Verizon sets SD-WAN sights on small and medium business branches, adds Versa to growing product portfolio

Verizon added Versa Networks to its SD-WAN solution set, reflecting its desire to extend managed services to a broader group of small and medium businesses that are implementing consumer-grade services into their network environments.

Versa Networks was added to Verizon’s software defined networking (SDN) platform for its new Software Defined Secure Branch (SD-Branch) managed service.

The Verizon offering includes software-based networking, cloud-based end user management and virtualized security services for protecting and simplifying branch network architectures.

By incorporating Versa solution into its Virtual Network Services offering, Verizon will allow customers to reduce complexity and control costs by virtualizing multiple components of a branch office.

RELATED: Verizon expands SD-WAN capabilities, adds Cisco’s VMS to portfolio

These components include public and private network connectivity management, wireless connectivity, multisite network support, application based quality of service and multilayered security.

Verizon’s SD-Branch offering uses Versa’s FlexVNF Software, which combines network and security capabilities to provide a suite of Layer 3 to Layer 7 IP services that are built on a cloud-native, multitenant software platform.

Initially, the service provider focused its SD-WAN platforms on larger businesses that were more willing to try out new technologies—but now it wants to bring it to small and medium businesses.

Hakl Verizon
Shawn Hakl

“In the previous iterations of these solutions, we aimed much more at the traditional first mover stack with well-defined VNFs for specific functions whereas in this release it’s more of a collection of VNFs aimed at providing more of a complete solution,” said Shawn Hakl, VP of business networking and security solutions, in an interview with FierceTelecom. “From our perspective, all of those solutions can move down market, but this is our first foray into that mid-enterprise and potentially rolling lower than that to a broader base.”

Consumerization of IT

While being able to offer users the ability to choose various broadband access methods is certainly a key element of SD-WAN, the new solution also reflects businesses' desire to use simpler applications.

Verizon sees the new solution reflecting the so-called consumerization of IT being reflected as part of its evolving SD-WAN platform.

Simply put, consumerization of IT reflects a cycle of IT emerging in the consumer market, which then flows into business and government organizations. This reflects the fact that employees are using the popular "consumer market" technologies and devices at home and then introducing them in the workplace.

Consumerization includes not only the use of consumer devices like iPhones and tablets in the workplace, but also online services such as storage, web-based e-mail services like Gmail as well as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

“There’s been some consumerization of IT and what that translates into is a gradual acceptance of more consumer-grade technology up the chain,” Hakl said. “We’re definitely seeing more interest in that space as folks have decided that we had all of this technology before and it has gotten to the point where it’s not adding value to the business so they’re willing to look at solutions that fit outside their traditional comfort zone.”

Although Verizon has emphasized growth in the mid-market business space, Hakl said that Verizon see opportunities to make an impression on small businesses that are already using consumer applications to conduct business.

“Most of our focus is on the mid-enterprise space,” Hakl said. “The platform enables us to go after a greater portion of the market way down the stack, including small businesses, with the platform.”

A good example of this, says Hakl, are storage programs like Dropbox. Consumers and businesses can easily access and use these services to aggregate their data.

While using consumer-grade services might not be a fit for a financial or medical company that has very sensitive data, these services are attractive to small businesses that are looking for ease of use.

“There’s another category of customers who are able to take some of their business functions and move them into that environment,” Hakl said. “When I talk about consumerization it’s more the lack of need for a customized stack and a complex support model.”

Broadening the portfolio

Verizon’s move with Versa reflects a broader effort by the company to extend the service to a broader customer base.

Hakl said that the new iteration is focused on offering a broader mix of products that can solve a wider set of requirements.

“In terms of messaging, it’s much more towards what we’re trying to achieve from a business perspective than specific functions because typically those buyers are looking for a solution,” Hakl said. “When you sell into larger accounts, you sell SD-WAN to the network guy and you sell security to the security guy because the security won’t let the network guy chose security.”

Hakl said that when “you get to some folks that are more of a generalized IT department, something that spans a lot more functions can be much more consumable.”

Versa CEO Kelly Ahuja agreed, adding that having greater visibility into network performance via a web portal will also be valuable to companies that have a smaller IT workforce.

“The key thing here is as you look at the mid-market enterprise, they may or may not have the sophistication on board so having managed service is good and a simplified view of the entire branch as opposed to a multi appliance-based model,” Ahuja said. “A software-defined branch with integrated security helps ease the life of that mid-market enterprise and for the service provider makes it more cost effective.”

Although Versa is the latest SD-WAN vendor Verizon is working with, the service provider overall has continued to also ramp up its vendor options for SD-WAN.

“We’re still aggressively expanding out the hardware platforms that run this stuff, moving away from the grey box to a much more defined white box strategy,” Hakl said. “That’s one of Versa’s strengths, being one of the X.86 native VNFs we found.”

Earlier this year, Verizon and Cisco began offering seamless delivery of Cisco's virtualized platform and solutions in the future. This will provide faster time to market for combined offerings.

Cisco’s Virtual Managed Services (VMS) is a turn-key software-defined services platform that can deliver SD-WAN, security and automation services. The vendor’s VMS uses an array of Cisco’s devices, software and network topologies, including Digital Network Architecture for enterprises.

What's different about this latest iteration is that it enables customers to also get a say in how they provision elements of their managed SD-WAN services.

“We have given users the ability for users to have a degree of control over policy even though the provider is supporting the infrastructure,” Hakl said. “It used to be that only the provider could get access to the box and now it’s a better mix of support for the customer.”