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What’s driving the growth in SD-WAN adoption and what do you need to consider before implementing it?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flex)

According to analyst firm IDC SD-WAN adoption is predicted to reach $8 billion by 2021.  Businesses across the globe are looking to access the benefits provided by SD-WAN implementations including cost savings of up to 50 per cent, increased network resiliency, and better application performance across complex network environments.

Traditional wide area networks were built with expensive routers at the network edge to direct traffic over relatively expensive MPLS circuits that provide guaranteed bandwidth and quality of service (QoS). SD-WANs allow companies to balance the use of cheaper broadband networks with limited fixed MPLS circuits to route traffic based on the unique bandwidth requirements of each specific application. All this boils down to a more flexible, efficient and cost-effective way to build and operate WANs, and early adopters are recognising significant cost savings.

Now the broader mainstream IT and networking communities have taken notice too. We’re seeing rapid SD-WAN adoption by not only risk-tolerant early adopters, but companies of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the largest enterprises to less technically savvy SMBs. And this is just the beginning. 

There are also some broader trends contributing to the accelerated adoption of SD-WAN technology and businesses considering embarking on a new SD-WAN deployment, should keep in mind these four factors influencing its rapid rise:

1. The reengineering of service providers to capture SD-WAN market share

Service providers are aggressively building out and selling managed SD-WAN offerings today. Working quickly to stay ahead of emerging “build it yourself” alternatives, they’re carving out their slice of the SD-WAN pie. If a service provider is already managing the network, they’re well positioned to plan, deploy and maintain a new, turnkey SD-WAN solution for customers as well.

Why would a business choose to build and manage their own SD-WAN implementation instead? There are a variety of reasons the “self-service” approach can be more appealing. Many businesses don’t want to deal with the commitment and term agreements that come with outsourcing. Some companies prefer to have the agility and flexibility to play providers off one another and remain in control of their own destiny.

But, the moves we’re seeing within the SD-WAN space are very similar to those present in other managed service provider markets – you can either outsource, insource, or out-task. Managed SD-WAN will continue to become increasingly popular, which is one of the ways SD-WAN will continue to become more accessible each year. That said, regardless of how the SD-WAN is deployed and managed, every business still needs the ability to access granular visibility into all areas of the network to optimise, maintain and troubleshoot increasingly complex environments.

2. The steady advancements in network agility

In the past, network routing policies were relatively basic. Applications like voice calls would go out over MPLS, while email would go through broadband. Today, cloud-based controllers have gained a massive amount of intelligence and we’re witnessing a major shift in the routing paradigm for how application data and traffic moves.

This has led to the emergence of intent-based policies, or routing determinations, that are made “on the fly,” based on criteria that optimise for available bandwidth, cost, priority and performance. The network is much more agile as a consequence, which translates to SD-WAN benefits like increased automation and immediate cost savings.

These advantages can only be realised once you’re able to visualise all areas of the hybrid network fabric, from legacy infrastructure to SD-WANs and more, in order to plan those routing policies, visually verify they’re working, and adjust as needed.

3. The converging capabilities of networking and security vendors

In late 2018, Cisco announced it would be unifying its security and SD-WAN. This secure SD-WAN service is a perfect example of a trend we’re seeing elsewhere as well. Security vendors like WatchGuard Technologies and SonicWall have recently built SD-WAN capabilities into their security appliances. Although Cisco is clearly the 800-pound gorilla in this space, with a major advantage in terms of active routing infrastructure worldwide, the integration of SD-WAN capabilities into products from vendors of varying sizes and market segments can only mean that SD-WAN will continue to become increasingly accessible in the future.

4. The emergence of next-generation network monitoring tools

Another major trend driving increased SD-WAN adoption is the growing sophistication of network monitoring or Network Performance Management and Diagnostics (NPMD) tools. As interest in SD-WAN grows, so does the need and adoption of sophisticated network management solutions. In order to truly tap into the cost, performance and resiliency benefits SD-WAN offers, businesses need network management solutions that can validate telco SLAs, assess the quality of individual paths and VPNs, provide visual presentations of interconnected conditions and their current status, display SD-WAN topology views and site-to-site maps, and deliver detailed visualisations of public and virtual private clouds, critical applications and more.

Recently, there’s been a surge of momentum behind advanced NPMD solutions, which is a by-product of the industry-wide move toward SD-WAN adoption. Without these tools it would be incredibly hard to deploy SD-WANs because you lose visibility into various performance issues and the overall conditions of the underlying network. Essentially, these solutions allow businesses to simplify the management of their complex networks, including the process of planning, deploying and operating SD-WANs.

These are the important issues you should consider before kicking off your first SD-WAN initiative:

  • SD-WANs do not operate in a vacuum. Most SD-WAN implementations will inevitably have unexpected effects on application performance. For example, QoS now is emerging (seemingly from the technology graveyard) as a key performance indicator yet again to ensure voice and video quality. Now the Network Operations (NetOps) teams will need to reexamine long-standing QoS policies and start inspecting latency, jitter and loss.
  • SD-WANs fundamentally transform the network. These systems are designed to make changes to application paths for better performance, or automatically toggle between multiple service provider and transport types based on traffic priorities. So it can be challenging for businesses to understand how both the legacy infrastructure and new software-defined network fabrics are performing and if the appropriate policies are being executed. Deep visibility into the network becomes even more essential for software-defined environments.
  • SD-WANs create virtual networks using various types of tunnels. This can cause some visibility issues, making it harder to see what is really happening. Without granular visibility into these virtual networks, troubleshooting complex SD-WAN fabrics can become a costly headache.
  • SD-WANs involve added service provider complexity. When moving from legacy MPLS to SD-WAN, managing the number of service providers at play can be a major operational challenge. With SD-WAN models, you could have a different ISP to manage for each individual site, plus there’s a greater risk of the physical underlay of those ISPs causing problems.
  • SD-WAN management platforms can’t do it all. Insights from SD-WAN management platforms alone typically stop at the SD-WAN edge device. NetOps teams need a holistic view of the entire network in order to manage and troubleshoot these complex deployments. This is particularly important during the planning and implementation phases to ensure end-to-end visibility throughout the migration.

In achieve SD-WAN success, NetOps teams need solutions that provide comprehensive network visibility and can allow them to implement and manage these complex architectures as they merge and interact with legacy infrastructure. We will see organisations continuing to adopt SD-WAN at a faster pace as service providers and vendors expand the range of deployment options.

R. Brooks Borcherding, CEO, LiveAction
Image Credit: Flex

R. Brooks Borcherding is the CEO of LiveAction, the leader in network performance visualisation and analytics.