8 Secrets To Succeeding In SD-WAN

SD-WAN Secret Sauce

Solution providers around the world are seeking advice on how to best capitalize on the fast-growing software-defined WAN market. How should a partner shift their networking business to be able to sell SD-WAN? Should the channel bet on best-of-breed or end-to-end solutions?

Who better to dish out SD-WAN channel advice than the CEO's and top executives leading the SD-WAN space. In a roundtable discussion with CRN, SD-WAN leaders from Cisco, VeloCloud, Talari Networks, Silver Peak, CloudGenix and Versa Networks explain what partners need to succeed in the emerging market and how to approach customers with SD-WAN.

Move To The Cloud

Sanjay Uppal, CEO and co-founder of VeloCloud, said the movement to SD-WAN will be easier for partners who invest in cloud expertise.

"And that's not very difficult to do now because applications have moved to the cloud. Storage has moved to the cloud. Compute has moved to the cloud. So why didn't networking?" said Uppal. "So if a partner gets the mantra about the cloud, then this movement to software defined WAN will be a whole lot easier than it has been in the past … So really getting the religion about the cloud and with that, there's several successful partners even some as small as – very recently a 20-person channel partner got us a deal that was several thousand sites."

Ease Customers' Router Migration

Damon Ennis, senior vice president of products at Silver Peak, said there's a massive opportunity for the channel to migrate legacy traditional router infrastructure to SD-WAN.

"So if you look at anybody that's doing hundreds of branch offices or thousands of branch offices – no matter how simple technology is – that's a large project to go and take several hundred of something out and replace it with several hundred of something else. There's logistics. There's project planning. There's making sure that there's minimal disruption to the customer. I think that the channel there can bring an awful lot to the SD-WAN space by helping and easing that transition," said Ennis.

Know Your Apps

"Getting the channel partners to become experts in the applications that are really driving the decision, not just pushing tin around, is key," said Silver Peak's Ennis.

Ennis said SD-WAN enables solution providers to provide critical value-add to their customer's applications. "In the traditional networking model, routers and switches don't really know anything about applications. But with SD-WAN, the application is key to what we're developing ... Everybody that has a product in this space has something that's application aware. That's all fundamental to our offerings here. But again, the opportunity for the channel is to understand that, learn a little bit more about the applications, and then how they can be deployed, and then give the right SLA."

John Dickey (pictured), president, CTO and co-founder of Talair Networks agreed.

"Let's be honest about it, application people have more funding than infrastructure people, and that's why we're all talking about apps because we know where the budget is. So, [partners] have to change their business model to adapt to this," said Dickey. "We're trying to help them, but they need to recognize the problem for themselves as well."

Try Best-Of-Breed And End-To-End

Ramesh Prabagaran, Cisco's senior director product management, who recently joined Cisco through its acquisition of SD-WAN superstar Viptela, said partners should have both best-of-breed and end-to-end SD-WAN solutions in its portfolio. It all depends on the customer.

"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. "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 a class of customers who just want the whole integrated solution. So, I don't think there's anyone answer that dominates the other. It really boils down to what does the customer need."

Drop The Box

VeloCloud's CEO Uppal said channel partners who "move boxes" are going the find it extremely difficulty in enter the SD-WAN space.

"It's all about services now. I think that managed services providers, SPs, and system integrators, these are the ones that are going to win. Folks who are still in the realm of, "I'm going to provide a box and make margin out of the volume," those people are going to find it more difficult … because SD-WAN is not just an end in itself around the automation -- but it's also a platform. On that platform, you can provide new cloud services."

Embrace The World Of Software

Versa Networks CEO Kelly Ahuja said partners can't just embrace the cloud to become successful with SD-WAN.

"For a channel partner, if you're embracing cloud, but not embracing software-defined stuff, then you're still living in the past. You can't be in the hardware defined world and cloud world together – you have to be in the software defined world and the cloud world," said Ahuja. "The future of the channel is not just about a pure box resale. It's about selling services and higher layer services. Channel partners have to become experienced enablers, not just connectivity and circuit providers."

Become A Business Enabler

Kumar Ramachandran, CEO and founder of CloudGenix, said although the channel built itself over the last few decades as the "arbiter of complexity", those looking to win SD-WAN deals should identifiy themselves as business enablers.

" In the last couple of decades in IT, vendors built complex products, [then] channels lay their arbiter around their various products or provided a layer of management to deliver simplicity to their customer. That was the business. Any channel that does that going forward, I think in the next 10 years, won't exist," said Ramachandran. "You have to move from being an arbiter of complexity to an enabler of business. Then you look at technologies and products and say, "Which product allows me to be an enabler of business? SD-WAN does that."

Know What’s Out There

The SD-WAN experts agreed that partners need to invest the proper time and money to truly understand the SD-WAN product set.

"So which partners are going to be really successful in SD-WAN? They're going to be the ones that understand the disruption that this suite of products that SD-WAN offers, and they can figure out and become actual true experts in the products so they can bring it to the customers and realize the true business value," said Silver Peak's Ennis. "The business value that we're seeing from SD-WAN is changing. It's growing every day."

"I've had channel partners, come to me and they've said, "We've deployed Silver Peak with Customer 'X' and it's working really, really well. And they just told us that they'd like to utilize that to build a network where they can connect to their customers.' Well, that's something where a channel partner can help tremendously," said Ennis. "So, it's going to be those creative partners that are understanding these solutions and building business opportunities around them."