The market for software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) technology is getting hotter, and with good reason — it can deliver a whole lot of benefits to businesses with complex networking setups.
Gartner expects the market to explode in the years ahead. Spending on SD-WAN products will soar from $129 million in 2016 to $1.24 billion in 2020, the research firm predicts.
Last week, Riverbed Technology announced an agreement to acquire wireless networking specialist Xirrus, strengthening Riverbed’s SD-WAN and cloud networking solution SteelConnect. The deal will allow Riverbed to extend SteelConnect to the wireless network edge.
Separately, earlier this month Fortinet announced the latest expansion of its Security Fabric, featuring enhanced SD-WAN functionality that is integrated with Fortinet’s security capabilities. The new integration enables distributed enterprises to simplify their infrastructures, reduce WAN costs and securely provide their users with direct access to the public cloud, data center and Software as a Service cloud services, according to Fortinet.
What’s so great about SD-WAN? According to Gartner, businesses are adopting SD-WANs to improve performance for all applications, including those that reside in the cloud, and to better manage WAN capital expenditures and operating expenditures. SD-WANs can help companies support branch office connectivity in a simplified and cost-effective manner, the research firm says.
"While WAN architectures and technologies tend to evolve at a very slow pace — perhaps a new generation every 10 to 15 years — the disruptions caused by the transformation to digital business models are driving adoption of SD-WAN at a pace that is unheard of in wide-area networking," Gartner says.
As BizTech reports, according to a 2017 Enterprise Management Associates survey, early adopters of SD-WAN solutions cited app performance improvements as their primary reason for adopting the technology. Also high on the driver list: the technology’s ability to help an IT organization directly connect its branch offices to external cloud-based services.
IT industry analyst Zeus Kerravala, writing on the website No Jitter, notes that businesses can cut costs by “replacing, or at least augmenting, high cost [multiprotocol label-switching] networks with much lower cost broadband internet connections.”
“Organizations can use the higher price, high-value network for real-time or mission-critical traffic, and then send general-purpose data down the internet connection,” he says.
Beyond those cost savings, Kerravala argues that SD-WANs help maintain application performance because they can be configured to not only protect against network failures “but also dynamically change paths when application performance degrades.”
Another benefit, Kerravala notes, is that SD-WANs run on infrastructure that separates the control plane and data plane. That means that network changes can be controlled and updated via software. By decoupling the control and data planes, Kerravala says, the control elements can be put into software, extracted from the location and centralized. “SD-WANs enable a configuration change to be made once and pushed out to all the devices simultaneously,” he adds. “Now changes can be made in minutes instead of months.”
SD-WANs also help businesses with lots of branch offices. “One of the challenges with branch offices is turning up network services remotely. One solution is to try and preconfigure the router before it's sent out, have it plugged in, and hope it works,” Kerravala notes. “Another is to ship the network device to the location, fly someone out, configure it, and return. Neither is ideal.”
SD-WANs may be more complex in terms of their physical topology than legacy networks, but they also “have robust centralized management systems that mask much of the complexity so it's operationally much simpler.”
According to Kerravala, 45 percent of the total cost of ownership of running a WAN is “people-related costs,” so an SD-WAN “can not only save on bandwidth but high-level engineers can spend less time doing mundane tasks and can spend more time on strategic initiatives.”
If your business has decided to adopt SD-WAN, what are the best tips to make the deployment a successful one? Network World has a thorough primer on the topic. Here are some of the must-know points:
1. Identify Network Requirements and Needs
Companies need to determine what kind of network they need and then also figure out the expected costs, performance metrics, security and management protocols. Some companies want to lower costs. Others want greater flexibility. Figuring out the goals will determine the kind of solution the company needs. When transitioning to SD-WAN, companies should try to ensure that they do not disrupt existing networks and operations, and that the changeover is as seamless as possible.
2. Maintain Existing Infrastructure
David Baldwin, CIO of Borrego Health, a primary healthcare provider headquartered in Borrego Springs, Calif., told Network World that many companies approach their SD-WAN deployments from the wrong perspective.
“IT management tends to assume that implementing SD-WAN has to be either a rip-and-replace project or significantly disruptive to deploy,” he says. “We found it to be quite the opposite of that.” Companies can keep existing WAN infrastructure if their SD-WAN vendor supports pass-through setups to make that possible, the article notes.
3. Conduct Pilots and Testing
“Experienced SD-WAN users credit pilots and phased rollouts with helping them pinpoint and fully understand their network needs,” the Network World article notes. “The approach also allows SD-WAN technology to be rolled out across sites in a fast, efficient and organized manner.” This allows companies to discover and work through any problems and then make future deployments easier. Installations should also be made during non-critical time periods, such as when the offices or stores are closed, the article notes.
4. Focus on Security
SD-WANs come with their own encryption and firewall features and make security management more centralized. SD-WANs also let businesses put rules in place around how traffic flows over their networks.
The technology also gives network administrators and IT teams much more fine-grained control over their networks, which may require more training.