As the SD-WAN market continues to thrive and resellers and MSPs look to add these solutions to their arsenal, an important question to ask is what is happening to what we might call legacy solutions potentially displaced by software-defined wide area network solutions? We are of course referring to MPLS.
Should companies consider this newer, software-based solution or stick with the tried-and-true?
Windstream, the multibillion-dollar provider of voice and data solutions has become an important provider of SD-WAN solutions with thousands of endpoints in the field. As a result, we wanted to learn more on this and related topics – we wondered how their SD-WAN solutions are progressing.
We reached out to Mike Frane, VP Product Management as he heads up the company’s SD-WAN strategy. Since joining the organization in 2008, he’s overseen the launch and lifecycle of products including LTE wireless, Ethernet and MPLS IPsec access elements, Secure WiFi & Analytics, Application Performance Optimization, IPsec VPN and Unified Communications services and led the company’s Portal and Hybrid Networking strategy. Obviously, he is the right person to be interviewing and without further ado, here is that interview:
When and how did you get into the SD-WAN market?
- Windstream recognized that traditional MPLS networks were not meeting the changing needs of large distributed enterprises – the need for more cost-effective bandwidth to support the proliferation of cloud-based apps and to deliver the performance and resiliency of those apps.
- Windstream began identifying potential SD-WAN technology partners in late 2015, and completed the evaluation process in early 2016, and launched its SD-WAN service in Q3 2016 with VeloCloud as our underlying technology platform. Windstream’s SD-WAN solution uses our proprietary Cloud Core Network Architecture with Cloud Core Nodes strategically deployed throughout the US, which include SD-WAN Gateways, diverse and redundant and diverse low latency connectivity to leading cloud platforms/applications, MPLS interconnections, Cloud Security services, IP transit and direct access to additional Windstream provided cloud services. This brings cloud and hosted applications closer to end users for superior performance and optimizes access to additional Windstream cloud services including: UCaaS, Security Services, Cloud Connect, Internet and MPLS. Windstream was among the first MSPs to offer SD-WAN and now has deployed SD-WAN to hundreds of customers at thousands of locations.
Tell us more about your particular offerings in this space.
- Windstream SD-WAN is a true over the top solution that supports existing MPLS and Internet connectivity regardless of access type (T1, Ethernet, Broadband, Cellular, etc.) and requires no rip and replace – it can be deployed right over the existing network connectivity.
- Windstream offers two managed SD-WAN options. Both options include a dedicated Project implementation expert to ensure a seamless deployment. The premier offer is the Windstream SD-WAN Concierge™ service with an assigned Technical Service Manager who provides expert and proactive guidance. For those customers who want more of a guided DIY approach, Windstream offers an Advanced service as well. Both offers provide a customizable industry-leading Management tool that provides complete visibility and allows the customer unparalleled control in a co-managed environment. The Windstream management tool provides the customer with a level of personalization that is unique to our solution and gives the customer deep insights into their operations.
- Windstream offers the most robust broadband access portfolio of any MSP including Cable and LEC broadband, cellular broadband, Ethernet over copper, fixed wireless Ethernet as well as more the traditional connectivity options of Ethernet and T1.
What is driving enterprise interest in SD-WAN?
- There are multiple factors driving enterprises towards SD-WAN. Customers are still in awe of the visibility that SD-WAN provides them – rarely does a demo go by where customers don’t immediately see a use for the amount of information that we can provide them about their network, their applications or their usage patterns (all the way down to a device level). Once they get a taste of the visibility, they jump to being able to control the network, which SD-WAN allows them to do at the click of a button. The amount of information that once was hidden to them coupled with the simplicity of being able to manage the network drive great interest in our solution. At the root, however, the explosion of cloud-based applications is really driving the first two. As customers shift more and more of their applications to the cloud the costs to support that traffic over private network connections increases dramatically. SD-WAN allows companies to deploy hybrid private/public networks at a cost-effective price point while maintaining a high level of security and providing greater control over the network than ever before. SD-WAN with hybrid networks also provides companies with a cost-effective high availability network providing them with even greater application availability for their users.
What is the biggest pain your solutions take away for customers?
- Legacy networks like MPLS were not designed to support the explosion of cloud-based apps, and traditional private network access is too expensive for the increments of bandwidth provided – especially considering that an estimated 80% of an enterprises traffic is destined for the Internet. Deploying a secure SD-WAN network over high-bandwidth broadband solves for the rapidly growing demand for more bandwidth at an affordable price (reducing the per mbps costs by as much as 90%). And active/active configurations provide the high performance and uptime needed to support mission-critical apps. SD-WAN makes commodity broadband “fit for purpose” network connectivity. The ability to prioritize apps that impact the customer experience or enterprise productivity over social media apps ensures that precious bandwidth is reserved for those mission-critical apps
What is your target audience?
- Mid-market enterprises with 3+ locations that are dependent on their network to deliver in-house and cloud-based applications. SD-WAN is applicable across all industries, and we’ve seen highest success across four verticals that seem to be the first to migrate to SD-WAN: Retail, Banking, Healthcare and Professional Services. There is also a significant market in the single site, single access, space – though it’s not typically the target for SD-WAN. Using the Windstream SD-WAN solution these customers are able to take advantage of the technology to improve their application performance over a single access facility.
