Guest post by: Jan Hein Bakkers, Senior Research Manager at IDC

Digital transformation (DX) has quickly moved up the corporate agenda in recent years. This is underlined by a 2017 IDC survey that indicates that 89% of European CEOs have DX as a major business priority. What is much less widely acknowledged is the role that the wide area network has to play in this journey. A successful implementation of technologies like cloud, Big Data, and IoT is dependent on a highly capable and secure network. At the same time, the adoption of these technologies is driving network requirements to new heights. Budgets, however, are usually not developing at the same pace, leaving network managers with a challenging balancing act.

This is already leading to friction in the network. IDC's recent WAN survey, sponsored by NTT Communications, found that regular tasks like updating policies or provisioning new functions on the WAN are a challenge for many. Most organizations see the need for change, and they are increasingly adopting architectural changes, such as local internet break-outs, private connectivity to cloud providers, and active-active architectures to improve their WAN. However, these measures alone will not be enough for most to blossom in the DX era. A more widespread use of intelligence and automation will be needed to optimize the performance of the network and applications.

SD-WAN has emerged as a solution that responds to these changing requirements. Combining hybrid connectivity with centralized software-based intelligence that monitors, analyzes, and controls the network, an SD-WAN can run any application over any underlying network, bringing the promise of improved performance, increased visibility, more agility and flexibility, reduced complexity, and greater cost effectiveness. IDC believes SD-WAN is a key driver of WAN evolution, a view that is increasingly shared by end users. In the WAN survey 25% of organizations said they were already involved in a limited or extensive deployment of SD-WAN, while 57% were either piloting, investigating, or planning to deploy. This signals a remarkable appeal for such a young solution. 

The adoption of SD-WAN will only be a firststep toward a network as a service (NaaS), in which eventually SD-WAN and a range of other network functions like firewalls, WLAN, or network management are deployed as virtual services on commodity hardware. This combination helps organizations maximize benefits that they associate with virtualization, like improved security, easier updates, and faster provisioning. 

At IDC we see SD-WAN as one of the key building blocks of a network that is fit for the future. That said, it does not mean that the path toward it is straightforward. There is no blueprint that will fit every organization. We suggest, however, that you start exploring today, if you haven't already, the benefits that SD-WAN could bring to your organization and how it could help you evolve your WAN into a driver of digital transformation.

To find out how your WAN compares to your peers', and learn how you can prepare for the future, please go to NTT's Next-Generation WAN Advisor.