This Industry Viewpoint was authored by David W Wang
At the end of Q3 of 2019, we continue to see SD-WAN adoption on the rise by enterprises across the globe. There are, however, some serious obstacles as well slowing down the growth. According to recent survey and reports on SD-WAN market status and trends released by IHS Markit, Masergy and IDG, security concern and skill gaps remain two primary hurdles in the way of SD-WAN adoption from enterprises and institutions.
A big lesson learnt is that it actually takes much more than SD-WAN to sell or adopt SD-WAN. In other words, a salesperson needs to address more than a network solution to make an SD-WAN deal happen.
Using security as a good example, the routine “If it aint broke, don't fix it” reactive approach on IT and network security won’t work well for SD-WAN sales or adoption. Security concerns on SD-WAN are from two main sources of challenge: direct Internet linking to the cloud, and distributed access to the branch offices.
Prior to the emergence of SD-WAN, enterprise clients, mostly relying on the traditional hub and spoke MPLS, IP transit topologies and premise-based IT operations, worried less on things like local Internet breakout, direct cloud access, and loss of centralized control on branch security defense. Now cloud computing and SD-WAN are changing all this and thus making some enterprise CTO/CIO/CISO and IT admin group feel less confident and secured in this next-generation digital environment and transformation.
One intriguing phenomenon though, on the other hand, is that many enterprises are adopting SD-WAN right because of the enhanced and cost-effective security solutions it can offer. This reveals the so-called skill and knowledge gaps are real and often can make a big difference during the process of SD-WAN sales or adoption.
If knowing well on SD-WAN’s security solution or its capabilities, one can either sell SD-WAN more effectively or pick up a qualified vendor from the competitive marketplace. Quite the contrary, if one just does some blind sales pitch or shopping on SD-WAN without enough insight on its security requirements, then either the sale may fail to go through or the purchasing may lead to troubles and disasters later on.
Based on my hands-on experiences and observations, here I would like to make a few deep dives into the challenges of marketing and selling SD-WAN from a vendor’s perspective nowadays, especially why we say it takes much more than SD-WAN to sell SD-WAN.
A vendor here can be any SD-WAN service provider like pureplay, telcos, MSPs, CSPs, resellers, etc. Each type of these vendors has their pros and cons. For instance, a pureplay may claim they are more cost effective, operation flexible and feature customized than a telco, while the latter may pitch that they own both underlay and overlay network, globally distributed networking know-how, and easily scalable in meeting the client’s growth and convergence needs.
As said above, the biggest challenge facing most SD-WAN vendors in general is their incumbent salesforce must learn to go beyond the regular scope of SD-WAN (i.e. skill gaps) in order to increase sales.
The “regular scope of SD-WAN” often comes from the habit of a salesperson outlining and benchmarking SD-WAN from a traditional WAN solution like MPLS, anticipating as long as the SD-WAN solution can match and exceed what the enterprise customer’s existing WAN can do in terms of cost, capacity, speed, performance, availability, provisioning, and security, then a sale may be right around the corner.
Such an approach might have worked as SD-WAN was initially rolled out to the market for some “low hanging fruits”, but as the technologies getting more mature and comprehensive and enterprises able to better figure out their expanding IT boundaries and ecosystem in this cloud centric era, SD-WAN sales people may now find they must get over a lot more stuff with the enterprise clients to have SD-WAN sold.
We can use an enterprise SD-WAN RFP process as the illustration. After the enterprise network team has the WAN transport and interoperability requirements put together, namely in the scope of a regular WAN procurement, they may quickly realize they would also need the IT DevOps team to add specs for SDN/NFV features, and API programming; they would need the IT Operation team to set requirements on the access to single or multi cloud applications and infrastructure; they would need the IT security team to take measures, in addition to the network security like IPsec, for both the cloud and branch office security as well. By the end an SD-WAN procurement RFP may turn into like a comprehensive IT service re-engineering bid.
Luckily the enterprise clients may still have some in-house or 3rd party contracting cross-functional resources available in preparing and releasing the RFP. But from a vendor’s side, it would be more difficult and challenging to have a salesperson or team who own the knowledge and skills across networking, IT operations, coding and programming, virtualization, cloud environment and security, and so on, being able to address the client’s requests adequately and effectively.
Such a knowledge and skill mismatch between the vendor's salesforce and enterprise client’s requirements would make SD-WAN sales nowadays harder to achieve. Since SD-WAN is deemed not about a linear network sale anymore, it becomes a collateral platform and peripheral ecosystem solution.
In days to come, we don’t see this tough situation on SD-WAN sales is easing by any means as more next-gen key solutions like IoT, fixed and mobile edge computing, 5G, AI and VR, etc. are being launched and joining the play of the enterprise digital transformation, and SD-WAN is poised to be the super glue to bond and brain to orchestrate all these moving parts together.
It is therefore expected that from now on and throughout 2020, many SD-WAN vendors will try to make strategic and essential reforms such as intensive training, re-structuring and re-grouping, new hiring of skills in need, joint partner marketing, etc. on their salesforce so as to realign with the fast evolving enterprise needs in adopting SD-WAN today and tomorrow. This revamping process may also finally trigger the long overdue SD-WAN sector consolidations and eliminate those vendors who can’t quickly fulfill the knowledge and skill gaps.
David W Wang is a telecom/IT business development & solution enablement principal and senior consultant with ITCom Global, LLC, with current focus on next-gen networking, e.g. SD-WAN Go to Market, adoption and deployment models. Mr. Wang is also the author of the brand new book “Software Defined-WAN for the Digital Age” (published in November 2018) , and the 2015 publishing “Cash In On Cloud Computing”. He is based in Washington DC metro and can be contacted at ITComG18@gmail.com
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