying to help their clients be successful," Dickey said. "I want to make the partner the hero. That's really the goal."

QOS Consulting partners with several SD-WAN providers today, but the solution provider is having the most success selling VeloCloud's "flavor" of SD-WAN to its enterprise customer base, Cittadino said.

The flexible nature of VeloCloud's offering makes it easy for solution providers to integrate the technology into their existing offerings while reducing hardware needed within their end customers' environments. This, Cittadino said, makes it easier to articulate the benefits of SD-WAN to clients.

"The technology is great and flexible, and I think it's going to become more of a staple within networking solutions in the future, rather than an option – like a modem for a cable service," he said. "I think the faster the market heats up, the more people will adopt it, and more partners will get involved."

Partners that can articulate the value-add that SD-WAN can bring to a customer, regardless of industry or vertical, are going to be the most successful. These solution providers are also going to be able to bolt on additional services to earn more revenue, too, said Damon Ennis, senior vice president of products for Silver Peak, a 13-year old provider that specializes in hybrid WAN solutions.

Once partners establish SD-WAN's functionality and its benefits, they can upgrade bandwidth at certain sites, or add WAN optimization as a service, for example, Ennis said.

"It's a great opportunity for a channel partner to go in and be consultative with that customer to decide which services they need and where," he said.

In the end, a SD-WAN deal should be about "five to 10 times bigger" for partners because of all the other services they're providing along with SD-WAN, Talari's Dickey said.

Aside from putting partners in a more "consultative" light, selling services like SD-WAN also frees solution providers up from vendor lock-in, according to Kumar Ramachandran, CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based SD-WAN startup CloudGenix.

In the past, channel partners were held hostage to the "good enough" services that worked with their networking hardware providers' appliances, Ramachandran said. But software-based SD-WAN platforms are changing the game because it allows partners to bring in multiple, best of breed providers onto the platform.

"Now, we can bring in CloudGenix with Palo Alto, or with Zscaler, or anything else," he said. "[Partners] don't have to compromise with good enough. Good enough is not good enough."

And for their part, vendors need to afford partners the agility they need to make money in the way they are want to sell to their clients, and "keep it simple" enough for partners to achieve success, Talari's Dickey said.

The future of the channel will be dependent upon selling higher-layer services like SD-WAN that can enable use cases that customers want to achieve, not pushing boxes in a pure reseller fashion, Versa Networks' Ahuja said.

"SD-WAN is a great starting opportunity for the channel," he said. "We think that there's more out there beyond this, and it's only the beginning."