What's Propelling the Rapid Growth of the SD-WAN Market?

March 15, 2016

By Special Guest
Paul O'Farrell, SVP & GM, SteelHead and SteelFusion, Riverbed,

It has become clear that a fundamental mismatch exists today between wide-area networks (WANs) and the applications that run across them.  The application landscape has changed dramatically over recent years, with increased adoption of cloud services (SaaS (News - Alert) & IaaS), insatiable demands for bandwidth-intensive applications like video and real-time collaboration, and the rising ubiquity of encrypted application protocols (HTTPS/SSL/TLS), which challenge end-to-end visibility and control.  And yet, with all the changes to applications themselves, the typical WAN architecture has seen limited improvements.  It’s an architecture that was optimized for a simpler time, when apps and traffic were delivered out of centralized corporate data centers and over privately managed WANs.  This mismatch between apps and networks is causing several undesirable outcomes, including suboptimal application performance, high network costs, difficulty managing or scaling the network, and increased risk in deploying new applications and services.

In short, traditional WAN architectures are facing increasing limitations.

Rise of the hybrid enterprise

After years of dipping their toes into the cloud computing waters, 2016 looks to be the year we see enterprises fully embrace the cloud.  Eighty-four percent of businesses report their use of the cloud has increased in 2015, and they expect that trend will continue.  Half say they will use cloud for at least 75 percent of their workloads by 2018.

Yet, they’re not planning to move all apps to the cloud. Some will continue to live on-premises, particularly those that enable access to sensitive or confidential information, or those that need to run locally at remote locations to support the needs of their business.  Companies therefore find themselves with one foot on-premises and one in the cloud. This combination of private and public assets delivering essential business services is known as the "hybrid enterprise,” and it is the new normal.

IT teams cannot simply provision cloud apps and move on. They need to establish visibility, optimization and control across hybrid clouds and networks to ensure that all on-premises, cloud, and SaaS applications perform. As James Staten, Chief Strategist, Cloud+Enterprise Division at Microsoft, told Network World (News - Alert) in March 2015:

“We know that cloud services and cloud platforms are here to stay and should be considered part of your overall IT portfolio but how much of that portfolio will these services occupy in your future? For most companies – and probably all enterprises – your future won’t be 100 percent cloud. And your business units and line employees have already ensured that it won’t be 0 percent cloud.”

Supporting business where business gets done – in the branch

Retail outlets, manufacturing plants, natural resource exploration sites, consulting offices, and health care facilities – these are all examples of locations where business get done.  With all the innovation and attention centered on data centers and the cloud, optimizing your support of business at remote locations remains critical to a successful IT strategy.  Companies operate 55 remote IT facilities for every large data center.  Nearly half of all employees work in branch offices, about 50 percent of all data resides outside the data center, and IT often devotes 50 percent of its budget to remote and branch office locations.

So while remote locations are critical for business, they represent points of inefficiency and security risk for IT.

These challenges are exacerbated by the rise of hybrid and more complex network topologies at remote sites that combine Internet broadband capacity with traditional MPLS connectivity.  While Internet broadband can increase capacity at a lower cost, and provide reduced latency to cloud-based services, the cost and security risks associated with managing an exponentially more complex network often outweigh the gains.

The emergence of SD-WAN

In order to embrace faster and lower-cost hybrid WAN topologies without compromising operational efficiency and security, a new approach is required.

This is where SD-WAN comes in.  SD-WAN is a new way to build and manage WAN architectures and equipment in a simplified and cost-effective manner.  It allows enterprises to adopt hybrid applications and hybrid WAN networks with greater agility and ease.  In short, it realigns the capabilities of networks to the modern needs of applications, allowing IT to better support the needs of modern business.

According to Gartner, “by the end of 2019, 30% of enterprises will use SD-WAN products in all of their branch offices, up from less than 1% today,” citing at least 40% reduction in capital and operational costs, up to 80% improvement in in the time it takes enterprises to provision network changes at branches, and improved branch network availability due to simplified and less-brittle configurations.

A comprehensive approach to true agility

Achieving the fast and agile delivery of business applications in today’s hybrid age requires a comprehensive approach to assuring application performance.  It requires solutions that provide end-to-end visibility, optimization and control of all applications – those running on premises, in the cloud, at remote locations and on mobile devices.  

In a time when networks and applications are out of sync, SD-WAN holds the promise of bringing things back together.  And because of that, SD-WAN will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in redefining how IT and businesses work together in today’s hybrid and digital age.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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