How Cloud-Native Carriers Are Shaping the Future of SD-WAN

The enterprise WAN landscape has changed significantly over the last decade. Telco-managed services like MPLS (Multi-protocol label switching) used to be the go-to solution for WAN connectivity. However, as business became more mobile and cloud services became more popular, a number of fundamental flaws in MPLS were exposed.

SD-WAN has proven to be a much better solution for enterprises looking to achieve the flexibility and elasticity modern enterprise networks demand. Industry experts seem to agree. Gartner discussed SD-WAN going mainstream in 2017 and by 2018 they pronounced that SD-WAN is “killing” MPLS.

However, there are a number of approaches to SD-WAN, and some have clear advantages over others. The traditional Do-It-Yourself (DIY) appliance-based SD-WAN model is one many are likely familiar with. An SD-WAN appliance enables Policy-based routing (PbR) and use of economical public Internet links. Generally, additional appliances are required to enable enterprise-grade security and other functionality. Carrier-managed SD-WAN leverages similar technology and packages it as a managed solution. While these approaches have offered enterprises benefits over MPLS, they have their drawbacks when it comes to reducing complexity and maximizing scalability, agility, and elasticity.

Cloud-native carriers help address these challenges and take SD-WAN to the next level bringing the benefits of the cloud to enterprise WAN. In this piece, we’ll dive into why that is the case and how cloud-native carriers are shaping the future of SD-WAN for the modern enterprise.

Where DIY & Carrier-managed SD-WAN come up short

DIY SD-WAN and carrier-managed solutions aren’t all bad by any means. They help solve the problem of reducing bandwidth costs relative to MPLS and bring flexibility that legacy solutions from telcos never could. Their downsides stem from the fact they are effectively network overlays that don’t directly address challenges such as enterprise-grade security, support for mobile users, and optimized connectivity for cloud services.

As a result, enterprises (or the MSPs that manage the network) need to bundle together multiple appliances, often from different vendors, to glue together a solution that meets enterprise demands. This leads to a relatively inefficient result and can drive up cost and complexity. It can also lead to some needs going unmet. For example, mobile support is one of the more common features to fall by the wayside. 

In short, since DIY and carrier-managed SD-WAN don’t offer a converged holistic WAN infrastructure, enterprises miss out on some of the potential upside of SD-WAN.  Further, with carrier-managed SD-WAN, agility is hamstrung by dependence upon support tickets for even minor network changes.

The Advantages of Cloud-native Carriers

So, how do cloud-native carriers address these shortcomings? By offering a converged WAN architecture built upon cloud-native multitenant software, an affordable SLA-backed network backbone, and flexible management options. The end-result is a WAN that is reliable and agile enough to meet the demands of today’s enterprise, and help future-proof networks for the challenges of tomorrow.

Cloud-native carriers deliver the inherent SD-WAN overlay benefits of other SD-WAN solutions, such as the ability to use a variety of transport methods (cable, LTE, ADSL, etc.), ensuring enterprises still benefit from the resiliency and flexibility of SD-WAN. Additionally, features like Dynamic Path Control and PbR help deliver high levels of agility and performance at scale.

Where cloud-native carriers begin to separate themselves is with cloud-native network services. By moving the network architecture to the cloud, cloud-native carriers are able to integrate security, performance optimization, and management capabilities without adding significant complexity to the WAN. Gone is the need for proprietary and expensive appliances. A software-based architecture enables cloud-native carriers to use commodity servers for everything from calculating routes to security inspections.

This approach not only reduces complexity and cost for enterprises, it can actually help improve security. When you consider the complexity involved with managing multiple discrete appliances for NGFW, secure web gateway, and IPS (intrusion prevention system), it can be easy to understand how oversights and misconfigurations can occur. With cloud-native carriers, these functionalities are built into the underlying network, ensuring security throughout and improving overall security posture.

Additionally, for the enterprise, a cloud-native solution means WAN connectivity is possible from effectively anywhere with Internet access. This makes mobile-integration, something legacy SD-WAN solutions struggle with, simple. Mobile clients from leading cloud-native carriers enable secure access for mobile workers at a time when working away from a central location is more important than ever.

The management model with cloud-native carriers is unique as well. While “fully managed” is an option with cloud-native, the underlying software architecture makes self-service simple as well. This means enterprises are able to avoid the delays associated with change management in with the managed service provider approach, without needing to shift all the way to the DIY end of the spectrum. With cloud-native carriers, enterprises have the flexibility to choose the WAN management approach that makes sense for their business.

Finally, cloud-native carriers also offer enterprises a global SLA-backed network backbone. One of the major knocks on older approaches to SD-WAN is that it was simply a network overlay and could not deliver the SLAs enterprises were used to with MPLS. With cloud-native carriers this is no longer an issue. A global backbone with Points of Presence (also referred to as “PoPs”) in multiple regions across the world help ensure enterprise-grade performance and reliability. Additionally, as many of these PoPs are in the same datacenters as major cloud service providers like AWS and Azure, cloud-native carriers can offer connectivity to these services comparable to “direct connect” style options from the providers themselves.

Cloud-native carriers maximize the upside of SD-WAN

With cloud-native carriers, gone are the days of SD-WAN being “only” a network overlay and SLAs being unheard of. The either or approach to management is a thing of a past as well. Enterprises don’t have to pick between the complexity of DIY or inflexible fully managed SD-WAN. With cloud-native a balance between self-service and carrier-managed can be struck. Further, cloud-native carriers enable support for cloud and mobile integrations that meets or exceeds the performance of anything legacy SD-WAN and MPLS can deliver.

In short: by taking a bottom up approach and creating a cloud-based purpose-built WAN architecture, cloud-native carriers are helping enterprises realize the true upside of SD-WAN.

Image credit: Future Tech via majcot/Shutterstock

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