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How does a managed software-defined WAN service work?

Networking analyst John Burke explains managed software-defined WAN, and discusses why providers are starting to offer the service to their customers.

Managed wide area network (WAN) services are nothing new -- a customer pays a service provider a flat monthly subscription fee to install, monitor and maintain networking equipment (such as routers) at branch offices. Managed service contracts typically include service level agreements, guaranteeing that customers can expect a certain degree of performance and connectivity even in remote locations.

Managed software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) services, however, are just beginning to emerge. On their own, SD-WAN technologies seek to bring the world of software-defined networking (SDN) to the edge of the WAN, with the same goals as SDN generally: decrease capital expense, decrease operating expense and increase agility and flexibility. SD-WAN also aims to make the WAN more service-centric, with traffic monitoring and management and a focus on application delivery. SD-WAN architecture can also support a control plane/data plane separation, seamless integration of WAN and branch networks into an end-to-end, policy-driven management framework, and the use of generic data-plane devices in the branch from the edge router inwards. SD-WAN seeks mainly to solve three key problems: secure integration of Internet links into well-managed WAN bandwidth pools; better align WAN architecture to network service needs; and simplify WAN management.

Cost reduction is the main driver in most organizations deploying software-defined WAN. WAN costs can be reduced by up to 90% by supplementing or replacing dedicated private WAN networks (usually MPLS) with commodity broadband connectivity.

Some carriers, like Verizon and Singtel, offer managed software-defined WAN services, freely incorporating Internet links for connectivity among internal sites. These services allow the enterprise all the flexibility and most of the cost savings of an SD-WAN environment, while minimizing the headache of managing the infrastructure and connectivity. Managed SD-WAN gives carriers a new approach to the WAN services space, recapturing business from enterprises otherwise capping, cutting back on, or simply fleeing their MPLS services.

Next Steps

Verizon, Viptela partner to provide managed SD-WAN service

How SD-WAN is transforming wide area networks

Dos and don'ts for deploying SD-WAN

This was last published in August 2015

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What are the leading SD -WAN management platforms? Are clients taking these in house or hiring a service provider to manage the SD WAN platform? When we suggest broadband management isn't that a little bit of a hornets nest today with many different providers being required for a large enterprise and very different support standards from the various broadband providers?
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