BLOG: How Managed Services Need To Change For The SDN Era

Managed Services need to change for the SDN era and embracing the cloud is vital for moving away from proprietary appliances enabling protection to be abstracted from what we once considered the perimeter.

The past 12 months has certainly been a defining period for the future of the network. Prior to the pandemic there has been growing momentum to the cloud and the utilisation of SaaS-based solutions in the areas of collaboration, business applications and storage. This has been driving an evolution to the software-defined infrastructure, in particular the wide area network.

With the pandemic came the need for organisations to change virtually overnight. Office-based environments were forced to be quickly extended to support the majority of employees working from home and perimeter-less working became the ‘pandemic-normal.’

Those organisations that had already embraced the SDN era and the cloud, found they were able to adapt far quicker than those who were utilising traditional infrastructure and on-premises environments. As we now head towards COVEXIT, building greater agility into IT infrastructure and the way employees access the applications and tools they need to work is paramount. This is only set to accelerate greater adoption of hybrid cloud environments and more agile software-defined networking.

Secure & Agile SASE Based Environments

I believe that more organisations will be looking to embrace a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) framework in evolving their IT environments. The priority has to be to create new managed service platforms that can provide the flexibility and scalability required and secure networking providing the ability for any user to access the applications and data they need from any location, using any device at any time.

A term originally created by Gartner, SASE provides an agile framework that combines the connectivity of the WAN with security to ensure that applications are end-to-end secured from the edge to the cloud.

In the SASE world, organisations gain greater flexibility in how they consume and deliver network services to end-users and how they build zero-trust based security into the end-to-end delivery of IT service. The goal is to create a highly secure and agile IT environment to meet the needs and demands of today’s digital businesses. However, I question whether these ultimate goals can be achieved when overlayed with a traditional vendor-tied approach to managed services.

Redefining Managed Services for SDN

I believe that Managed Services need to be redefined in order to enable customers to truly benefit from SD-WAN and SDN technology and to facilitate the intrinsic flexibility and agility that a software-orchestrated control plane provides.

While aiming to gain flexibility, many SD-WAN customers are still being contractually bound to operator’s software licensing, forced to use bespoke hardware, and often tied into outdated, cost inefficient and inflexible network agreements.
To truly deliver on the promises of the SASE framework, a fresh approach is required for Managed Network Services. Solutions need to be built on edge-based storage and compute uCPE devices that are not only more cost effective but provide a virtualised platform that is vendor-independent. This enables the managed service provider to deliver a flexible service rather than a rigid lock-in to a particular solution or network. If the requirements of the customer changes, the environment or parts of it can be adapted and additional service-chained network virtualised functions included without the need to replace core fabric, truly embracing the fundamentals of the software-defined era.

The way that managed service providers secure this network also has to fundamentally change, with the need to make security an intrinsic part of the network and not something that is bolted on. Embracing cloud-based security services will become key in moving away from proprietary appliances enabling protection to be abstracted from what we once considered the perimeter to what is now, in the new virtualised world, the network edge.

There has never been a more important time for Managed Service Providers to put the needs of their clients first and adapt their approach to embrace the significant value that the new software-defined world offers rather than holding them back with rigid and vendor-dependent solutions.

By Mike Hooker, Head of Solution Architecture, NAK.