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Straight Talk Service Provider

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The software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) has already had an outsized impact on enterprise services, even though the number of adoptions is still relatively small. That is because SD-WAN is a collection of features especially designed for the enterprise: The technology makes enterprises' hybrid networks more flexible to operate and easier to manage.

In conversations with enterprises about their network needs, Ovum has identified three topics that resonate. The first is easier centralized management of remote devices, through one cloud-hosted controller and portal interface. The second topic is policy management, which lets administrators think about their network in terms of applications delivery instead of lower-layer network mapping. The third topic is combining both MPLS and internet ports, regardless of underlying circuits. The merger of these three topics into one offer is highly compelling to enterprises. SD-WAN does just that: It unites enterprise MPLS and internet bandwidth; manages resources going over the top at the applications level; and exerts central control over all remote devices.

Again, based on conversations with enterprises, interest in upgrading is tempered by the amount of work it takes to swap over from the existing enterprise WAN. Large enterprises have built up their networks to use a complex combination of tools and appliances, management systems, and applications. SD-WAN may replace a conventional router and firewall, but enterprise environments are just not that simple. Even if the move to SD-WAN seems like a great idea to the enterprise, if it is too complicated, IT departments will concentrate on other ICT priorities (such as cloud enablement).

These are reasons for service providers to be excited about SD-WAN. When enterprises want the features, but do not have the in-house expertise or resources to do it themselves, that paves the way for outside assistance. There are opportunities for third-party assessment, network design and professional installation, and for fully managed services. Service providers have got this message, and more and more providers are now in on the opportunity. Ovum has identified close to 100 managed SD-WAN solutions from service providers to date, and there are certainly more.

Once a provider has SD-WAN up and running, the next big challenge is how to sell most effectively. Providers need to train their sales forces to identify SD-WAN opportunities, backed by suitably trained technical talent. Sales may also need role-based training to educate influencers in the decision. The provider needs to draw lines between standard implementation assistance and custom professional services for migration, and offer managed services tiers. Lastly, providers need a compelling cost model. Most providers are still extremely protective of their SD-WAN pricing, partly because providers are themselves still working out what enterprises expect from the SD-WAN service wrap, and how they prefer to pay for what they consume.

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