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What To Look For in an SD-WAN Service Provider

Today’s IT teams are overwhelmed with navigating complex, multi-cloud environments, launching and scaling digital transformation efforts, and dealing with remote and hybrid workforces. As a result, IT leaders increasingly turn to software-defined wide area networks or SD-WAN as a solution. SD-WAN solutions offer improved productivity, increased application effectiveness, and boosted network security.

That said, there are a lot of options for SD-WAN solutions on the market. Some teams are even choosing to build and manage their own solutions in-house. However, deploying and managing your own solution could be risky.

But there could also be risks in using a partner who might not understand your business as well as you, or have the skills to tailor a solution to your specific needs. It’s critical to find an end-to-end solution that will meet all of your needs – not just some.

This blog will highlight the six things to look for when choosing an SD-WAN managed services vendor.

Reputation

Regardless of the service offered, reputation matters. You will be looking for a partner who can design, build and run a network solution on your behalf. The value of working with an SD-WAN managed services partner instead of creating and managing your own SD-WAN solution is being able to access their expertise.

You should look for a vendor with a breadth of experience in various customer environments. Look for an SD-WAN vendor that can provide tailored solutions, always-on support, and a trusting partnership that lasts well beyond the installation. Ask about their Net Promoter Scores (NPS) –   happy customers are an indication of good design and an effectively managed solution. With a reliable vendor at your side, you’ll have more time to innovate and solve problems specific to your business.

Breadth of services

It’s great to find a vendor that’s specialized in offering SD-WAN solutions. However, finding a provider that offers other integrated and additional technology solutions is important, too. Do they offer a single SD-WAN solution or are they evaluating what will serve your business needs best? Aside from a top-notch SD-WAN product, ask what other network connectivity and technology solutions your vendor offers or manages.

In addition to networking equipment, firewalls, SASE and Zero Trust remote access solutions, DDoS protection, private Cloud on-ramp access, wireless access, broadband access, and a Tier-1 broadband Internet network backbone are just a few of the capabilities to consider.

Apart from other service offerings, consider the managed service provider’s ability to procure, configure, install, and own day two remediation of hardware. By offering this, your provider relieves the burden of managing your own end-to-end service design and procurement.

From a service perspective, figure out what their approach is to monitoring and managing multi-vendor solutions. Also, ask your provider about their supplier relationships. Do they have volume buying power, leverage to get equipment and services faster than you, better access to 2nd line support, or perhaps shared spares inventory? The answers to these questions will give you a better understanding of the services your provider can offer your business.

Security

Security must be a top priority for your SD-WAN provider. SD-WAN equipment usually has layers of security features built in, but it’s worth checking with your provider to make sure. The provider should also offer additional solutions not inherent to the SD-WAN service for added protection. Examples of additional types of security services could be managed firewalls, SASE, and Zero Trust services.

So, what do these additional security services provide? Zero Trust and policy-based, centralized security models provide the highest level of protection for SD-WAN solutions. Zero Trust security models continue to gain popularity in the remote work era as IT leadership seeks to control application access for users regardless of location, via policy-based security.

Additionally, SASE becomes even more relevant as more and more of your applications are hosted in the Cloud. SASE leverages distributed, Cloud-native firewalls to secure your data and systems against outside threats. It also enforces access policies and compliance by intercepting all sessions en route.

Aside from offering extra security services, you should consider how your SD-WAN partner handles the end-to-end change management processes. Adherence to practices such as IT Infrastructure Library or ITIL helps minimize risk and service disruption.

Design & Deployment Skills

When it comes to SD-WAN deployment, you want your end-to-end solution to be up and running quickly and painlessly – or at least you want your provider to match your pace.

But first, you need to establish how much work you have to do in the design process. You want your needs to be taken into consideration without having to be an expert on device configuration.

Find out how your vendor would work with you and what professional services they bring to understand your business goals and needs. You want a partner to help optimally configure systems for the desired outcomes, not hand you forms to fill out.

Explore how your provider handles end-to-end project management and then find out their process for scaling deployments with minimal errors. Ask questions like:

  • How many sites can you install in a day?
  • How do you install that many sites in a day?
  • What automation systems do you use?
  • How do you scale configuration?
  • How many people will be needed to deploy your solution?

This is how you determine whether you are tying yourself to a rock or a liferaft.

You want a partner who can design better than your staff. They should be able to deploy quickly, without errors, with minimal supervision, and working at your pace. This will free up your staff to focus on what only they can do to make the network transition painless.

Performance & Management

Network performance goes hand in hand with employee productivity, the ability to innovate, and the end-user experience. A good SD-WAN services provider will enable throughput improvements and configure the end-to-end solution for optimal network and application performance. Most SD-WAN technologies include application-aware routing. As long as the network design is right and the equipment is fully configured, your end-users should get excellent quality of experience from your mission-critical applications.

Decide if you want to maintain responsibility for some part of the management of the service. A good vendor will be open to co-management and offer training services to bring your team up to speed with the new technology.  

An optimal configuration is essential for day one performance, but how services are managed end to end determines real end-user satisfaction. It’s important to determine what technologies your vendor is using to effectively manage multi-vendor solutions.

Ask whether they use AI for speedy route cause analysis and automation for remote remediation. Do they understand the difference between observability and monitoring and how do they use that for proactive maintenance? What fraction of faults do they fix before a ticket is raised? Above all, ask about their NPS. This shows how their overall network performance and management delights their customers.

Visibility & Transparency

Having visibility into the network services is a critical component of an IT manager’s job. Whether you co-manage your solution or your service provider fully manages the solution, you should have a view into your network performance.

Good vendors offer a customer portal that allows you to understand the performance of all the managed elements, including network infrastructure. This portal should display both current and historical information, alongside the open and historical ticket status. This enables you to instantly answer any questions from your executive team about issues and status. It also allows you to conduct your own analysis on performance, including your managed services provider’s performance. Today’s world is about real-time dashboards, not end-of-month reviews.

Be wary of flashy equipment vendor portals that provide visibility into only a small piece of your network health. A good managed SD-WAN provider can quickly give you context into the entire managed solution, and give a holistic, real-time view of your network performance.

Enhanced SD-WAN by Zayo

Zayo uses professional services, automation, and AIOps to design, build and run multi-vendor edge to cloud managed SD-WAN and SASE solutions that our customers love.

Our solution capability includes: 

  • Multiple SD-WAN technology vendors and a full range of ancillary equipment for an edge to Cloud solution
  • Optional SASE solutions enabling remote working and Cloud security
  • Low latency, global cloud access to every major CSP leveraging our own private fiber network 
  • White glove design by professionals who support your team every step of the way
  • Fast, scalable, error-free deployment enabled by automation platforms for logistics and equipment configuration
  • Fully or co-managed options
  • Edge-to-everywhere management using AIOps and automation for proactive fault remediation
  • An insights portal giving full visibility of all managed elements, access services, ticketing events, and our performance plus optional ITSM integration
  • Always-on support from our network operations center
  • Direct symmetrical connections to our Tier-1 IP global network 
  • Third-party wireline and wireless access aggregation options

Read our whitepaper in Fortune Magazine to learn more about our Enhanced SD-WAN solution.

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