SD-WAN promises to help businesses meet many challenges, including reliable access to cloud applications and higher bandwidth for branch sites. These benefits are helping drive uptake amongst enterprises.

Traditional networks have struggled to keep up with the ever-evolving demands of digital business. SD-WAN offers a much more flexible approach to networking, allowing businesses to combine and configure multiple network technologies to meet any requirements. 

SD-WAN can address pain points such as the need for on-demand bandwidth and consistent network performance across multiple sites. It also empowers companies to combine dedicated data connections with low-cost broadband links in the WAN, meaning they can use the public internet for lower-latency apps like email or web browsing, conserving their data networks for critical, high bandwidth applications.

These many benefits are driving the momentum of SD-WAN. Sales of equipment are increasing rapidly, according to the IHS Markit Data Center Network Equipment Quarterly Market Tracker report. In the second quarter sales of SD-WAN equipment were worth $78 million, up 33 percent on its value of $58.7 million for the first quarter of 2017.

Analysts are enthusiastic. IDC forecasts that the worldwide SD-WAN market will be worth $8 Billion by 2021, at a CAGR of approximately 70 percent. Similarly, IHS reported that interest in SD-WAN is reaching critical mass, with (as of March 2017) four out of five companies having plans for SD-WAN in the next 4 years.  And Gartner is bullish about SD-WAN’s prospects, forecasting that by the end of 2019, 30 percent of enterprises will have deployed SD-WAN, up from below 1 percent in 2015.

With this rapid evolution of the SD-WAN market, what can we expect to see next from the technology and services?

1. Cloud continuing to drive SD-WAN forward

Cloud is enabling companies to transform branch offices into network nodes that connect to public clouds, co-location facilities and data centres. SD-WAN could be hosted in each of those locations, both in hardware and virtualized (software) formats, without compromising performance or ease of management. 

451 Research has identified cloud as one of the key drivers for SD-WAN along with mobility, IoT and security. While enterprise migration to cloud is happening regardless, it is bringing the SD-WAN market along with it.

2. Fully-virtualized branch offices

Enterprises continue to demand more flexibility to deploy and consume network functions on-demand and outside of a single platform. SD-WAN will enable more virtualization of traditional, physical network functions in the branch, resulting in reduced deployment times and making branch offices more agile and efficient.

Further, SD-WAN can enable branches to make the next step in WAN evolution and shift to “SD-Branch”. This will consolidate multiple functions into a single software-based IP services platform – or virtual appliance – which virtualizes branch connectivity, networking and security systems and then manages them centrally.

3. Improved layers of security

SD-WAN features a secure overlay but organizations in the digital era need to connect their branch offices directly to the internet. One outcome of this is that seeking to improve the performance of apps hosted in the cloud can also risk exposing branches to more security threats. 

Consequently, as more security threats and risks impact the enterprise, WAN segmentation is gaining increasing importance. Segmenting branch offices from the WAN can help prevent attacks in any one branch from spreading across the enterprise. SD-WAN, being controller-based, helps make WAN segmentation simpler and enables stronger security. Furthermore, SD-WAN also enables unprecedented visibility of how data centre or SaaS applications are being used, meaning it can apply network-wide security policies wherever and whenever they are needed.

4. More managed services

More service providers are likely to offer SD-WAN as a managed service – in line with enterprises’ demand for more choice. This also means providers have the opportunity to offer additional value add services like security, monitoring and application optimization.

Organizations that want to deploy SD-WAN are likely to recognize the benefits of a specialist partner working with them. SD-WAN involves deploying and managing many types of network services which must support many applications in different IT environments over various geographical locations, and attempting this in-house can be difficult. 

Working with a managed SD-WAN provider can offer full SD-WAN management that frees up in-house IT staff to focus on more strategic activities in line with business goals. The SD-WAN managed services route also means enterprises can operate the pay-as-you-go model, thereby reducing CAPEX, and also enjoy SLAs that guarantee performance levels across their distributed WAN locations.

5. Push towards end-to-end interoperability

Meeting today’s end-user expectations means providing a consistent Quality of Experience (QoE), and interoperability remains a continuing concern for wide area deployments. At present there are clashes between certain vendors’ equipment, a challenge that needs to be overcome. The ability for one particular vendor's products to work with another's will be vital.

SD-WAN can deliver on the need for interoperability by connecting branches, data centres and cloud via open, programmable architectures offering high interoperability. Standards to promote interoperability with multivendor deployments will also become a major factor.

You can read more about SD-WAN at the NTT Com SD-WAN content hub.