Ask an MSP Expert

Q: We keep hearing a lot about SD-WAN but we aren’t really sure why it is important to our IT service business. Are there any specific benefits we can pass unto our customers, or is this just another buzzword in the industry?

SD-WAN isn’t just another buzzword, it is a rapidly growing opportunity. In fact, the IDC claims that the SD-WAN market is growing at a 70 percent CAGR and will reach over $8 billion by 2021. While this is a tremendous opportunity for Telcos and IT providers, according to a recent Barracuda study only 41 percent say they completely understand SD-WAN. To truly take advantage of this opportunity moving forward, providers need to understand the benefits this can provide to their customers.

To help you understand SD-WAN more clearly, we spoke to Klaus Gheri, VP and general manager of network security and Peter Nowak, senior product marketing manager of network security at Barracuda. With their dedication and demonstrated success in the network security space, they both shared some interesting insight on why MSPs should focus on this growing security opportunity.

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is a technological concept that was pioneered more than fifteen years ago. It started off as an idea to help communication flow quickly – and easily – between two different physical locations on a network. Typically, across the wide area network — or a long-distance network — lines are more expensive, and bandwidth is limited.

In the past, people had to build that backhauling. Traffic would have to flow from the satellite office to a central location where most of the applications reside. To move this information, organizations traditionally use reliable but costly MPLS-lines to get to the data center. This system was good enough for a long time, but with many of applications that used to live in the data center now in the cloud, things are changing.

For example, a lot of organizations have moved their email from on-premise to Office 365. Now all of a sudden, the backhauling process becomes more painful. Instead of just running traffic back to a central location, it needs to go to up to the cloud. It is much more efficient to establish a secure, direct route to Office 365 out of your branch. In a nutshell, that’s what SD-WAN does. It gets some telemetry data and information on what the best possible path is to the cloud. It understands what the application criteria is – low latency, bandwidth hungry, and more — to move data swiftly and efficiently between multiple locations.

Who needs it?

For offices and businesses with 10, 15, or 100 locations, SD-WAN is more of a necessity because it can help solve limited-bandwidth issues. While it is important for large networks to use this technology, even customers with a single location, using SaaS applications, can benefit from line redundancies to safeguard them against outages.

Businesses in certain locations can present another popular use case for SD-WAN.I If you are supporting businesses in the countryside, you aren’t going to get the same connectivity offers that you would in a metropolitan area.  To get the service level that they are looking for, many businesses need technology to fill these gaps. Companies might not be looking at SD-WAN, or even know what it is. They may just be in pain. Perhaps they are experiencing performance issues, their network is slow, or employees are complaining because SaaS services are slow.

As an MSP, you might hear your SMB’s employees say that programs aren’t starting up like they should, programs run faster when they work from home, and that kind of thing.

This is what the infrastructure managers at these companies hear and they immediately think about what they can do. Often, the immediate reaction is to just increase bandwidth. However, this isn’t the real issue.

The real opportunity for MSPs

Most people aren’t looking for SD-WAN. They are simply looking for ways to optimize their network performance. However, if you listen to what for particular pain points they are troubled by, you can help them find a solution faster. This is where you can bring your knowledge to the table. SD-WAN can help increase service levels, decrease outages, there will be less downtime, and a better user experience.

While this might like a simple enough concept, many organizations find it difficult to build enough skill internally and keep them trained. That’s why it is tempting for SMBs to team up with an MSP and ask them to provide Systems-as-a-Service — not only do they need security components to secure their business, but they need help managing them on a day-to-day basis. 

Even if organizations have an internal IT team, by employing an MSP they can focus on other large projects instead of managing the nitty-gritty. It’s no secret, organizations have the need for SD-WAN, but they might not be willing to build the necessary expertise to operate it. That’s why SD-WAN can be such a lucrative opportunity for MSPs.

Bandwidth is often limited, and it isn’t in line with the bandwidth hungry applications we see today. For example, if you have an employee watching videos on the network this can significantly slow things down. However, with solutions like the Barracuda CloudGen Firewall, MSPs can monitor network traffic and optimize the network. By using solutions that utilize SD-WAN features, MSPs can ensure that less important applications don’t take precedence on the wire. Most MSPs already manage firewalls, so this is just an added extension of the capabilities and functions you can offer to your customers.

As applications continue to shift to the cloud, businesses will start to see more network performance issues. This presents a tremendous opportunity for MSPs to step up to the plate to educate and provide the SD-WAN capabilities customers need – but might not be looking for.

Barracuda CloudGen Firewall

Photo:  asharkyu / Shutterstock.

Lauren Beliveau

Posted by Lauren Beliveau

Lauren is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Barracuda MSP. In this position, she creates and develops content that helps managed service providers grow their business. She also regularly writes The MSP’s Bookshelf and our Ask an MSP Expert column.

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