Xcelocloud CEO Mike Champion: Clearing Up The SD-WAN Confusion For Partners

More Signal, Less Noise

Xcelocloud Inc. is a new solution provider on the scene that got its start in April. The Atlanta-based startup offers network, cloud, and security consulting services for business customers but focuses primarily on SD-WAN.

Founder and CEO Mike Champion is no stranger to the channel having previously worked for a solution provider organization. But with so many emerging start-ups and established vendors in SD-WAN, Champion saw that the market needed a solution provider that could help businesses make sense of this emerging and disruptive technology. His company aims to help enterprises use SD-WAN to better support their network strategies, measure the performance of their critical applications, and save some dollars along the way.

The following is excerpts from CRN's conversation with Champion.

How did you come up with the idea for Xcelocloud?

Behind the scenes, I really saw the market turning towards SD-WAN about a year ago. I threw myself headfirst into understanding what it means for the marketplace and carriers. The more enterprise customers I talked to, the more I saw a shift away from people wanting to be tied to just one carrier. Which is, in my opinion, a potentially huge market shift that none of the carriers want to see. I saw an opportunity to build a national organization to provide some clarity to these enterprise customers because there are 25-plus SD-WAN providers all are saying the same thing and they all get to the finish line differently. We try to educate enterprise customers so that they can take those 25 potential providers down to two or three, and deeply vet those providers.

What trends in IT are encouraging businesses to look into SD-WAN?

When we start breaking down numbers, customers are a little bit weary of paying $600 for a 10-Mbps MPLS connection at one address, $950 at another site, and another site at $1,200. So more and more, companies have been looking at aggregating to save money. You can typically save 15 to 25 percent off just your connectivity right off the top, sometimes more if you are going with Ethernet or if you're willing to go to broadband. But the challenge is that people are concerned that they won't get great customer experience, so along comes SD-WAN that, in certain providers, can give a quality of service guarantee over broadband connections, which is pretty cool.

The other thing I saw was if you ask enterprises what their application strategy looks like today you are going to hear anywhere from 20 to 40 percent cloud applications and 60 to 80 percent data center-based apps. If you ask them what it looks like 24 months from now they'll tell you it's going to be 60 to 80 percent cloud apps. So, that opens up the door to companies looking more and more closely at internet connections. Between the desire to pay less for bandwidth and improve app performance, especially cloud app performance, those two trends [point to] people trying to figure out how to implement SD-WAN.

What is your strategy when it comes to working with SD-WAN providers, while remaining neutral for customers?

Our strategy is to be provider-agnostic unless a customer is locked in [with a vendor] or wants a specific carrier or SD-WAN provider. We have a focus on SD-WAN solutions that are carrier- agnostic, and we think that gives customers better freedom and a better customer experience in the long run because if you are locked into one carrier and you open a new site, and they don’t have fiber to where you are going, you'll wait 90 to 120 days minimum to get connected, whereas if we can simply drop in the last mile provider that is already there, you're up and running in 2 to 5 days.

Today, we [work with] CloudGenix, Talari and Aryaka. Those are three different approaches to SD-WAN, and we match those up with clients that have needs for that specific strategy.

How would you help a customer decide between the different SD-WAN providers?

For example, one enterprise might have no idea what applications are being used at their 200 sites, including whether they are cloud apps. They think they know, but they don’t have any real reporting on it, and perform don’t have true visibility, so CloudGenix would be a great option because they can report on all applications, whether its custom apps, public cloud apps, etc. If another customer is having huge problems with latency and they have a global network, then we will probably recommend Aryaka for those sites where latency has become a real struggle for different parts of the world. Talari [Networks] would be a good call for people that are very comfortable with packet-based technologies, but they want some freedom in which carrier they use going forward.

What makes the SD-WAN market confusing right now for businesses?

It's a little bit of the Wild West right now, and it's being driven by apps moving to cloud. We have a demand for bandwidth that is almost unable to be satisfied related to video and all the different high-bandwidth requirements on the network driving that demand and its really sort of the perfect storm. Then, we have all of these entrepreneurs out there that have gone out over the last couple of years, some by accident, and have come up with SD-WAN companies that are different flavors of a similar value proposition.

Hust like we saw with Viptela getting purchased by Cisco, we are going to see more of that in the next 24 months. We are going to see some unknown providers grab market share that no one was expecting and that we don't even know who they are yet. That may be the best reason for business customers to stay close to anyone that is doing this for a living – keeping an eye on the player and what they are doing technically and strategically so that your business aligns with the right provider.

How can solution providers help clarify SD-WAN options for their end customers?

I think the market is going to continue to be confusing and not standardized for the next 3 to 5 years. Right now, there might be 8 to 10 good SD-WAN providers out there, but businesses can't evaluate 8 to 10 on their own – it's too cumbersome. I think that we will ultimately have 3 to 4 flavors of SD-WAN – ones that have a network, ones that bring the network or the network brings them – like the carrier partner options, and the ones that are packet-based solutions, like Viptela, and then application-based, like CloudGenix. I think over the next few years, as companies adopt any of those flavors, there will be more use cases out there. It's predicted that 30 percent of enterprise customers will be using SD-WAN by the end of 2019, so that will be enough critical mass to help educate the market. But, it's still going to take figuring out how to implement it, what the best practices are for implementation, and which one you should pick. [For example,] if voice is your most critical business application and you are using UCaaS, you'll have to know which [SD-WAN solution] helps it preform the best.

I see the market really shifting towards solution providers who can do this on a national basis and global basis.

What should solution providers know about selling SD-WAN, and how important is an education for partners around this emerging technology?

It's not just about educating end users, it's educating solution providers because most partners are going to focus and sell whatever is easy for them. That could mean that they get called from one of the SD-WAN providers, and they looked at their margins and the value proposition, and out the door they go, but I think it's important to look at this market holistically.