Strategy Manager for Fixed Connectivity, Vodafone Business
Since 2018, we have been talking about SD-Branch. This is effectively the combination of WAN and LAN management into a single set of services.
The benefits are obvious in that it simplifies things for administrators, streamlines the supply chain and allows you to set common policies across the local and wide area networks.
Then, in 2019, Gartner introduced the Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) construct that joined networking and security together. You get all the benefits of SD-Branch with a homogeneous, consumption-based approach to security for all your users thrown in for good measure.
These technology trends are driving companies towards converged solutions, but there are some competing trends out there with other ideas.
The re-animation of disaggregation
The other end of the spectrum is disaggregation. This is focused on separating and commoditising services before bringing the various threads together to be more than the sum of their parts. It is a bit like buying the ingredients for a cake and making it yourself, rather than buying one from a baker.
The leading example of this has been brought about by the advent of software defined wide area networks (SD-WAN).
SD-WAN allows companies to separate out the physical network (the underlay) from the intelligence that decides where traffic should go (the overlay). This means that you no longer need to go to a company that owns and operates a physical network when you’re buying the brain for your connectivity.
This Over The Top (OTT) approach reduces the wires in the ground, giving you much more flexibility in how you buy the connections for your sites. However, it does also fragment your service model, reducing the visibility of your end-to-end traffic flow and complicating your supply chain. Something that is important to consider.
So, which should you choose?
Well, that’s not an easy question to answer. It depends on your circumstances: the capabilities of your organisation, your appetite for risk and the budget you can spend.
The following diagram gives you a view of the risk and complexity of the three most common options for network management; either a fully managed service, a hybrid model or a DIY version.
In my opinion, the total risk you’re exposed to increases with a self-built network.
You are having to act as architect, arbitrator and artisan; often simultaneously if things aren’t going to plan. This is reflected in these customers receiving the highest allocation of risk in the diagram above.
The other point to consider is the complexity you are introducing into a critical business system. I’ve seen myself that customers with a managed service have a better service experience. They typically experience fewer faults and the ones they do get resolved faster.
The reason for the disparity is that in a managed service context, engineers have access to the end-to-end information so can identify root cause much quicker. Availability is shown to be maintained at maximum levels when the solution is well managed by a single, trusted partner.
So, the choice really comes down to your view on risk. Yes, disaggregation may lead to cost savings and increased flexibility in some circumstances, but there are no guarantees. Conversely, taking a managed service offers heightened levels of simplicity and availability. The amount of risk you’re comfortable with as an organisation may well be the deciding factor.