SD-WAN is the future for EMEA businesses

It's important to stay in tune with the industry’s successes, and of course its struggles too. As part of this, Barracuda recently surveyed over 400 IT and networking professionals in the EMEA region in order to understand their wide area networking environment and the current challenges the region faces. 

As a whole, the results revealed that EMEA businesses are increasingly investing in software defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), a technology that helps users access the cloud quickly and securely. However, the picture was not perfect; the study also showed an overall lack of education and skills relating to cloud-friendly networking technologies that hindered EMEA businesses’ SD-WAN adoption. 

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Security scores top marks

Barracuda asked respondents to label their top priorities and reducing the risk of cyber attacks for organisations came out on top for 52%. This is unsurprising considering the fiscal and reputational damage that follows a data breach, not to mention the media storm that surrounds it. 

The decision to make security the number one priority saw options such as projects deploying artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), automation and Internet of Things (IoT) as less of a priority, showing that businesses understand the need to consolidate their security strategy before embarking on more innovative projects.

Yet, whilst security was highlighted as the one to watch, it was also tipped as the biggest challenge when using cloud applications, with just under half (47%) labelling it as their number one issue. The biggest wide area network (WAN) challenge was performance to the cloud, with four in ten (42%) voting it as their top issue.

Turning to SD-WAN

To solve these security challenges across the cloud and WAN environment, EMEA organisations are enlisting the help of SD-WAN. Our findings show that one in four (26%) have SD-WAN deployed, with a further 64% either deploying or considering deploying in the future, leaving just 7% with no SD-WAN plans at all. 

So who’s driving this push? In the rest of the world, the IT networking teams are driving these projects (29%). However in EMEA regions, the IT C-Suite are the key driving forces who are responsible for 28% of EMEA SD-WAN deployments. Perhaps a surprise to some, these decisions appear to come from the business leaders, with CEOs pushing 8% of SD-WAN deployments. This eagerness demonstrated by business leaders shows that SD-WAN is not just for the IT team, but a business wide strategy. 

This may be due to the fact that the advantages of deploying SD-WAN affect the business financially, with respondents estimating they could save an average $1,312,311 (USD) on MPLS and networking costs in just one year due to their SD-WAN deployments. What’s more is that a hefty 98% of businesses have already seen the benefit from their project and cite an increased network security (46%) as the top improvement. 

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Deploying despite education

Although these figures are promising, the study also revealed that the EMEA region suffered from a lack of education in SD-WAN. Less than a third (32.7%) felt that they fully understood the technology, trailing far behind the US (57%) and APAC (41%). 

According to more than a third of respondents (34%), the root cause of this lack of education is a shortage of internal skills, whilst an absence of expertise needed to deploy SD-WAN was cited as the main problem following its deployment. Those who hadn’t yet embarked on an SD-WAN project also believed a lack of internal skill was their biggest hurdle (30%), with a quarter feeling that they did not know enough about SD-WAN to even consider it.

The absence of education has caused many to simply view ‘SD-WAN’ as a buzzword that will have little impact on networking (53%). Perhaps more alarming is that whereas security was cited as a top priority, 50% believe the myth that their SD-WAN solution contains everything they need to keep their network secure. This view could not be further from the truth; in reality most SD-WAN solutions require additional security solutions. Those who are implementing SD-WAN and are keen to tighten up security should keep this in mind. 

In order to combat the lack of education, respondents highlighted the necessity for further education within their organisations, as 64% stated they don’t have access to the necessary training. Only 48% of organisations who were in the process of deployment, or considering it, planned to train existing staff, widening this skills gap even further. Instead, many organisations in the process have started to seek elsewhere for SD-WAN expertise with 46% opting to hire new staff. 

The decision to turn to those outside of an organisation to help the process run smoothly can be explained by the fact that 91% of respondents value technical support and consultancy above all else when deciding on a solution. So as SD-WAN deployments increase and organisations look for the best technical support, there is a tendency to turn their backs on existing employees rather than providing training.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The apparent lack of education may paint a dim picture, but the EMEA region is optimistic about SD-WAN; four in ten (43%) believe it will replace MPLS as the leading solution, and almost two thirds state their WAN will become outdated if they do not embrace the move to SD-WAN and will likely fall behind competitors. 

As SD-WAN technology becomes adopted more widely, education around its deployment is vital for cybersecurity progress, especially as security is at the top of many IT teams’ priority lists. It is down to the industry to make a collective effort to better educate around SD-WAN, but this will not happen overnight. Whilst everyone works on filling this knowledge gap, those who are eager to reap the benefits of this technology should turn to experts to ensure that they are getting the most out of it and in the right way.

Dr. Klaus Gheri, VP and General Manager of network security at Barracuda Networks 

Dr. Klaus Gheri

Dr Klaus Gheri is the VP and general manager of network security at Barracuda Networks. He has over 20 years of working experiences.