Telco Consultant To Partners: If You're Not Talking About SD-WAN, Someone Else Will


The Comtel Group, a VAR turned telecommunications and IT consulting firm, is working with SD-WAN startups and carriers to evangelize and deliver SD-WAN to its customer base. While the technology isn't widespread yet, many businesses can benefit from more reliable bandwidth at a lower cost, especially as these customers leverage cloud-based applications.

Three executives from the Irvine, Calif.-based provider sat down with CRN to talk about the opportunities around the emerging SD-WAN market, and why other partners need to sit up and take notice. Here's what president Bob Schubert, vice president Aaron Brown, and senior analyst and department manager Samuel Singer had to say.

How often are customers asking about SD-WAN?

Singer: A few customers are asking for it directly -- the ones that tend to be on cutting edge of emerging technology -- and these customers still don't know all of the benefits. They tend to only know one or two of the things that SD-WAN does, but not the full scope. So, it's definitely something that is just getting out to the market even though it's been around since the early 2000s.

What drives us towards bringing up SD-WAN is a couple of scenarios. One is companies with site-to-site connectivity that are really feeling a lot of pain for paying for MPLS. Hearing that they are dealing with low bandwidth and they don't want to spend more money is an indicator. Also, any organizations with multiple sites that have pains around uptime and reliability -- that's going to be an SD-WAN conversation.

How is the cloud changing businesses' WAN needs, and helping to promote newer technologies, like SD-WAN?

Schubert: Most traffic isn't intra-company anymore. A lot [of traffic] is cloud-based and people are consuming a lot of resources in the cloud. SD-WAN enables us to increase performance by allowing [SD-WAN startups] like VeloCloud and other players to essentially put their equipment in the data center where Amazon or Microsoft [services] live, and then we can orchestrate our company traffic at a level high enough to have the intelligence to prioritize and reduce latency on applications we are consuming in the cloud.

How do you determine if SD-WAN is a good fit for a customer and how are you delivering SD-WAN to your customers today?

Singer: We are working with both the companies like VeloCloud or Bigleaf that are [offering] SD-WAN, and we are also dealing with carriers that are restructuring their network architecture to include SD-WAN as a major component.

The framework we use for evaluating a customer's needs begins with first understanding what a company is looking for in terms of bandwidth, failover management, site-to-site connectivity, [and] WAN optimization. As we explore the needs, we consider whether SD-WAN is going to fit that customer and if we want a traditional WAN -- like MPLS – or a hybrid SD-WAN scenario, [which is] a combination of guaranteed private circuits and SD-WAN, or a true SD-WAN-only deployment. Frankly, we are more often moving away from traditional [WANs] and moving more toward hybrid and pure SD-WAN deployments.

How many businesses today have deployed SD-WAN, and how do you see this percentage growing?

Schubert: I would say it's less than 10 percent, but it's constantly growing. These conversations are coming up more and more and it will be a standard piece of the conversation from here on out.

Singer: SD-WAN must be a part of every client conversation because every customer can benefit from SD-WAN with no risk, and more to gain from it after that. There are a lot of customers that are interested and the issue is that many customers that stand to gain the most from it are in the middle of their contract [with a carrier] and might be ready to go, but maybe have to wait a year or two. But somewhere within the next two to three years we are going to see a lot of customers begin deploying SD-WAN as they reach the end of their MPLS contracts.

What is the potential for conflict to the MSP business model that some providers feel SD-WAN could present?

Schubert: An MSP might say; "I have 75 routers deployed, I manage all of those and get paid $200 a month times 75. That's a lot of revenue and all of a sudden if I'm to give that up, I'm no longer directly being paid that money to manage the endpoints." There are a variety of types of MSPs though, and in some cases they don't manage devices, they manage applications.

What would you say to MSPs worried about SD-WAN eating into their profits?

Singer: I think SD-WAN can simplify the management that MSPs have to provide. They can still charge a fee for managing the network, and their work is made easier. They can get more visibility than they had before from a single interface. Many MSPs we talk to are very much in favor of getting work off their plates and retaining a significant amount of revenue.

Many [MSPs] are seeing value in SD-WAN, and while the one side is a little shy about jumping into it, they are exploring it. Selling that hardware is a one-time [sale], and when you're selling that service, you're going to get that revenue monthly for as long as it's in play with less work for the partner.

What's your message to partners who haven't looked at selling SD-WAN yet?

Brown: There is this belief that when you introduce a technology that is "unproven," often on the cutting edge, you'll get bit and that can give you a black eye with the customer. The benefit of SD-WAN, unlike a lot of newer technologies, is that it is deployable in such a way that you don't have to give up existing technologies to prove that it will work for you and is more resilient than your current environment.

We feel that SD-WAN provides the highest reliability, availability, and optimized network performance and at a significantly lower cost point than that all of the private WAN solutions. It won't be perfect for every situation, but we strongly believe it should be first thing [partners] look at because it could be the quickest, easiest and lowest-cost solution.

How should these partners get started selling SD-WAN?

Singer: From a technical perspective, once an MSP decides which [SD-WAN providers or carriers] they are going to partner with, they need to have a good framework for how they are going to be evaluating clients and their networking needs. The second thing would be to start small with single sites, and make sure that they understand the principal benefits of SD-WAN before getting into complex environments.

Brown: You better know this topic because someone is going to introduce it to your customers, and you want to be the one introducing opportunities and solving problems for them.