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With services like software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), network operators can get in front of enterprises to promote their high-value role and the benefits of choosing a strong WAN partner. Network operators have been doing just that, but they have been only partly successful in winning over enterprises. SD-WAN technology vendors seem to be out-shouting network operators and are driving awareness. While these technology vendors partner with network operators, they follow the money and ultimately take any channel to market that works.

Ovum research shows that enterprises rank network operators among their top three partner picks for SD-WAN and NFV. That’s the good news. The bad news is that SD-WAN technology vendors outrank network operators among enterprises as a partner pick, and enterprises considering NFV are about equally likely to consider an integrator/IT services company or other solutions partner.

SD-WAN technology vendors have done a good job drawing attention to their platforms. By contrast, many network operators either lagged in SD-WAN, soft-launched their SD-WAN services, or lacked a clear message. The NFV picture is brighter: Building a multivendor enterprise NFV platform is hard. Initially only big network operators invested to do it. But there are now other partner options.

For some self-sufficient large enterprises, the marketing noise and confusion pushes them to in-source and work directly with SD-WAN vendors. Instead of waiting to let the market shake out, they procure and test the new technologies, evaluate for viability, and source partners where they need assistance with deployment. They can manage the solution themselves, at least until the dust settles.

It would be a shame if network operators slipped on managed enterprise SD-WAN and NFV. Network operators are much-needed practical experts on these newer technologies. Network operators review and test SD-WAN technology partners, bringing clarity on the major features of a SD-WAN platform. Network operators’ service wrap can help advise and assess enterprise needs and assist with deployment, configuration, management, and services migration. Network operators can also host gateways and provide other managed resources to enterprise customers, and in turn map new services back onto an enterprise’s current and planned network footprint.

Network operators’ success in these new technologies is anything but assured. The big public cloud providers offer pilots and fast, easy purchase options. They have a selection of virtual network functions (VNFs) and virtual SD-WAN environments ready to spin up – either through click-through order or via enterprise bring-your-own-license agreements. IT services providers and integrators are better tied into enterprises’ applications, and applications dominate buyer preference conversations.

SD-WAN and NFV sold as enterprise business services should be easy wins for network operators. But we are in an upside-down world of converging technologies and markets. If network operators cannot communicate clear, firm messages about the value-added role and benefits they bring to these managed services, they may watch these seemingly easy wins, too, slip from their grasp.

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