Don’t Fall Into the SD-WAN Appliance Consolidation Trap
Image source: Flicker user Brian Evans
SD-WAN is already a big market, around $1B in 2018, and is growing rapidly. The huge market potential of SD-WAN and the fact that it is threatening tangential markets dominated by large vendors is pushing these vendors into this market through acquisitions or self-developed products. This fuels the appliance consolidation trend where large vendors with a big product portfolio try to stuff as many billable products into a single appliance. It is always easier to up-sell more products to an existing customer than it is to win a new one. “You already have the hardware, it is just a license key to enable this” is typically the sales pitch.
Being the swiss army knife of networking, SD-WAN already suffers from the expansion of its undefined scope with vendors taking it a few steps further by adding additional functionalities such as security, VoIP related elements and other add-ons, each of these traditionally being provided by a company that focuses on that specific technology challenge. You, as an enterprise or service provider can’t really control what they throw into the SD-WAN blender for you.
The appliance consolidation pushed by the large vendors only intensifies this issue and while looking great on the brochure, has caveats when the product hits reality.
There are 2 main caveats enterprises and service providers should be concerned about.
These consolidated appliances come with handcuffs attached to them. SD-WAN, as it is provided today by the vendors, suffers from a great level of vendor lock and little control for the end user. Falling into the appliance consolidation and “just” turning on SD-WAN in a box you already have has you handcuffed to a single vendor for your networking and IT needs.
Unless your hardware has been supper underutilized, there is no magic that will allow you to just add a compute-intensive application such as SD-WAN (remember, there is typically encryption associated with it among other workloads) to run on your hardware without impacting performance and capacity. If you want a more detailed explanation on this, read this great article by Steve Garson on Network World where he talks specifically about Cisco and the appliance consolidation they have done.
Don’t be fooled by the NFV/uCPE/vCPE story
The appliance consolidation may sound as something that falls nicely into the NFV story of uCPE or vCPE but that is not true. If what the vendor is offering you is proprietary hardware that runs his applications and there is no option to run those applications on other, general purpose, hardware, this is not NFV or uCPE, it is a proprietary offering that will cost you a lot down the road as you are forced into high maintenance cost and gradually upgrade the various elements of the products, hardware itself included. This is setting you for a strong vendor lock and high cost for moving away from it once deployed.
SD-WAN vendor lock
As mentioned above, SD-WAN by itself creates vendor lock and loss of control due to the closeness of the solutions offered today on the market. It doesn’t need to be this way, there are ways to move away from the cookie cutter and take control over what’s getting into your network. At the SD-WAN Foundation, we are working in collaboration with several enterprises and service providers on ways to democratize SD-WAN and eliminate this vendor lock. Drop me a note if you want to hear more about our activity.
As larger vendors are getting into SD-WAN, you will be tempted to fall into the appliance consolidation trap. It will seem to cost less at first stage and will surely make your vendor selection process easier, select one large vendor and get everything from him.
The hard work of deciding which vendor to use for each element of your network and IT services will pay off in the mid to long term. You will have better applications as you will select best of class based on your needs. A vendor who knows he is replaceable will always offer a better service and a lower cost of ownership.
- Learn more about the MEF work on SD-WAN standardization
- Learn about security and SD-WAN integration, should you trust your SD-WAN vendor for security features?
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