What to expect from SD-WAN in 2020?

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In the first year of a new decade, 2020 will see software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) continue to play a vital role in facilitating digital transformation and powering cloud-connected enterprises. Continuing upon present trends, cloud will dominate in the enterprise as enterprises look to lower costs and stay agile, while businesses will continue to embrace Internet of Things (IoT) and facilitate its growth. This will drive the move towards SD-WAN that fully optimises operations, but what else is in store for SD-WAN in 2020? Here are 10 predictions for the SD-WAN market in 2020:

1. Enterprises prioritise WAN transformation to realise a multiplier effect on cloud investments

Most early SD-WAN implementations were justified based on cost savings, generally associated with replacing disparate legacy devices in the branch, combining lower cost transport options and realising operational efficiency gains from eliminating time-consuming and error prone manual configuration and troubleshooting. Going forward, forward-thinking enterprises will realise that wide area network (WAN) transformation can unleash the full potential of their investments in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), cloud, digital transformation and IoT initiatives. In 2020 and beyond, enterprises will prioritise WAN transformation based on the returns from accelerating these strategic business investments and initiatives, eradicating productivity losses associated with inconsistent user experiences when utilising cloud-based services.

2. Expanding enterprise cloud adoption drives shift to cloud-delivered security services

Traditional WAN architectures have relied on backhauling cloud-destined traffic through on-premise perimeter firewalls. These architectures will become obsolete as the majority of traffic flows from branch sites to the cloud rather than the data centre. Advanced security functions – including cloud access security brokers (CASB) and zero trust network access (ZTNA) – will be implemented in the cloud and in some cases, at end points, rather than in traditional next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) deployed on the perimeter. Going forward, the WAN edge will become a critical policy enforcement and integration point, offering forward-thinking enterprises the freedom of choice to select and adopt best-of-breed security technologies that bring the agility to keep pace with security technology advancements.

3. Enhanced SD-WAN integration with cloud giants

As more enterprises use multiple cloud providers, SD-WAN is providing a uniform fabric across physical locations and multi-cloud instances. In 2020, the cloud giants, Amazon, Microsoft and Google will continue to roll out a variety of features and application programming interfaces (APIs) that advanced SD-WAN solutions can leverage to enhance their functionality. Automation will make adding new cloud instances easy and fast, despite the inherent complexities and idiosyncrasies of each underlying cloud environment. By utilising multiple paths between physical locations and each cloud instance, an advanced SD-WAN platform will deliver a more reliable and consistent user experience.

4. SD-WAN deployments expand beyond the traditional branch to ships, trains and backpacks

When people think of SD-WAN, they typically think of networking together branch offices, retail stores or factories and warehouses. And, we often think of the benefits of SD-WAN in terms of employee productivity gains. However, there are a number of emerging use cases where the SD-WAN edge is being deployed beyond the traditional branch to ships, trains, emergency vehicles or even first-responder backpacks. Whether it’s digital transformation or IoT, there will be an array of business initiatives that will require high-quality, always-on cloud connectivity. This will drive growing awareness of the importance of reliable and high-performance machine-to-machine communications, in parallel with consistent human user-experience. In 2020, this trend will drive WAN transformation beyond the traditional branch into every facet of the new digital enterprise.

5. Advanced SD-WAN orchestration vendors expand horizons and enable true best-of-breed IT

For more than two decades large technology vendors have promised efficiency from end-to-end procurement of technology, all from a single vendor. Most IT organisations realise that these efficiencies most often fail to materialise and, in particular, vendor promises of seamless integration across in-house and disparate acquired products have fallen well short of PowerPoint nirvana. Yet, in parallel, leading SD-WAN vendors have accumulated years of experience orchestrating across the routing, security and application optimisation domains in thousands of enterprise environments. In 2020, the SD-WAN orchestrator will become the centre of gravity for delivering on the promise of seamless integration across best-of-breed technologies. Advanced SD-WAN orchestrators that have already solved the problem of integrating routing, firewall, WAN optimisation will extend to the integration of cloud-delivered security services, cloud-based universal communication services and a growing array of infrastructure offerings from campus switching and Wi-Fi to new networking services from the cloud giants.

6. Service providers hit their stride with managed SD-WAN services

Four or five years ago, SD-WAN was in the early adopter phase, and most implementations were deployed and managed in-house. As SD-WAN has gone mainstream, many enterprises are evaluating whether to go with an insource or outsource model for their WAN. At this point, about half are opting to go with a managed service offering. A growing number of leading service providers are now at-the-ready to satisfy this demand. Service providers that moved early now have two-to-three years of pilots behind them following a steep learning curve. In many cases, they’ve realised that their initial SD-WAN technology vendor selections had significant limitations. In 2020, they will offer advanced SD-WAN solutions from two or three vendors to fully address their customers’ needs. These leading service providers are now effectively scaling and productising their managed services offerings to the point they can roll out a large enterprise SD-WAN deployment at rates as high as 100 sites per week.

7. Wireless graduates to a full primary WAN transport

To date, 4G/LTE wireless has typically been confined to WAN back-up or limited ‘early turn-up’ use cases due to bandwidth limitations and cost considerations. In 2020, we will see these constraints addressed on both the technology front, with 5G rollouts, and on the business front with service providers offering more attractive pricing for an expanding range of SD-WAN use cases that leverage wireless connectivity.

8. Low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite connectivity enters the WAN transport roadmap

LEO connectivity promises high bandwidth, low latency connectivity anywhere on the planet. While still nascent, LEO holds so much promise that enterprises will be wise to factor it into their multi-year transport planning and roadmaps. As LEO connectivity gains traction, it will present another transport alternative with the attraction of global coverage and instant turn up. As it matures, LEO is sure to join today’s WAN transport line up alongside MPLS, DIA, broadband and 4G/5G wireless.

9. Branch routers march toward obsolescence; enterprise use cases fully addressed by advanced SD-WAN solutions

Enterprises will continue to retire traditional branch routers in favour of a centrally managed new WAN edge that fully addresses virtually all branch router use cases. In 2020, legacy routers will no longer be required in branch locations, driving the traditional branch router market into decline as enterprises architect and build a new WAN edge based on commodity hardware.  Those insisting on going down the path of teaching an old dog new tricks by re-imaging legacy routers with new software will grow increasingly frustrated by deployment and integration challenges.

10. With lessons learned, first generation SD-WAN buyers re-evaluate options and prioritise WAN transformation

While there have been many SD-WAN success stories, there have also been many early-adopters that have come to the realisation that their first SD-WAN technology selection did not deliver on the initial promises. A growing number of enterprises that tried to stretch traditional router-centric WANs or deploy basic SD-WAN products will re-evaluate their initial decisions in favour of more comprehensive WAN transformation solutions. In 2020, IT organisations will be looking to vendors with proven track records of leading customers through successful WAN transformation projects. They will seek vendors that have learned from thousands of customer deployments to develop technology that ‘just works’. There will be little patience for suffering through issue after issue with me-too, late-to-market offerings from vendors trying to jump into the market at the last minute.

David Hughes, founder and CEO, Silver Peak

David Hughes founded Silver Peak Systems in 2004, driving innovation as CTO. More recently, as CEO he has led Silver Peak beyond WAN optimisation into the emerging SD-WAN market.