Coming to SD-WAN: The Build vs. Buy Decision

Earlier this month, I attended Networking Field Day 13, where we heard from VeloCloud on their SD-WAN solution. Their presentation and case study got me thinking about how most businesses will consume SD-WAN and where business customers may fall on the “Buy” vs. “Build” spectrum.

At the outset of the NFD13 presentation, VeloCloud CEO Sanjay Uppal recapped some stats: VeloCloud has been around for just about 4 years, and at this point has around 600 enterprise customers and is deployed to about 50,000 sites. If VeloCloud was a product line from an encumbent networking vendor with stats like that, they would be declaring it as a very successful mainstream product. I point this out as I think it demonstrates that SD-WAN solutions and vendors are moving out of “startup” mode and into a mainstream solution.

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One of the things that has set VeloCloud apart from many of their competitors since their inception has been their focus on building a true multi-tenant solution from the beginning, as well as their choice to partner with service providers to provide a solution for managed SD-WAN. Strong API capabilties and flexible zero-touch provisioning features support this as well. This is what really caught my attention about where VeloCloud is at this point and how broadly their solution is being deployed now, as well as what it may say about the SD-WAN industry moving forward.

In this section of the presentation from NFD13, Steve Woo (VeloCloud VP of Products) describes the multiple supported topologies including the SP managed design:

The SP deployment model got me thinking. See, up until this point, I’ve really thought of SD-WAN as a thing an enterprise would own. That the enterprise’s architects would research and select an SD-WAN platform (probably with the help of a VAR solution architect such as myself), and then procure and deploy the components internally. This means the enterprise moves away from service provider lock-in; it gives them the ability to build their own WAN over any transport. In fact, that’s the exact story most SD-WAN solutions tell. Some even explicitly point out that SD-WAN becomes a good way to strong arm your existing SPs into lower service rates by reminding them of your ability to ditch them completely and roll your own WAN. And while VeloCloud can support that story, they’ve taken the relatively unique tack of partnering with multiple global Tier 1 & 2 SPs.

VeloCloud’s NFD13 presentation featured a case study showing how EarthLink was able to completely and transparently integrate VeloCloud’s technology into EarthLink’s SD-WAN offerings providing a seamless managed SD-WAN solution. It was pretty powerful seeing how fully the SP was able to weave the VeloCloud solution into their customer self-service portals. Watch the demonstration here:

I began thinking about the pros and cons of this approach from an end-user enterprise’s perspective, particulary through the lens of whether managing a WAN (whether traditional or software-defined) is really a “core competancy” of any enterprise. I see several big ones:

Pros (in favor of SP-manged SD-WAN):

  • One throat to choke – It’s on the SP to own, manage, and maintain all the transports they may be using for your SD-WAN.
  • Speed of deployment – SD-WAN is hot and everyone wants to know how to get there. Taking the “Buy” path and letting someone else own/operate/manage the solution will certainly be one of the fastest ways to leverage SD-WAN benefits with limited retraining of operations staff.
  • Insulation from market consolidations – If an enterprise selects a service provider for a managed SD-WANaaS solution and the SD-WAN technology vendor the SP chooses does not survive the inevitable market consolidation, that is the SP’s problem, not the enterprise’s.
  • For enterprises with strong strategic partnerships with an SP that previously had difficulty getting circuits into some locales, an SD-WANaaS model may make it easier to keep remote sites “on net” even with no SP-owned/leased transport.


  • If you are concerned about locking-in with an SP and letting them get more ingrained in your environment, managed SD-WAN is clearly not for you.
  • Data Privacy concerns come to mind – recently we’ve seen much less trust in the SP, with many enterprises choosing to encrypt data even over a “private” WAN. Managed SD-WAN and the application-level traffic routing and advanced analytics puts a lot of information into the SP’s hands, and potentially the hands of any actor or agency with hooks into them.
  • Pricing – Clearly, service providers’ interest in managed SD-WAN offerings stem from concerns about their exisitng profits eroding in an age of SD-WANs built out of low-cost broadband connections. Will an SP-managed service hold the same pricing advantages of a self-managed one? I would have my doubts.

Obviously these are just a few of the decision factors in looking at whether SD-WANaaS would be a good thing or a bad thing for a particular situation, but based on VeloCloud’s success with their SP partners I think there is no doubt it will be an option. Based on my recent experiences with smaller and mid-size companies often opting for simplicity over features and endless tunabilty in their network stacks, I suspect SD-WANaaS will certainly get some legs over the next months/years.

Does a managed SD-WAN option sound attractive to you and your organization? Speak up in the comments!

This post is part of my coverage of Networking Field Day 13. The companies named in this post are sponsors of Networking Field Day 13, and as such indirectly helped to pay expenses associated with my attendance. Some sponsors provided a few trinkets as a thanks for my attendance such as shirts, pens, or stickers. At no time did they ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this article. The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.

2 thoughts on “Coming to SD-WAN: The Build vs. Buy Decision

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