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SD-WAN providers: Consider the small with the big

SD-WAN providers extend far beyond the most well-known names in networking. Consider the smaller or niche players when checking out good options.

When a technology can help you improve and simplify WAN management, network services and resilience, and allow...

you to increase the average bandwidth in your branches by a factor of seven while reducing connectivity costs by 44% at the same time, you pay attention -- right?

Many organizations are paying attention to software-defined WAN right now, and lots of companies are offering SD-WAN products and services. Some SD-WAN providers have a big megaphone, being large and well-established in the minds of IT buyers. These include Cisco, Riverbed and a few others.

But what of the many other potential SD-WAN partners with which IT could work?

The market space is currently rife with SD-WAN providers and vendors, and although they all offer some flavor of SD-WAN, they also cover a wide spectrum of focus areas. A business more focused on securing its WAN might find its best fit with an SD-WAN provider that comes out of the security space and has richer security functionality than most. An organization looking to resell services to its own clientele might want to pick a platform with the broadest possible set of network features, not one focused solely on SD-WAN.

By including smaller and lesser-known SD-WAN providers, a prospective customer is more likely to find the best fit for its specific situation and operations. Companies may also find that with a smaller partner, their voices carry more weight than with a larger one, and they may have more ability to negotiate prices and terms into the bargain.

Nemertes Research looks at the SD-WAN space as being divided into two big groups of providers: overlay and in-net. Overlay providers sell the enterprise boxes to install and manage. SD-WAN services are provided mostly via those boxes, although some are cloud-based options. In-net providers may use an on-premises box for some purposes, but they deliver key SD-WAN functionality via their own network edge and core.

Breaking down overlay and in-net SD-WAN providers

Nemertes Research looks at the SD-WAN space as being divided into two big groups of providers: overlay and in-net.

In considering the path forward in SD-WAN, every organization should be looking at a broad set of potential options, both overlay and in-net. They should also be looking past their organization's incumbents and the small set of familiar names to examine the full array of available options.

Nemertes groups vendors according to what technology space they came out of, to get to SD-WAN. There are several groups of overlay SD-WAN providers to consider:

  • Pure-play SD-WAN providers have the fullest feature sets and robust support for zero-touch deployment. Examples here include CloudGenix, Saisei, Viptela -- now being acquired by Cisco -- and VeloCloud.
  • WAN optimization vendors usually provide traditional WAN optimization features, including file compression and application acceleration, as well as SD-WAN functionality. Examples include Silver Peak and Citrix, which has huge mind share -- just not in the WAN optimization or SD-WAN spaces yet.
  • Link-aggregation vendors have extremely robust features for pooling physical links and distributing traffic among them. Examples include Elfiq Networks, Mushroom Networks and Talari Networks.
  • General network vendors include SD-WAN as a use case, but have their sights set on broader application. Versa Networks and 128 Technology are both examples here.

On the in-net side, Nemertes also groups according to where providers started on their paths to SD-WAN. There are four major groups of in-net SD-WAN providers:

  • Network-as-a-service vendors were in the business of providing WAN as a service before SD-WAN was a well-defined concept. Examples include Aryaka and TELoIP.
  • Carriers and telcos usually work with a managed version of an overlay service. Examples include Windstream with VeloCloud, CenturyLink with Versa and Masergy with Silver Peak.
  • Content delivery networks and mobile content providers are experts in acceleration. Take, for example, Apcela.
  • Secure WAN providers came to SD-WAN as an adjunct to their services that focus on ultra-secure connectivity. Examples include Cato Networks and OPAQ Networks.

Other SD-WAN provider options that matter

Evaluating more options doesn't mean ignoring questions of financial viability, of course, or of being able to provide superior technical support or great value. But as we have seen in security and WAN optimization over the years, there is room for a broad set of smaller but stable and growing companies in SD-WAN. The best fit for an organization's specific needs may be among the smallest and least-known SD-WAN providers.

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This was last published in August 2017

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What advantages does your organization see in choosing a smaller SD-WAN provider?
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From our research, it is clear the SD-WAN startups became the Innovators and the Idea factories when it comes to SD-WAN. The pure play SD-WAN companies as we like to call them were the ones that came up with the most innovative features and are the same ones that continue to innovate at a much faster rate than most of the household names in the networking industry. These innovators are winning because their ideas were better and their products were better.
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