As SD-WAN makes its way around the channel — challenging forecasts for MPLS, sales, and expertise — we reached out to John Hogan, VP of Partner Sales & Business Development for Bigleaf Networks to give us his scoop on SD-WAN as it stands today. We talk sales opportunities, the types of SD-WAN, and advice for partners. Check out the interview below:
Keenan: With all the buzz out there about SD-WAN, what are some of the essential points partners have to have in their arsenal when selling SD-WAN?
Hogan: I know the SD-WAN space can seem daunting and confusing – even for partners that consider themselves to be industry veterans. My best advice for partners looking to become educated on their SD-WAN options is to categorize the different suppliers into a few major categories, and then work with their MicroCorp support team to build a relationship with at least one solid player in each category.
At Bigleaf, we’ll be the first to admit that there really is no single SD-WAN vendor that’s the right fit for every customer. So it’s important to have a few options ready to go based on the customer’s applications and network architecture.
Here are three SD-WAN supplier categories that we tend to keep track of at Bigleaf:
Carrier-based SD-WAN platforms
- Major focus: SD-WAN as an MPLS enhancement or MPLS replacement
- Includes a Gateway component for cloud-based traffic
- Typically replaces firewalls (complex sales process, longer install)
- Ties your SD-WAN sale to a specific carrier
- Support experience can be challenging due to broad product set, and the fact that the carrier is re-selling another vendor’s SD-WAN platform
Premise-only solutions (no Gateway component)
- Major focus: Built mainly for site-to-site connectivity
- Typically replace firewalls (complex sales process, longer install)
- Not as strong for cloud-based traffic due to the lack of a Gateway
- Some require large, upfront equipment purchases
Firewall/Cloud Agnostic (this is Bigleaf’s sweet spot!)
Major focus: Easy self-installation of SD-WAN for cloud-based traffic
Onsite router deploys outside the customer’s firewall (less complicated install)
Cloud Gateway network setup for any cloud-based traffic or site-to-site VPNs
- Primarily designed for internet connections (not a fit for load-balancing with MPLS or Private-Line circuits)
Keenan: Are there any commonly misunderstood points about SD-WAN partners should be aware of?
Hogan: One of the greatest misunderstood points about SD-WAN is the common belief that SD-WAN is primarily designed as an MPLS enhancement or replacement. These talking points have been driven largely by the major carriers.
Frankly, if you’re a carrier with a large base of MPLS revenue, it’s going to make sense to target SD-WAN technology (and marketing) towards the concept of leveraging SD-WAN intelligence to load-balance existing MPLS networks with broadband to build a hybrid environment for site-to-site connectivity. And that can be a great use of the technology for an enterprise customer with a large IT budget and a long-term need for more traditional, site-to-site architecture.
At Bigleaf, we’re more focused on leveraging SD-WAN technology as a more robust, cost-effective access to cloud applications. We call our technology “Cloud-First SD-WAN”. We chuckle when we hear people say that SD-WAN is disrupting MPLS. In our view, the cloud disrupted MPLS well before SD-WAN was popular.
For many customers that are migrating applications out to the cloud, their legacy network architecture no longer makes as much sense. Their major connectivity needs have essentially migrated from a hub and spoke model to a remote-site-to-many approach. Efficient access to hosted VoIP, SaaS, AWS or Azure, etc. have become more important than access to an HQ or single data center. Any remaining site-to-site connectivity needs can be addressed with VPNs that will always remain healthy and stable thanks to SD-WAN’s prioritization and seamless failover capabilities.
Clearly, the Bigleaf SD-WAN focus plays out more in the small to mid-sized customer base, and the carrier SD-WAN focus plays out more in the enterprise space.
Keenan: What’s the best way partners can educate themselves about SD-WAN and how to sell it?
Hogan: Like anything in telecom, it really comes down to a combination of learning the key technology, but then also building a good working relationship with a few key suppliers. Good technology is never enough by itself. It’s the combination of technology and good service that makes customers happy.
For MicroCorp partners, I would highly recommend the Ultimate Partner Training Series for an opportunity to do a deep dive on SD-WAN, data center and advanced hosted solutions. Bigleaf has participated in several of these events in the past couple years, and they accomplish both the education component and the vendor relationship component. Or, just schedule a personalized training call with Bigleaf Networks, and at least one vendor from the three major SD-WAN categories noted above.
Lastly, in order to truly understand the capability of SD-WAN, you need to work through a few real-life customer implementations to experience the installation process and hear your customers’ feedback first-hand. All of our order forms have a 30-day money-back guarantee, but we’re also happy to provide a 30-day free trial when needed to allow customers to test our technology risk-free. Use these tools to help close some early wins!
Keenan: How should partners look at MPLS now that SD-WAN is encroaching on its market?
Hogan: With any major technology migration, there are some that will see new technology as a threat. And others that will see opportunity in the evolution. MPLS is not likely to disappear anytime soon. But I think many people agree it will die a slow death over a period of several years. So it’s important to build an SD-WAN strategy moving forward. That strategy can be multi-pronged:
- Begin working on a proactive migration plan for all of your MPLS customers that will play out for several years. That plan won’t likely mean getting rid of MPLS for all customers. Some cloud-centric customers may certainly replace MPLS with an SD-WAN-enabled internet solution. While others may incorporate more of a hybrid MPLS/broadband approach. Either way, the future of your customers’ WANs are likely to incorporate an SD-WAN component in some degree or fashion in the next few years.
- Don’t forget about the cloud! One of the greatest benefits of SD-WAN technology is more cost-effective access to cloud applications that is carrier and physically diverse. Every SD-WAN sale is a potential pivot-point into future cloud application sales for that customer. Treat your SD-WAN sales as an excuse to have a conversation with your customer about their current and future application needs — and how those needs can be met through future cloud migrations — and you have a built-in roadmap to a cloud-centric business plan for your company. Every SD-WAN sale results in a purpose-built roadway to the cloud, so help your customers use it!
- Embrace the “every quote” opportunity with SD-WAN. The market is quickly hitting a breaking point where most businesses can no longer afford to work with a single, dumb internet pipe. With the increasing adoption of cloud-based applications, site-to-site VPNs, SaaS, O365, etc, the internet has become a lifeline to most businesses. So educate customers on SD-WAN as a part of every internet/VoIP/cloud quote that goes out the door. It will increase your ARPU and help combat the eventual decline of MPLS revenue.