How service providers can improve their SD-WAN for enterprise offering

Communication service providers are well-positioned to be the dominant provider of SD-WAN services to enterprises, but they face several challenges. In this blog post, we’ll explain how an industrialized SD-WAN service management lifecycle can help overcome these obstacles and accelerate SD-WAN monetization.

Software-Defined Wide Area Network

Enterprises from around the world have started adopting Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) technology to overcome the shortcomings of their existing WAN deployments.

If we look back to when this all started in 2016, enterprises were choosing SD-WAN primarily because they were attracted by the opportunities of cost-effective WAN connectivity beyond MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching). Today, the market is maturing quickly, and enterprises understand the capabilities of SD-WAN in greater detail. The ability to centralize control and security, to logically separate the virtualized overlay from the underlay, to choose amongst different cloud deployment options (on-premise, private and public cloud) give them tremendous flexibility over the traditional WAN approaches and qualifies SD-WAN as one of the top strategic technology drivers in accelerating enterprise digital business.

One proof point of SD-WAN being a strategic enabler is offered by the recent COVID-19 emergency. The coronavirus has forever changed our lives and created new attitudes and behaviors that will impact future enterprise business models. The architectural advantages of SD-WAN  – with the ability to provide direct and secure connectivity to cloud applications and respond to increasing bandwidth demand – seem well-suited to the new post-COVID-19 economic model where enterprises will need to incorporate remote working opportunities for their workforce, and start moving their processes and customer interactions online. This will likely lead to a further acceleration of SD-WAN uptake.

From an initial “do-it-yourself” approach, enterprises have started to shift toward an SD-WAN managed service model where the design, deployment and operation of their WAN solution is outsourced to an SD-WAN managed service provider. The SD-WAN managed service market is expected1 to grow: reaching a worldwide revenue of around USD 10.5 billion in 2024. At 41 percent 2019–2024 Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), service providers will have the lion’s share, dominating the SD-WAN managed services segment with a projected 80 percent market share – a tempting opportunity to expand within the enterprise business segment. However, in order to be successful they must also overcome several challenges.

The SD-WAN ecosystem is complex

Service providers typically need to integrate 10 to 15 different SD-WAN vendor technologies and features to establish a diversified portfolio of SD-WAN products. Each SD-WAN vendor has their strengths and weaknesses, due to the fact that they come from different businesses and product portfolio backgrounds. For service providers, a single-vendor strategy can be a good way to start, but by selecting one vendor they may end up waiving some capabilities – and subsequently create opportunities for the competition.

Service providers have the chance to make a multi-domain and multi-vendor play by leveraging MEF LSO1-compliant service orchestration. In a recent blog post, Ana Freitas and Pedro Sousa explain why SD-WAN is an orchestration game and the benefits of adopting service orchestration for SD-WAN. A multi-vendor strategy also generates a continuous demand for onboarding, certifying and verifying ever-changing combinations of these technologies to evolve and enrich the enterprise offering.

SD-WAN also comes with operational complexity. Volumes can reach tens of thousands of branch sites every year. While service orchestration greatly simplifies and automates service activation and assurance, before the overlay can be instantiated operators need to deploy the associated customer premise equipment to the enterprise branch office site and configure the physical network transport. This requires global supply capabilities, since international enterprises can have offices across continents.

Service providers also need to protect themselves against the direct competition of SD-WAN vendors due to their ability engage with enterprises directly and promote “do-it-yourself” approaches, which implies that service providers need to create and maintain compelling offerings to become the enterprises’ preferred option.


Adopt an agile SD-WAN service management lifecycle

Service providers have an opportunity to differentiate themselves in the SD-WAN market and accelerate their monetization by adopting an end-to-end agile SD-WAN service management lifecycle process on top of their orchestration platform.

Three stages are at the heart of a successful LSO-compliant SD-WAN service management strategy:

  1. SD-WAN service design: in this stage the focus is on rapid creation of enterprise SD-WAN services starting with the selection of SD-WAN vendors, features and Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) to be aggregated, the modeling of service specifications – including service components, resources, deployment options and the associated layout and policies – the service testing and validation and the realization of acceptance proof-of-concept demos. Service providers can provide agile onboarding, testing and certification with the adoption of a full DevOps continuous delivery, continuous deployment delivery process to enable service development automation.
  2. SD-WAN service fulfilment: with LSO-automated order fulfilment and service control, the service activation is as fast as the speed of the physical site deployment. Service providers need to deploy a global delivery process to cover CPE hardware procurement and supply, shipment worldwide, site deployment and field services for maintenance and break-fix.
  3. SD-WAN service assurance: operating and assuring SD-WAN services is complex because faults can occur at any level in the stack, and underlay can come with a combination of multiple transports, and thousands of branch sites. To achieve the goal of “five nine” up-time service level, service providers need to deploy a service assurance process that provides a single view for monitoring all the resources in an effective way. They also need to adopt a proactive data-driven approach to detect faults more quickly and realize an effective closed-loop automation.

The improvements delivered by a well-structured SD-WAN service management lifecycle can be extremely significant. Some critical success factors can co-boost the time to launch of new services by up to 30 percent:

  1. Orchestration built-in pre-integrations with the top SD-WAN vendors can greatly reduce service implementation time and minimize systems integration efforts.
  2. A repository of multi-vendor reusable delivery accelerators such as VNF templates, test artefacts, policy templates, etc. reduces the time required for testing and maximizes the adoption of service delivery automation.
  3. Partnering with a specialized vendor to realize a unified global supply chain process for fast site deployment and established deployment standards across the world.

These are examples of some of the value that Ericsson can offer to communication service providers when it comes to realizing the benefits of SD-WAN.

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