Fight Edge Vendor Sprawl

November 11, 2019

One potential pain point in an SD-WAN deployment is vendor sprawl at the WAN edge: the continual addition of vendors to the portfolio IT has to manage to keep the edge functional and healthy.

This sprawl comes in two forms: appliance vendors, and last-mile connectivity vendors.

As noted in an earlier post, most folks deploying an SD-WAN want to flatten that unsightly pile of appliances in the branch network closet. In fact, according to Nemertes’ research:

  • 78% want SD-WAN to replace some or all branch routers
  • 77% want to replace some or all branch firewalls
  • 82% want to replace some or all branch WAN optimizers

In so doing, they not only slough off the unsightly pounds of excess equipment but also free themselves from the technical and business relationships that come with those appliances, in favor of the one associated with their SD-WAN solution.

The same issue crops up in a less familiar place with SD-WAN: last mile connectivity.

But we thought having options for the last mile was good!

It can be, for sure. One of the cool things about SD-WAN, after all, is that it allows a company to use the least expensive connectivity available at each location. Given that this is generally the basis of the business case that gets SD-WAN in the door, an enterprise with a large WAN can easily wind up with dozens or scores of providers, representing a mix of regional, local, and hyper-local cost optimizations. In some places, having the same provider for everybody may be most cost-effective; in others, a different provider per metro area, or even per location in a metro, might save the most money. And money—especially hard dollars flowing out the door—talks.

But just as with the branch equipment stack, there is real cost, both financial and operational, to managing each last-mile provider relationship. The business-to-business relationship of contracts and bills requires time and effort to maintain; contracts need to be vetted, bills reviewed, disputes registered and settled. So too does the IT-to-service provider technical relationship take work: teams need to know how to reach each other, ticket systems need to be understood, disaster recovery plans tested, and so on.

The technical support part of the relationship can be especially trying in a hyper-aggressive cost reduction environment. A focus on extreme cost-cutting may lead IT to embrace consumer-grade connectivity in some locations, even when business-grade connectivity is readily available. IT will then have to deal with consumer-grade technical support hours and efforts as well, which in the long term can eat up in soft dollars much of the potential hard dollar savings.

Grappling with sprawl

SD-WAN users have to either sharply limit the size of their provider pool, or make it someone else’s problem to handle the sprawl. Our data show that more than half of SD-WAN users want someone else to handle the last mile vendor relationship.

How SD-WAN users deal with last-mile sprawl

How SD-WAN users deal with last-mile sprawl

When others manage the last mile, we see dramatic decreases in site downtime, both the duration of incidents and the sum total of downtime for the year. If the same vendor manages the SD-WAN itself, then IT will have gotten for itself the least potential for confusion and finger-pointing should any problems arise, without losing the benefits of cost reduction and last mile diversity.

John Burke

John Burke

John Burke is a Principal Research Analyst with Nemertes Research, where he leads research on private and public cloud; private cloud infrastructure; private and hybrid cloud management and security; network, server and storage virtualization; and software-defined networking (SDN), SDWAN, and network functions virtualization (NFV).