SD-WAN is picking up steam, transitioning from early adoption to immense popularity. Its many advantages, including cost-savings, rapid scalability, and cloud-friendliness are leading more and more IT organizations to look into deployment now or in the near-term. Unfortunately, a lack of understanding of the new technology remains a barrier, which vendors, channel partners, and customers should be taking steps to address as soon as possible.
Who is Looking to SD-WAN?
SD-WAN is especially attractive for companies with:
- Geographic reach and multiple remote locations needing to connect in ways point-to-point MPLS doesn’t fully enable or where a flexible, multi-carrier solution can save money
- Rapid expansion plans and an interest in SD-WAN’s ability to serve as a “branch in a box”
- Branch reliance on IaaS and SaaS solutions, where SD-WAN’s branch-to-the-Internet design will improve performance
- Limited bandwidth to remote operations and a need for SD-WAN’s smart traffic management capabilities to make the best use of the connectivity available
Understanding Trails Interest in SD-WAN
Reports from various individuals on the front lines, as well as results from an interesting survey discussed here, indicate the greatest challenges may lie training and support. In fact, less than a third of IT leaders in EMEA and fewer than half in Asia-Pacific say they fully understand SD-WAN. Moreover, 30% of EMEA organizations that haven’t implemented SD-WAN talk about lack of internal skill as a key issue.
Moreover, not all vendors are doing enough to facilitate customers’ success. About one in four survey respondents mention poor vendor service and support as a problem with their deployments. Similarly, two-thirds of respondents don’t believe there’s enough SD-WAN training available.
Making things more complicated, SD-WAN options have proliferated. Pure-play startups advanced the market, networking giants like Cisco have gotten in on the game, and telecom companies are rushing to bring out their own versions to put a thumb in the dike of declining MPLS revenues. Just reading up on the alternatives can be overwhelming.
Network Design and Security Are Different
The struggles to get a handle on SD-WAN are understandable. This isn’t simply a product refresh of the traditional WAN that went before, and the combination of deep networking and extensive security skills that SD-WAN requires is relatively rare.
The main issue is that SD-WAN increases a network’s attack surface by opening directly to the internet branch offices that used to be walled off, with all traffic diverted through a centralized, firewalled data center. This is part of the reason SD-WAN boosts performance for Saas and IaaS at branches and helps overcome bandwidth limitations—by eliminating backhauling—but it requires corresponding security measures to lock down the remote sites.
Vendors, in general, understand that security issues are problematic for networking personnel and they are working to offer simplified solutions in their product lines. These efforts are still preliminary, however, and network architects and administrators with less cybersecurity training may find themselves at sea.
Fortunately, some channel partners will preconfigure SD-WAN, while others are taking the next step in offering SD-WAN managed services tailored to particular market segments, such as retail. These service-focused offerings are helping to make SD-WAN more accessible, regardless of a company’s internal knowledge base. But customers will need to do their due diligence about any potential provider to ensure they don’t suffer a “blind leading the blind” situation in this new era of networking.
It’s like we always say, a product is only as good as the support customers receive. SD-WAN may be transforming enterprise networks, but the need for robust training and effective support remain as important now as when traditional WAN was first deployed.