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SD-WAN: A journey from hype to reality
Expensive hardware upgrades, lack of easy provisioning, inability to scale up/down and managing multiple Service Provider relationships leading to vendor lock-in are the key factors that are driving up the cost and complexity for Enterprises. This is where Software Defined WAN (SD-WAN) comes in. SD-WAN is based on the state-of-the-art technology - SDN (software-defined Networking) - which provides secure, scalable WAN solutions at lower TCO with application-visibility & control.
The adoption of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is picking up fast across industries and businesses owing to several benefits it promises over traditional WAN architecture and delivers superior end-user experience. Some commonly known benefits of this architecture are higher performance, lower per-bit costs (better bandwidth efficiency), increased agility and excellent security in-built into the WAN solution. The interest which the architecture has garnered in the last couple of years and its rapid adoption rate across organizations poses the question – is it all hype or is there some reality to it?
While all the benefits of this innovative technology seem like a fantasy, SD-WAN is indeed delivering on most of its promises.
SD-WAN is disrupting enterprise WAN adoption
Despite SD-WAN’s relative immaturity, it is witnessing increasing deployment across organizations. According to a Gartner research, there were about 3,000 SD-WAN estimated deployments by March 2017. The technology is expected to grow at a 59% CAGR to become a $1.3 billion market by 2021. It is also estimated that the overall branch-office router market that was traditionally used by enterprises will witness a fall of 6.3% while the legacy router market will fall by 28.1% CAGR by 2020. Firms that are implementing the new technology are indeed finding benefits among which, increased network availability, reduced WAN costs and lower implementation complexity, and higher reliability are notable ones. These benefits are key in driving the technology’s uptake.
According to another survey, the perceived benefits are substantial as opposed to the traditional WAN architecture. For example, 41% of the respondents cited increased availability and increased performance as the key benefits of SD-WAN. About 38% of the surveyed respondents said they witnessed reduced recurring WAN costs by using less expensive transport and about 36% of them claimed improved agility. Not only this but the survey also found out that a substantial percentage of respondents had implemented the architecture across several branches handling live workloads.
There are a few shortcomings
With all these benefits that SD-WAN offers to corporate WAN IT infrastructure, one is bound to ask whether the technology is a panacea for all the WAN-related concerns? The answer relies on the fact that SD-WAN is not a point solution to all WAN related problems. For starters, SD-WAN is a relatively new technology and many companies lack familiarity with the technology. Secondly, the hype around reduced bandwidth costs is true provided it is implemented with proper vision for the future. The reason for this is implementing SD-WAN across multiple branch locations and data centers includes upfront investment in hardware, software and managed services components along with the traditional MPLS circuits if the organization has to achieve or maintain high performance of the business-critical applications. This means that the promised cost savings for the WAN infrastructure can be achieved provided organizations have a holistic view of its implementation.
Furthermore, the take-up of SD-WAN by an increasing number of companies has given rise to a sizeable number of product vendors and managed service providers with varying capabilities and queering the pitch are Telecom Service Providers who have joined the bandwagon to implement SD-WAN solutions. This poses a challenge for enterprise buyer firms to select the right products and service providers that cater to their unique requirements.
So, is SD-WAN the new reality? The answer is “Yes”. Considering the rate at which businesses are adopting the new technology and its perceived benefits, SD-WAN is definitely a mainstream technology today. Is it really delivering on all its promises? The answer would be, “Only if implemented with the right mix of optimization & careful selection of the partner who can provide customized solutions that meet the unique needs of the enterprises buying those services”. Firms should look beyond bandwidth costs towards other benefits such as reduced WAN edge footprint, ease of manageability, reduced cycle times for new branch roll outs et al. Furthermore, considering that the technology is still evolving & vendors continue to upgrade their capabilities and offerings, it is something every business, big or small, should consider.
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