Survey shows SD-WAN interest but measured uptake

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Software-defined wide area networking presents one of the most compelling applications of SDN technology in 2015, offering users the promise of cost savings and more flexible connectivity in their wide area networks (WANs). Yet a recent TechTarget survey shows that just one in 10 enterprises plans to deploy hybrid WAN in the next 12 months.

Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst of ZK Research, who consulted for TechTarget on the survey, said many businesses are still skeptical about the new technology. SD-WAN is the next evolution of WANs and the technology is expected to slowly make a push in the industry.

According to TechTarget’s purchasing trends survey of 1,437 people, the most common reason 54% of enterprises said they are considering deploying hybrid WAN is to reduce WAN costs. But in the next 12 months, just 10% plan to deploy hybrid WANs that integrate¬†expensive MPLS connections¬†with lower cost broadband Internet links. SD-WAN vendors place a virtual network overlay on the physical WAN, enabling them to create and manage hybrid networks.

The benefits of SD-WANs can include significantly reduced WAN costs, more efficient use of bandwidth and connectivity between branches and data centers. So why isn’t SD-WAN catching on faster? Kerravala said companies are still concerned about the quality and reliability of broadband connectivity and as a result aren’t willing to make the move to SD-WAN without more evidence of success.

“Over the last three months, I’ve done webinars with Silver Peak, VeloCloud and CloudGenix on this topic, and the number one set of questions I get back are ‘Are you sure I can do QoS on Internet connections? Can I really run Voice over IP on Internet connections? Can I really run video on Internet connections?’ And it’s almost like people don’t believe that,” Kerravala said. “That’s the kind of content [those companies] need to put out there to try and convince users that yes indeed, the performance characteristics of an SD-WAN are that of MPLS.”

In addition to reducing costs, the survey revealed that adding bandwidth is vital for many businesses. Twenty-five percent of those investing in their WANs in the next 12 months said adding bandwidth is their top priority. A lack of bandwidth isn’t the problem, Kerravala said; rather, it’s not using it properly.

The challenge for SD-WAN vendors is to convince customers that they can get performance that’s just as good over the Internet connections.

Cisco is the only large, established vendor that has made a strong push with SD-WAN, according to Kerravala, but at least 10 startups are looking to gain traction in the space. To avoid imitation, each vendor is taking a slightly different approach to its SD-WAN applications, but overall, Kerravala sees their goals as identical.

“Wide area networks are very inefficient, and they’re based on an active-passive model, and all the SD-WAN vendors are trying to address that,” he said. “They’re all trying to address it differently, but at the core, their value prop is have a better performing WAN at 10% the cost of what you would’ve paid for your private IP connections.”

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