The Great SD-WAN Debate: Is Best-Of-Breed A Better Play Than An End-To-End Solution?

Is software-defined WAN a best-of-breed play or part of an end-to-end solution? The answer varies, of course, depending on who you're talking to, but one thing is clear: SD-WAN does take out some complexity issues when building a best-of-breed solution.

"With SD-WAN I think it's a lot simpler to put the best-of-breeds together," said Sanjay Uppal, co-founder and CEO of SD-WAN vendor VeloCloud. "We've seen in a single customer, for the larger branches they'll go best-of-breed, but for the smaller branches they want everything integrated. And it's very possible to do this with SD-WAN because you can mix and match. You can even have a service running at the edge, which you can migrate to the cloud. Just like how a workflow migrates, you can migrate the SD-WAN service itself. That's pretty significant [and] something that the channel can make use of."

Kumar Ramachandran, founder and CEO of SD-WAN startup CloudGenix, said best-of-breed is the way to go. Through REST API-based integrations, CloudGenix customers can bring together multiple products on the same software platform, he said.

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"So now we can bring in CloudGenix with Palo Alto Networks, with Zscaler, or anything else, and you have visibility across those services. There is good orchestration across those services," said Ramachandran. "This is empowering for the channel partner. All of a sudden you go from this model where you were completely tied in and locked down to one vendor and it's very difficult for you to offer best-of-breed to your customer, to now you can offer best-of-breed to your customer."

Versa Networks CEO Kelly Ahuja said the company, like some others in the market, can offer a complete best-of-breed SD-WAN solution in-house.

"If you're just going to be best-of-breed, you're going to have complexity and cost in your business. You can be best-of-breed with a single vendor, and that's what Versa offers," said Ahuja. "Whatever you can do with CloudGenix and multiple vendors -- you can do that but have the high cost and high complexity – or you can do it with Versa, with a single vendor approach and have much better profitability."

But what are solution providers saying is the best way to sell SD-WAN?

Piers Carey, co-founder and CEO of Teneo, a global solution provider based in the U.K. who partners with Talari, Riverbed Technology and Cisco-Viptela, said SD-WAN projects have been ramping up over the past few months. The solution provider sells SD-WAN as a service to customers on a subscription basis.

Carey believes the greatest opportunity for the channel is around selling an end-to-end SD-WAN solution.

"Many organizations out there who have invested heavily in the security team -- they buy best-of-breed products. Generally speaking, they want to build this and we're more just transactional," said Carey. "For me, the real opportunity and where the market is going is looking for organizations who can provide a broader solution more than just a best-of-breed solution. Going beyond that and into security."

Teneo's Carey said SD-WAN "changes the whole security paradigm" for customers.

"They need to rethink their security posture. That's how we're looking at it. It's not just about that SD-WAN technology," said Carey. "Best-of-breed is still important, but you need to pull in the right SD-WAN vendor, the right network underneath that, and the right security posture on top of that."

Robert Keblusek, CTO of Downers Grove, Ill.-based solution provider Sentinel Technologies, a Cisco Gold partner, agreed that security is a large part of the SD-WAN discussion.

"Business are realizing the value of what SD-WAN can bring to the table, especially when we start to look at more complicated configurations around security, the intelligence, using more internet circuits -- there's more complexity today in the WAN," said Keblusek. "We did a lot of Cisco [SD-WAN] iWAN technology that foundationally uses a lot of different things that Cisco does well, but starts to bring things together. The promise of SD-WAN is to make that even easier to consume and to deploy and support over time."

Keblusek isn't sure there's an answer to the best-of-breed or end-to-end debate.

"If you look at Cisco from a WAN perspective, it's best-of-breed. Cisco routers to me are the top of the line. Are they currently are the most mature from a SD-WAN perspective – I think that would be questionable," said Keblusek. "They probably have the most ambitious road map. Viptela seemed to do a very good job with the controller aspect."

In August, Cisco completed its $610 million acquisition of SD-WAN startup Viptela.

Ramesh Prabagaran, who recently joined Cisco through the Viptela acquisition, said selling a best-of-breed or an end-to-end SD-WAN solution all depends on which class of customers a solution provider is going after.

"There's [not] one approach that completely dominates the other … because it really depends on which class of customers you're going after," said Prabagaran, senior director product management at Cisco. "The Fortune 100s have also embraced a best-of-breed approach. It's been complex, yes, but they've tried to make that work. … There are a class of customers that will subscribe to that, and then there are a class of customers who just want the whole integrated solution. So, I don't think there's any one answer that dominates the other. It really boils down to what does the customer need."

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.