At WhiteSpider, we consider ourselves somewhat as experts in emerging technologies. Whether it’s SD-WAN, SDN or HCI we’ve got the experts and the experience to deliver. We’ve done it often enough, and we’ll carry on.

That said, one thing we’ve learned along the way is that the technology is only part of the story! However good we are, we know that our customers are more interested in what the technology can do for their organisation than how it works.

Although we think we’ve got a pretty good idea what our customers think about SD-WAN and how they will use it we’ve done enough deployments to believe we have a good handle on this – we thought it would be worth double checking!

We already know what some of our customers–. But we wanted to cast the net a little wider to find out what others think of SD-WAN and if they are planning to use it in the future. So, we asked all of our contacts to answer a few questions on their knowledge and expected plans for it. Here are some of the key things we found out.

The established vendors lead the way
The SD-WAN vendors that most people are considering are the ‘traditional’ vendors.

Our respondents were most likely to conside solutions vendors that already have a large presence in the market. Whether this is vendors with a WAN Optimisation history (such as SilverPeak, Riverbed), or solution suppliers (Cisco, Citrix, Juniper), these companies retain a strong brand advantage over the emerging, pureplay SD-WAN vendors.

This aligns with a recent Gartner report (https://www.gartner.com/doc/reprints?id=1-3X6W6KF&ct=170404&st=sb) which shows that some of the pureplay vendors are growing fast, but still limited to the low to mid hundreds of global deployments. It would seem likely, as we’ve already started to see with Cisco’s purchase of Viptela, there will be a great deal of consolidation through mergers and acquisitions as the market matures.

Cutting circuit costs isn’t the main story…
Our responses indicate that organisations are more concerned about operational cost savings than circuit cost savings. One of the many drivers behind the initial development and growth of SD-WAN technologies was the high cost of MPLS circuits. After its dominance over the past 15 years, a simpler, more agile – and cheaper! – technology was needed. So, it was surprising that only ¼ respondents were looking at SD-WAN to deliver savings on their circuits, whereas nearer 50% are concerned about operational and CAPEX reductions.

On reflection, however, there are probably some valid reasons for this:

  1. From what we hear, many organisations are not (yet) willing to risk running their business on broadband connections – no matter how reliable the SD-WAN proponent say it can be. We expect to continue to see MPLS for some time to come!
  2. The message from Service Providers is that SD-WAN is not about cost savings – and people are listening! The advent of SD-WAN is a significant risk for Service Providers who stand to lose revenue from profitable MPLS circuits. As a result, they are working hard to promote the other benefits  (performance, control, simplicity etc). And, of course, it’s not in the interests of SD-WAN vendors to engage in this debate as Service Providers mark a significant – and potentially largest – source of their revenue.
  3. Several of the IT heads we are working acknowledge that SD-WAN will likely deliver circuits cost savings, but they are more interested in operational savings and performance improvements. Should they decide to move away from MPLS – or other high cost circuits and cost savings could be allocated elsewhere in their budget.

…But maybe orchestration is
Centralising the control of WAN is, by some margin, seen by the respondents as the best feature of SD-WAN. Whilst other features, such as zero touch deployment and application based path selection, were thought to be valuable, the ability to centrally orchestrate and manage the WAN is the most important factor. In all, almost 70% of those who considered themselves at all knowledgeable about WAN identified this as a key benefit.

Interestingly, another significant feature that was considered valuable was the ability to deliver QoS over internet circuits. This is a capability that has raised significant debate, but there is no doubt that capabilities built into some vendor solutions provide the ability to manage application quality over internet circuits.

DIY or Service Provider? No winners yet…
There is still no clear trend as to how organisations will deploy SD-WAN capability:

  • Building and operating the solution themselves, or with the support of a partner/vendor
  • Using the capabilities provided by a Service Provider, such as Verizon, BT etc

From the responses we had, there was an almost equal split between the two options. What was more significant is that we found that a far greater number of people had not actually decided on how they were going to implement SD-WAN. Clearly this is a significant opportunity for both Service Providers and Resellers/SIs to demonstrate the value they can deliver, whether it be through promoting the total cost and control benefits that the DIY route can enable, or through the – perhaps – simpler option of letting the service providers do all the work.

Summary:
The rapid up-take of SD-WAN solutions and services by organisations globally sees no sign of abating. Increasing amounts of data are being transferred between data centres, cloud environments, branch offices and other remote locations. While WAN connectivity has, until recently, been best delivered through optimisation, SD-WAN is emerging as a networking approach that can makes WANs more agile, programmable and easier to manage.

We are still in the early stages of SD-WAN, and a long way off mass adoption, but organisations clearly understand the benefits of the technology even if they are still undecided on the best vendor or adoption path.

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