Getting Beyond the Hype: Why SD-WAN will Take Enterprise Networks to The Next Level

The resulting confusion, and the idea that all SD-WAN solutions are alike and solve the same problems, has done no favors for buyers. Customers come to SD-WAN for many reasons—and often more than one.

That’s all to say that with most of the SD-WAN offerings out there, enterprises are forced to take one step backwards—in terms of reliability and QoE—even as they are taking two steps forward with cloud agility, Internet economics and easier network management. In my 30+ years in the networking business, I’ve yet to meet the first enterprise customer who found the idea of “two steps forward, one step back” appealing. With the right, failsafe SD-WAN solution, however, enterprises can in fact have it all and access the cloud with ease, without upending their budgets or compromising the reliability and quality of experience their CIO and users alike have come to expect from their MPLS WANs.

Confusion Abounds

With any buzzword comes the desire to use it, and the rise of the term SD-WAN has been no exception. For technology providers, the marketing appeal of using a buzzy term is obvious, and dozens of companies now bill their offerings as SD-WAN. While competition in the market is to be expected, comparing the resulting solutions can be akin to comparing apples to oranges. Stemming from the evolution that brought forward what we now call SD-WAN, some of these providers approach SD-WAN from the perspective of WAN Optimization, others from a network security (firewall) angle and still others from a network management standpoint. Many vendors optimize their offerings for the needs of the large telcos that are looking to “embrace and extend” their MPLS networks—and associated high revenues and margins—rather than for the enterprise buyer who sees in SD-WAN technology the opportunity to have leverage with their telcos for the first time ever.

The resulting confusion, and the idea that all SD-WAN solutions are alike and solve the same problems, has done no favors for buyers. Customers come to SD-WAN for many reasons—and often more than one. While cloud migration is a major reason, as noted above, buyers are also seeking greater bandwidth, lower costs—both hard-dollar WAN expenditures, as well as lower network management and troubleshooting costs—and better quality of experience for applications. Sometimes the customer is looking to move away from an existing MPLS WAN, while more often they are looking to augment that MPLS WAN with high bandwidth, inexpensive Internet connectivity.

It’s not just smaller companies that face confusion when it comes to SD-WAN: Oracle’s enterprise networks survey found that a mix of reasons are driving large, global enterprises’ desire to move to SD-WAN. Among these large organizations, almost half (48 percent) cited convenience and ease of deployment as one of the two most important factors when considering implementing SD-WAN, while 36 percent cited better reliability and 34 percent traffic-related flexibility, with one quarter of respondents (26 percent) singling out lower total cost of ownership as a top driver. Respondents’ other priority—that the SD-WAN solution be complementary to existing network infrastructure (30 percent)—demonstrates the range of internal and auxiliary factors that influence buyers’ needs and decisions.

Seeing Past the Hype

With all the confusion in today’s SD-WAN market, it can be difficult to understand what falls into the SD-WAN ‘base model’ and what is available only from a vendor with superior technology. No matter what brings them to SD-WAN, companies considering investing in the technology should seek out a few capabilities that are critical to a successful implementation and the ability to support migrating applications to tomorrow’s multi-cloud world:

Reliability and QoE: When my co-founder and I first set out, our thinking was that if we had any chance of convincing people and businesses to do things another way, we would have to deliver reliability without a fault in order to stand a chance. Today, while for WAN managers and in fact all of enterprise IT, delivering reliability and high QoE while augmenting or replacing MPLS connections with public Internet connectivity remains key, most SD-WAN offerings simply don’t deliver a failsafe WAN. A failsafe SD-WAN delivers as good or better reliability and QoE as customers have attained from their MPLS WANs, for both their TCP-based and real-time applications, and does so for not only hybrid MPLS plus Internet WANs but also WANs made up entirely of Internet connections. Delivering not just policy management for outbound Quality of Service (QoS), but actual end-to-end quality of experience requires technology like continuous unidirectional measurement and sub-second response to network problems that most SD-WAN products simply do not offer.


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