Axians Technology Feature Interview:
SD-WAN allows service providers to grow their managed security services business without forcing customers to buy and manage expensive hardware.
Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) pioneer Versa Networks has embarked on a major expansion of its EMEA channel operations appointing network integrators in France, Germany, Finland and the UK earlier this year.
The start-up has over $43M in funding from top-tier venture investors Sequoia, Mayfield and Verizon Ventures since its founding in 2012. Resources it will use to continue driving its SD-WAN platform into both service provider and large enterprise markets throughout EMEA.
The SD-WAN market is at the early stage of its development but showing signs of very rapid adoption ($6B USD in 2020 per research firm IDC). Versa has done more than most to evolve the SD-WAN concept and optimize it for providers and very large enterprises. Launched in November 2015, its FlexVNF solution includes a set of virtualised network and security functions (VNF) combined with a centralised management and control console and an analytics engine that enables ongoing visibility, prediction and service optimization.
SD-WAN for service providers and large enterprises
“With this system-level solution, providers can create managed services for SD-WAN and/or SD-Security with VNFs in the branch office, the point of presence (PoP)/data centre, or both,” Kumar Mehta, Versa Networks Chief Executive and Founder.
Versa’s FlexVNF platform tackles the multiple problems in branch office networks which see mission critical applications and services consuming increasingly large volumes of WAN bandwidth. These problems include the sprawl of proprietary hardware appliances for both networking and security, the need to (intelligently) augment expensive MPLS circuits with high speed broadband access, and much faster agility in provisioning and upgrading the network as/when needed.
Versa FlexVNF is designed to give service providers and large enterprises an alternative (and more cost effective and agile) method of connecting branch offices to both MPLS backbones and the Internet by running virtualised network functions (VNFs) on commodity ‘white box’ hardware rather than expensive, often proprietary hardware.
Two early customers for Versa FlexVNF include European network and data centre services companies Colt and Orange Business Services, both of which are using it to deliver a new portfolio of NFV-enabled connectivity and security services to their own business customers.
“Any distributed enterprise with a moderate or larger set of branch offices (anything from 20 up to 10,000) could potentially benefit from the capex/opex savings NFV and SD-WAN can deliver too” Kumar added.
Virtualised managed security services next up
“Once an SD-WAN get deployed, many enterprises will want to enable direct Internet access from the branch to get better user experience for cloud-apps. This will in turn require incremental branch security via either proprietary hardware or software products, or NFV-enabled Software Defined Security (SD-Security) layered directly on top of the SD-WAN offering.” Kumar Mehta, Versa Networks Chief Executive and Founder.
Kumar believes that once the immediate need for secure branch office connectivity is addressed, Versa’s SD-WAN platform can provide a versatile building block able to support a broader range of managed services, including other security and application performance use cases.
Versa already supplies a wide range of security applications natively including next-generation firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems (IDS/IDP), web filtering, anti-virus and secure web gateway. But it also integrates with third party vendors’ security solutions as VNFs or appliances using service chaining.
Hector Avalos , Versa’s Vice President of EMEA Sales and Business Development adds that there are three key things that enterprises are looking for on top of managing the tariff. “Application traffic engineering, VPN backup and more visibility into what is going on in the network. Either from a performance, application or security perspective. That is something they do not have today and is extremely expensive to get done.”
Benefits for systems integrators
“Everybody has a different view of what software-defined means, but the Versa solution is software centric – we run software on third party, x86 commodity hardware appliances and servers so customers can buy the hardware from one vendor, the software from Versa and use Axians to sell an integrated solution,” Hector Avalos, Versa’s Vice President of EMEA Sales and Business Development.
The scale of the potential savings SD-WAN enables for service providers and large enterprises in terms of hardware purchase, maintenance and support fees for branch office routers and/or dedicated security appliances is good news for systems integrators, insists Kumar. But they may have to get used to a higher volume of lower size sales and shift the focus of their existing billing model away from hardware and into managed services, consultancy and integration fees, he added.
“System Integrators increase their margin vs. selling mainstreamed (if not somewhat commoditized) networking and security hardware appliances at a few points of margin. There is enough pricing room for a win-win sale, not to mention professional services opportunities for implementing and optimizing deployments.” Kumar continues that “In addition SD-WAN and SD-Security give a reason for systems integrators to convince their customer to refresh old gear for better technology that provides higher business value – either in-house IT for enterprises or new managed services for providers.”
Avalos adds that “SD-WAN and SD-Security allow service providers to increase the range of services they offer to enterprise customers, but also to drive a differentiated offering which addresses new use cases like automated extranets and new market segments that they could not do today, and that also allows the systems integrator itself to become an SD-WAN service provider, whilst still using Colt, BT or whoever behind [the service proposition].”
Versa maintains a list of certified hardware vendors able to support FlexVNF, with the customer free to select the platform which bests meets their pricing requirements. FlexVNF billing is subscription-based, including annual fees for support and software maintenance, and the hardware can be branded by the service provider, or even the systems integrator, if desired.
As ever with emerging technology, early customer reference deployments such as with Colt and OBS will be vital to proving the potential of SD-WAN. But vendors, SIs, consultants and resellers alike must also work hard to quickly build an appropriate skills and knowledge base.
“Highlighting how new managed service offerings can be rapidly and profitably created through NFV and SD-WAN, and sharing examples – that is the best approach for System Integrators,” said Kumar. “For enabling enterprise customers, those SIs need to share best practices and designs for deploying SD-WAN, and showing how easily SD-WAN solutions can provide return on investment (ROI).”