SD-WAN market shifting toward single vendor SASE - Gartner

The maturing SD-WAN market is being transformed by secure access service edge (SASE), artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud adoption, according to Gartner’s latest Magic Quadrant report.

The analyst firm’s Jon Forest told Fierce Telecom that today's SD-WAN buying decisions are centered around simplifying network operations, flexibility for the cloud, application performance and providing security.

Many vendors are “aggressively moving” toward secure access service edge (SASE), Gartner’s moniker for a cloud-delivered converged network and security framework. SASE is typically comprised of an SD-WAN and a cloud-native suite of security features – which Gartner dubbed the secure service edge (SSE) – that includes zero-trust network access (ZTNA), firewall as a service (FWaaS), secure web gateway (SWG) and cloud access security broker (CASB).

SASE has been touted as flexible for cloud applications, and for simplifying network and security management through convergence. Gartner found that by 2026, 60% of new SD-WAN purchases will be part of a single-vendor SASE offering, up from 15% in 2022.

Some SD-WAN vendors are also focused on roadmap items like AI to optimize network operations efficiency, while some are incorporating WAN backbones or focusing on digital experience monitoring (DEM) capabilities, Forest said.

The report forecasted that generative artificial intelligence (AI) technology embedded in SD-WAN offerings will be used for 20% of initial network configuration by 2026, up from “near zero” in 2023. In today’s market AI networking is often used as support for proactive remediation and incident management.

Gartner expects some aspects of the SD-WAN market will evolve into the single-vendor SASE market. Specifically, the firm sees “five technologies converging”: SD-WAN, SSE, enhanced internet/WAN backbone, cloud onramp and multi-cloud networking.

A varied vendor landscape

While the SD-WAN market is maturing, there are still “significant differences between vendors,” the Gartner report noted.

Forest said vendors position themselves by a range of features like AI networking, cloud onramp, ease of use, security (on-premises, in the cloud or third-party SSE integrations) and scale or performance optimization. Certain vendors cater better to retail versus financial versus government.

The “go to market” aspect also matters, he said, as some vendors tend to be more cost effective than others. This includes whether an SD-WAN is managed as a service or DIY. Smaller enterprises are generally more price conscious, have high cloud adoption and are focused on simplicity/ease of use of network operations.  They also are more likely to consume SD-WAN solutions via a managed network service. 

“Large enterprises, on the other hand, are more likely than smaller enterprises to manage their networks themselves, typically have more hybrid environments (workloads on-premises and in the cloud) and more feature complexity,” said Forest.

Gartner assigns vendors in its Magic Quadrant a scalability score, which reflects the size of enterprises (by number of branch locations) that vendors sell to. Vendors with higher scores tend to be successful with larger enterprises (with more branch locations). However, Forest said “most vendors tend to target enterprises of all sizes.”

The Gartner report said acquisitions in the space are likely to continue, “primarily around SD-WAN and network security vendors consolidating to form single-vendor SASE.”

Over the next three years, “more than 10 mainstream suppliers are likely to remain,” the report added. “However, we do see increasing separation by the top six or eight vendors from the rest of the market, and an evolution to SASE as the primary use case.”

This year, Gartner's leaders in the SD-WAN market are Cisco, Fortinet, HPE's Aruba Networks, Palo Alto Networks, Versa Networks and VMware.