The SD-WAN Waiting Game and the future of networking

Everyone is talking about SD-WAN, from customers and analysts, to Service Providers. But are customers doing more than talking and actually purchasing?

Telstra Apr 10th 2019 A-A+

Everyone is talking about SD-WAN, from customers and analysts, to Service Providers. But are customers doing more than talking and actually purchasing?

Although it’s been hyped and touted as the future of networking, for the last three years, there hasn’t been a startling take up of SD-WAN by customers. Many customers are cautious when it comes to new technology, hesitating to integrate it into their existing networks. This pattern of behaviour is akin to the change mindset prevalent years ago when Cloud was introduced to the market. There was a lack of surety about how to migrate to the cloud. Now, however, over 80% of business have undertaken the journey to the Cloud, sparking far more interest in the SD-WAN environment.

So what are the analysts saying? They are optimistic about the accelerated adoption of SD-WAN, predicting at least a tenfold increase in end user SD-WAN spending in the next four years. Recent publications by Gartner and IDC further affirm this standpoint, citing increasing SD-WAN sales and adoption rates.

From the perspective of a service provider, we have seen three distinct waves of change when it comes to SD-WAN:

Wave 1: First-generation hybrid WAN

Ten years ago, the market emphasis was on creating scripts in standard configurations and demand line interfaces, and starting to look at the more efficient use of networks through more intelligent routing, or through the use of Hybrid Wan. Customers started to use Internet services as an alternate path, mostly as a redundancy or failover precaution.

Wave 2: Automation, smart routing & performance

Vendors started to look at the automation of smart routing and how they could tweak routing protocols to perform automatically. WAN optimisation was introduced through the likes of WAS, Cisco and Riverbed.

Wave 3: Today

What we are seeing now is a far more disruptive play from several companies. SD-WAN is becoming more than just an extension of hybrid WAN, but a real enabler for the use of lower cost (for the most part) Internet connectivity.

SD-WAN is really starting to bridge the gap of transition and transformation, and moving to cloud services. Most organisations are now settling on a hybrid model, and the software-defined aspect of this is taking into account the way applications perform across networks.

This also leads to the need for provider-agnostic overlay and control plane. These give the end user the ability to select multiple providers and to have a single overlay that gives centralised policy management and consistent reporting, sparking far more interest and business value for customers.

MPLS is still here to stay, but…

Given the rise of SD-WAN, there are a number of parties within the industry questioning the relevance of traditional networking such as MPLS. There are a few key points that support this viewpoint:

MPLS lacks the agility and flexibility that digital organisations now need.
Making changes takes too long and is too costly.
Business-critical, yet bandwidth intensive applications, are difficult to accommodate at an affordable cost.
MPLS provides limited visibility of end-to-end network conditions and application performance.
Reliance upon error-prone manual configurations, long lead times and costly protocols.
Despite all of this, MPLS still has an irreplaceable role to play in the Enterprise network – for now. You can run as much bandwidth as you like across the Internet but you still can’t guarantee that an application will perform across the network.

So what does the future of SD-WAN look like?

Customers are demanding greater speed to market where the time it takes to order, provision and deploy SD-WAN will be achievable in a week or less.

Increased transport efficiencies are another big driver for customers, especially in the cost discussion. More efficient use of the available transport types by application, country and cost is required and driven by SD-WAN.

Greater application visibility is crucial. Service providers will increasingly enable application-based service level agreements where they have end-to-end control, irrespective of where the users are. SD-WAN will start to deliver this in terms of reporting and active management of traffic.

Finally, the higher-quality end-user experience. To this end, the network underlay needs to be solid – in that it needs to match the needs of your applications and users, as well as the resulting policies driving path selection by the SD-WAN solution.  Doing this right will give you the best possible user experience, where optimal application performance is supported by a customised network, intelligent dynamic path selection and optimised load balancing.