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This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala – WAN speak.

In my last post I focused on how managed SD-WAN service providers can help large, distributed organizations with the complexity of managing dozens of relationships with various broadband providers. This can let a business with hundreds or even thousands of locations enjoy all the financial and performance benefits of SD-WANs without the associated risk of having to find and procure services from a bunch of DSL, cable, Ethernet, or other types of transport providers, since that’s one of the roles to managed service provider will play. This post will focus on the evaluation criteria that decision makers should use when choosing a managed service provider for SD-WAN. Below are what I believe are the top criteria:

  • Choice of WAN transport services. There is no single best WAN transport. The needs and location of the branch will dictate what is available and what the best choice is. The MSP should offer the following as part of their portfolio:
    • T1/E1 connections
    • MPLS services
    • DSL
    • Cable
    • Ethernet
    • Cellular wireless
    • Fixed wireless
    • Satellite
    Also, the MSP should give customers a choice of hybrid deployment or shifting to a pure broadband WAN.
  • Underlying technology that powers the service. Managed service providers have a wide range of options with respect to the technology used to deliver the SD-WAN service. Businesses should do their homework and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each solution and then choose an SD-WAN vendor that supports their particular business best.
  • Security capabilities. The number of high profile breaches continues to grow every year and branches are often the focal point for the bad guys as they do not have the same level of security as a company headquarter or data center. The MSP should use state of the art security technology in both physical and virtual form factors and compliment that with strong security skills. Many of the SD-WAN technology vendors have partnerships with security vendors, making that another point to consider.
  • Application optimization technology. This ensures excellent performance of all types of applications over broadband connections. The MSP should have the following technologies integrated into its service:
    • Quality of service to control bandwidth and optimize real time applications such as voice and video
    • Compression to increase the virtual capacity to branch sites and optimize non real time application such as email
    • Application classification to improve cloud application performance
  • Dynamic path selection. This feature enables multiple broadband connections to be bonded together to create a single, larger virtual link. This is one of the keys to delivering performance over broadband that is on par or better than traditional IP services like MPLS.
  • Integrated service delivery processes across the lifecycle. The MSP needs to take responsibility of network operations across the entire lifecycle, including planning, design, testing, installation, configuration, operations and field services.
  • Management of the internal network. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker but if the MSP can manage the wired LAN and WiFi network, it can remove that burden from the internal IT department.
  • Rich user portal. The portal is the customer “lens” into the relationship with the MSP. It should offer both a web based a mobile version that lets customers view the following:
    • Site installation
    • Maintenance tracking
    • Network operations
    • Reports and technical documentation
    • Network monitoring of all transport types and services
    • Proactive alerts and ticketing
    • Fault and performance management
    • Utilization and capacity planning
  • Other value added services. Some businesses may choose to minimize the number of vendors they need to deal with. Optional services such as VoIP, video as a service and other cloud applications can be appealing to enterprises as they look for fewer “throats to choke”.
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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.

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