Giving WAN an edge

Giving WAN an edge


SD-WAN is now making its case. Allan Paton, Director of UK and Ireland at Silver Peak explores the evolution of SD-WAN and how it will replace the complexity of router-centric WAN architectures.

In recent years, the software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) market has experienced significant growth around the world, with new SD-WAN acquisitions, partnerships and investments gaining momentum. As the benefits of SD-WAN become increasingly apparent, Gartner has predicted that in 2019, companies that have deployed SD-WAN will rise from less than one per cent, where the market is today, to 30 per cent. SD-WAN offerings are fast evolving to address the changing requirements of enterprises as they embrace cloud and digitally transform.

Underpinning this evolution is the mass migration of applications and services to the cloud. Organisations are realising that their existing router-centric WAN architectures can't keep up with the changes in network and application traffic. As such, businesses are turning to SD-WANs, which promise the flexibility to use any combination of transport to connect users to applications and intelligently route traffic across the network efficiently and securely. It's therefore not surprising that, according to the Frost & Sullivan global SD-WAN survey, 94 per cent of businesses report that they have deployed, are deploying, or will deploy SD-WAN over the next two years: demand will surely continue to increase.

The business-first networking model

Increasingly, enterprises are moving beyond the constraints and complexity of router-centric WAN architectures. Routers are burdened by decades of complexity and still retain a lengthy and arduous device-by-device configuration process using an inconvenient and arcane Command Line Interface (CLI). Now, businesses are seeking more efficient and secure access to SaaS and cloud applications. There's a greater need to connect users directly and securely to the cloud and this requires a software-driven WAN edge architecture that can intelligently steer traffic based on application-driven policies. As such, SD-WAN solutions are increasingly evolving to empower highly-distributed enterprises with a new business first networking model that yields consistent application performance, robust security and operational efficiencies.

Less: the new more

In its first WAN edge report published in 2017, Gartner considered the future of enterprise networking as a consolidation of "several branch-office WAN edge functions, including routing, SD-WAN, WAN path control, security and WAN optimisation". By deploying a thin branch SD-WAN solution, distributed enterprises would be able to dramatically improve business agility and lower costs, and improve network and application performance, availability and security, while aligning their networks to ever changing business requirements.

In the Frost & Sullivan survey, respondents indicated that network managers are looking to embrace SD-WAN appliances with integrated routing and WAN optimisation functions, while keeping existing CPE-based solutions at other sites until maintenance contracts expire. Indeed, interoperability with existing WAN edge infrastructure will be critical when migrating to a business-driven WAN edge until organisations completely replace traditional routers. A flexible deployment model, fully compatible with routers, firewalls or other pre-existing devices at the branch, will enable enterprises to complete the transition at their own pace.

Utilising intelligence

Through advancements in artificial intelligence and self-learning, a unified SD-WAN Edge platform will also go beyond today's automation and templates to reach a self-driving wide area network that gets smarter every day. A self-driving wide area network with centralised and adaptive orchestration enables self-learning and continuous control to ensure ongoing alignment with business intent.

Ultimately, the consolidation of network functions - such as SD-WAN, WAN optimisation, routing and more - into a single, centrally orchestrated software instance is the final stage of evolution for SD-WAN technology. In the next 18 months, SD-WAN will become a priority for businesses, particularly in the banking and financial services space. We will also see an increasing need for integrated network functions at the WAN edge, as well as a demand from enterprises for centralised cloud-based network management from their SD-WAN vendor. 


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