Gartner’s famous view of the hype cycle is an industry standard for defining the adoption curve of new technologies that come to market. The curve shows that new technology initially over-promises and under-delivers, dropping customers into the “trough of disillusionment.” In the next phase, the IT industry identifies actual ways the new technology will solve real problems for real people, putting customers onto the “slope of enlightenment.” Eventually, mainstream adoption leads to the “plateau of productivity.”

Analysts and customers alike often use the “hype cycle” to filter out the initial enthusiasm around new technologies. It is more than a filter, though, and using the hype cycle as an excuse to avoid engagements can be costly in the long term. Waiting until the plateau of productivity can put you behind the adoption curve versus your competitors. We recommend using the hype cycle as an analytical tool. It can suggest ways to understand the results of early experiments with a new technology and strategies for proceeding to deployment. We are seeing this analytical approach as we work with our customers on SD-WAN.

Since the launch of our SD-WAN service last year, we have engaged with many SD-WAN Proofs of Concept (POC) projects and implementations and thought it worth sharing some observations for those still sorting through the hype. In some cases, we are engaging with customers on their first POC; in others we are engaging with customers after a first DIY attempt on SD-WAN. To cut to the bottom line, customer experiences are validating our decision to offer our SD-WAN technology as a managed service rather than a DIY building block. The managed service might actually compress the hype cycle for many customer deployments.

Cut through the trough of disillusionment. SD-WAN adoption is reminiscent of early cloud adoption. For instance, cloud computing looked like nirvana to some, consistent with the basic premise of the hype cycle. With all its many benefits, the transition to the cloud still takes a lot of work and it doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of thought into how to go about the transition is necessary before moving anything. And after a lot of work, the cloud offers many benefits as long as you can manage the overall environment that includes the cloud. Working through all of these issues can drop customers into the trough of disillusionment.

Likewise, SD-WAN customers are learning that SD-WAN addresses many issues of network complexity but there is still a transition period and the management challenge for the whole environment still requires attention. That’s why we fashioned our SD-WAN offering as a managed service. It eases the transition and the management burden on the customer so they can achieve greater productivity sooner.

Offload Complexity. SD-WAN promises greater control over your hybrid networks. But, if you’re taking the DIY approach, after you deploy to 70 sites across different network topologies and a half dozen vendors you are still managing complexity, not eliminating it. You still have multiple on-premise controllers that someone has to be responsible for. You still need to configure the NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) services that can be powerful if used properly.

When you implement SD-WAN on your own, it is just one new ingredient in your hybrid network architecture. The network itself still has all the other ingredients – MPLS, DSL, Cable, etc. – that it had before. You still most likely have multiple vendors to manage and you still have to consciously use SD-WAN to address that complexity rather than simply set it and forget it.

The managed service approach shifts this complexity management to CenturyLink. One of the things customers are seeing through the POCs is that the DIY approach might appear to maximize control, but it also maximizes the burden of all this infrastructure management. In a managed SD-WAN service, you still control the network with all the policy-setting authority that implies. But, CenturyLink is managing the complexity of deploying the infrastructure components, configuring the NFV for maximum effectiveness etc. Our service also allows our customers to benefit from our volume contracts with various broadband suppliers around the country.

Assess network security needs carefully. When you take a DIY approach to SD-WAN, network security is still a challenge you must solve and evolve as the threats out there grow. It is much harder to deploy and manage a seamless security solution if it is not built into the infrastructure itself. Those taking a DIY approach to SD-WAN can find it difficult to replicate all the backend resources available in a carrier-class solution like CenturyLink’s. This issue of integrated security is particularly important for distributed enterprises that are most likely to be interested in SD-WAN. Branches and outposts can be some of the most vulnerable spots for breaches and the WAN needs to be secure in its DNA or a breach at a branch can infect the whole enterprise. That security comes built into the network with our managed service.

These questions of DIY vs managed services crop up as new technologies move from the hype phase to implementation. That’s where the IT industry is with SD-WAN and these POCs are doing just what they are designed to do. They allow customers to analyze the benefits of SD-WAN sooner, while letting CenturyLink take care of the nuts and bolts. The issues listed here are common across industry types though every specific situation is always unique. With Managed SD-WAN, customers are seeing that they get the control and flexibility they want, without the burdens of managing increased complexity. It is the simplest way to get the benefits without having to sort the hype from the truth.

Call us for a POC today and we can help you cut through the hype on SD-WAN.

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