7 Criteria to Guide Your Managed SD-WAN Partner Selection

Contributed by Michael Lawson, Manager of SD-WAN Solution Architecture, CenturyLink.

With so many SD-WAN solutions on the market, it’s important to choose the right vendor for your customer’s unique needs. The right provider can mean the difference between an SD-WAN deployment that accelerates innovation and competitive advantage, and one that’s inconsequential. For most multi-site organizations, it’s not a question of whether to adopt SD-WAN, but rather when and how it makes sense for the business.

As enterprises deploy new and critical business applications, from the Internet of Things to cloud analytics across branch locations, these organizations need access to flexible, secure and cost‑effective networking options. Increasingly, companies are choosing Managed SD-WAN services to help them streamline deployments, make the best decisions for their unique business and speed up time to value — and choosing the right provider is essential. Keep reading for seven questions to ask that will help you identify the provider that’s right for your customer.


The Value of SD-WAN

report by Frost & Sullivan explains that because “SD-WANs utilize intelligent, application-aware routing independent of the underlying network infrastructure, enterprises do not have to depend solely on Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) links for multi-site connectivity. Instead, they can consider hybrid WAN deployments that make the best of internet (inexpensive and widely available) and MPLS (private and reliable) connections. The ability to ensure optimal application performance regardless of the underlying transport, and to control branch-site routing policies remotely, has attracted significant interest from enterprises, especially from verticals with highly distributed branch locations.”

Companies are turning to managed SD-WAN solutions for a variety of purposes, and a Frost & Sullivan survey showed that organizations rely on service providers to:

  • Aggregate and manage multiple network providers (75%)
  • Centralize communication for all vendors (73%)
  • Manage all aspects of the network, including voice, data, access and security (71%)
  • Take advantage of the flexibility to buy and pay for the service through a subscription billing model (71%)
  • Speed up decision making, as managed providers have already vetted the SD-WAN vendors (67%)

Questions to Consider When Choosing a Managed SD-WAN Provider

The right managed services provider can help save time and money, as well as increase the technological capabilities and flexibility that enterprises can capture from SD-WAN solutions. Choosing the right provider is essential — and focusing on the following seven questions can help:

1. Does the provider understand that each enterprise is unique and offer customized solutions, rather than one-size-fits-all packages?

All too often, technology providers force one-size-fits-all solutions to enterprises that are wrestling with unique challenges. For a managed service provider to help an organization maximize its deployment, it’s important that they offer solutions customized to your customer’s specific needs.

For example, one of the benefits of SD-WAN is that the technology allows enterprises to scale up at their own pace. Is the provider willing to work with them on an end-to-end roll-out or meet the needs to scale up support for certain locations first? The best way to understand the match between the customer’s needs and a prospective provider’s offerings is to develop a comprehensive needs assessment based on the organization’s goals, existing technologies, priority business outcomes and timeline for growth.

2. What is the provider’s experience deploying SD-WAN in similar organizations, building networks and deploying managed services?

Every organization is unique, but the best provider will be familiar with companies that are similar to the customer’s. Whether it’s the company size, industry or the business outcomes the technology supports, previous experience can help smooth the roadmap for implementation. For example, the needs of a multisite national retail organization that relies on high-tech customer experiences will have different networking requirements than a regional franchise with a few locations.

Explore the case studies and testimonials the Managed Services Provider offers. In addition, explore their process. Based on the customer’s priority business outcomes, such as enhanced security or business resiliency, the processes can directly guide the steps that are taken during assessment and roll-out. A provider that’s familiar with the type of challenges the organization faces will more effectively guide assessments, help make critical decisions about roll-out and investments, and effectively mitigate the risks that occur during a transition.

3. What processes and steps do they take to anticipate and mitigate issues/risks during transition?

Transitioning to an SD-WAN solution can be a complex process that can temporarily impact network availability. The right managed service provider will have a plan in place to anticipate and mitigate these issues. How will the provider identify systems or data that could be at risk during the transition, and what concrete steps will be taken to prevent issues? The same approach can be explored for uptime, access and effectively managing network traffic to key applications. A provider that manages the underlying access network can deliver accelerated provisioning by connecting service to the most available route first, say broadband or wireless, then adding links with protracted provisioning times at a later date.

4. Can they accommodate vendor-agnostic solutions?

For many enterprises, their existing network landscape may include a range of technologies from multiple providers, such as MPLS and Ethernet, alongside lower-cost technologies such as public internet or cellular. An SD-WAN service provider that’s a good fit for your customer’s needs will have the ability to incorporate and manage their existing network technologies, augment with best-in-class connectivity as needed, and finally, design the SD-WAN to route traffic over the connectivity type that’s best, given the customer’s unique needs.

5. Does the provider offer a variety of solutions, including managed and co-managed, to let the customer choose what’s right for them?

When an organization makes the decision to transition to a managed SD-WAN solution, there are a variety of options. SD-WAN can include self-managed, co-managed and fully managed solutions. In the Frost & Sullivan study, 75% of companies noted that their future plans included either fully managed or co-managed solutions. In some cases, co-managed solutions offer more flexibility and greater control — or allow enterprises to take the first steps toward SD-WAN implementations. There are a number of ways to evaluate whether a provider will enable greater flexibility and control. Ideally, a provider offers service platforms flexible enough to meet changing networking needs, including on premises, at the edge of the network or in the cloud. In addition, consider whether they support a variety of SD-WAN platforms, such as Cisco Viptela, Cisco Meraki and Versa Networks. Exploring these areas can help identify which providers can best customize an SD-WAN solution to the enterprise’s unique needs.

6. Does the provider have expertise in key topical areas?

Managed SD-WAN solutions touch multiple aspects of the customer’s network and technology infrastructure. The best provider will have expertise in a range of areas, including diverse public and private connectivity options. They’ll also be experienced at leveraging SD-WAN solutions for traffic steering and network management. They will have established standards targeted towards migration and implementation and a proven track record of success. Finally, evaluate how new software releases are tested, certified and deployed.

7. Does the vendor provide a full complement of professional services and support?

If a lack of in-house IT talent with experience in SD-WAN — or limited time to dedicate to it — is an issue for your customer, this question becomes critical. A service provider with robust professional service offerings helps at every stage of the process. For example, an enterprise looking at the viability of SD-WAN can leverage professional services and support to help to build a robust needs assessment and business case to guide the conversation. To better understand what a potential provider offers, explore the support services they bring to the table — before, during and after an implementation.

Managed SD-WAN can help your customer reach its networking goals more effectively and cost efficiently, and capture value faster — and choosing the right provider is a critical step in implementing this roadmap. Asking questions to understand a prospective provider’s scope of expertise, ability to work with a variety of technologies, the availability of flexible platform options and depth of professional services and support enables your customer to get more out of their managed SD-WAN deployment.

As a CenturyLink Channel Partner, you have access to many powerful sales and marketing resources that will help you grow your business with CenturyLink SD-WAN:

For more information about CenturyLink SD-WAN, contact your Channel Manager.

About CenturyLink
CenturyLink is a technology leader delivering hybrid networking, cloud connectivity, and security solutions to customers around the world. Through its extensive global fiber network, CenturyLink provides secure and reliable services to meet the growing digital demands of businesses and consumers. CenturyLink strives to be the trusted connection to the networked world and is focused on delivering technology that enhances the customer experience. Learn more at news.centurylink.com.