SD-WAN: A Journey from Hype to Reality
Jun 05, 2020

SD-WAN: A Journey from Hype to Reality

KUMARAN RANGASWAMY
VP, DIGITAL NETWORK SERVICES

The adoption of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is picking up fast across industries and businesses owing to the several benefits it promises over traditional WAN architecture. Some commonly known benefits of this architecture are higher performance, lower bandwidth pricing, agility and security. The interest which the architecture has garnered in the last three years and its rapid rate of implementation across organizations poses the question—is it all hype or is there some reality to it?

While all the benefits of the new 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 also estimates that the overall branch office router market 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 implementation complexity, and reliability are some. Such perceived benefits are driving the technology’s take-up.

Moreover, according to a survey conducted by Gartner, the perceived benefits are substantial as opposed to traditional WAN architecture. For example, 41% of the respondents cited increased availability and about 41% of them cited increased performance. 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 a number of branches handling live workloads.

There are a few shortcomings

With all these benefits SD-WAN offers to corporate networking, one is bound to ask whether the technology is a panacea for all WAN-related concerns? The answer is SD-WAN is not a one-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 a proper vision for the future. Implementing SD-WAN across branch locations and data centers includes investing in at least some hardware and traditional MPLS circuits if the organization has to achieve or maintain high performance of business-critical applications. This means that promised WAN cost savings will be achieved provided organizations have a holistic view of its implementation.

Furthermore, the adoption of SD-WAN by an increasing number of companies has given rise to a significant number of product vendors and managed service providers with varying capabilities. Also on the fray are Telecom Service Providers who have joined the band wagon to implement SD-WAN. This poses a challenge for firms to select the products and service providers that cater best to their requirements.

So, is SD-WAN the real thing? 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 and careful selection of a partner providing such service”. Firms should look beyond bandwidth costs and towards other benefits such as reduced WAN edge footprint, ease of manageability and reduced cycle times for new branch roll outs et al. Furthermore, considering that the technology is still evolving and vendors continue to upgrade their capabilities and offerings, it is something every business, big or small, should consider.