How do you go to market? Direct? MSPs? Carriers? Etc.
- Windstream sells SD-WAN services to enterprises both through a Direct sales team and a network of Channel Partners.
- We also have a Wholesale offering for resellers.
What synergistic technologies and markets are aided by SD-WAN?
- SD-WAN opens the doors for other cloud-based services including Unified Communications, such as OfficeSuite, that can be delivered over the SD-WAN network and cloud-based security services such as Windstream’s Managed Network Security offering. Additional services such as O365 and other cloud-based applications, as well as hybrid cloud networking in general, are bolstered by the capabilities provided by SD-WAN. With SDN and Network Function Virtualization (NFV), we’ll soon see many other services, including advanced Security services, routing and switching and distributed cloud services delivered as software deployed on commodity computing devices at the customer premises or in a Central Office Re-architected as Datacenter (CORD) facility.
What regions of the world will be most disrupted by SD-WAN?
- Windstream’s experience is concentrated in North America, and we believe that SD-WAN will be exceedingly disruptive in NA, and will be the primary solution of choice going forward for new network deployments and upgrades.
How do you differentiate your company from others in the market?
- Windstream offers a fully manages “white glove” SD-WAN Concierge service. We provide a dedicated Technical Service Manager (TSM) who provides personalized guidance, analyzes network and application performance and recommends actions needed improve application performance.
- The Windstream SD-WAN Management Tool provides complete visibility and control in a single interface, including zero-touch configuration for new locations, services, and security policies. Customers are able to set business policies, prioritize applications by location, user and time/date—and make real-time changes to dynamically optimize performance and customer experience. No other service provider puts this much control into the hands of the enterprise IT team. The Windstream management tool allows the customer to view and control their network they way that they want to, providing the ability to personalize their information and views
- Windstream deployed SD-WAN over a Cloud Core Network Architecture designed to improve cloud-based application performance with diverse, low latency connections to cloud providers as well as Windstream provided services. We enable dynamic traffic steering in real time to provide the flexibility, agility, and reliability to deliver superior application performance and a consistent differentiating customer experience.
- Windstream’s ISP heritage gives us broad experience in building hybrid networks by providing Cable Broadband, LEC Broadband, Cellular Internet and other asymmetrical access options in addition to the more traditional Ethernet and TDM access that have historically been the go-to access for Enterprises
What is driving the competitive SD-WAN landscape? Why are so many vendors and providers throwing their hats in the ring?
- There is competition coming from all levels of the network landscape. On one side of the large network operators (the LECs and ILECs), there is a tremendous installed base that they want to protect. They have been successful in protecting this base from the commodity Internet offerings in the market for some time (both by a combination of the level of support they have provided when delivering their own broadband and the historical challenges faced by cable MSOs) but with the advent of SD-WAN and the competition from cable MSOs (the other side of the large network operators) making broadband more fit for purpose and combining it with their own SD-WAN offers, they realize that they need to leverage the technology to be more competitive and provide their customers with more options.
- In the middle, we see traditional CLECs who have transformed themselves into managed service providers and view SD-WAN as a natural extension to the MPLS and IPsec VPN networks that they have been providing for years. They are using the technology to provide a differentiated level of customer experience that the large network operators don’t provide.
- The low end is particularly interesting – given the visibility and control that SD-WAN provides, coupled with the over the top (OTT) deployment model, the barrier entry into the managed service provider space is now incredibly low. This allows traditional VARs (or other non-service providers) who have been more boutique in nature to deliver a hyper-focused customer experience for their embedded customer base and increase their wallet share at the same time.
How will the competitive landscape change in the next year?
- Technology Vendors: Almost every significant technology vendor and service provider has either launched or in the process of launching an SD-WAN offer. We are already witnessing the consolidation of leading technology providers, and some of the late entrants and those with inferior technology or who are unable to significantly differentiate their offering will likely be squeezed out or relegated to the sidelines.
- Resellers and VARs: Those offering a DIY approach by simply providing and/or managing the technology, will find it tough to compete against MSPs offering fully managed and integrated solutions. Despite the hype that SD-WAN is easy to install and manage, many enterprises are experiencing the pain of DIY and now seeking MSP assistance.
- MSPs: Although the underlying technology may be similar, it’s how the MSP differentiates the service and provides the support that will determine those that have the most success.
What is the future for your organization?
- In the third quarter of 2017 SD-WAN solutions comprised 19% of our enterprise sales. SD-WAN will continue to be a cornerstone of our solutions to optimize an enterprise network. Windstream intends to remain on the leading edge of the SD-WAN MSP space, and we have plans to significantly enhance our SD-WAN service in 2018 with additional features and capabilities to meet the demands of our target markets. For Windstream, while the technology is important, how we differentiate our solution with a superior customer and digital experience are paramount to our strategy.
The best way to learn more about SD-WAN and related activities and see Windstream and the entire SD-WAN ecosystem in action is to be at the world’s only SD-WAN Expo @sd-wanexpo, Feb. 14-16, Fort Lauderdale, FL. We hope to see you there!