SD-WAN drivers, strategies are broad and deep, survey finds

SD-WAN is still a relatively young technology, so it is not surprising that a survey conducted by Sapio Research on behalf of tech integrator Teneo found that multinational enterprises have significantly different goals and deployment strategies.

The technology has made significant progress but still has a long way to go. Only 20% of respondents have an SD-WAN project of some sort ongoing. The research found that 48% of those are running proof of concept at select sites or other limited deployments. This means that only about 10% are transitioning fully to SD-WAN. The survey found that 32% have not yet explored the technology, though 27% may do so in the future.

The survey is based on input from 200 senior IT and networking managers evenly split between the U.S. and U.K. The companies have worldwide operations and revenues between $127 million and $38 billion.

The market is far from settled and stable. Thirty-six percent of respondents said that they are considering SD-WAN due to the increasing complexity of network infrastructure and performance tasks. That was followed by the desire to cut network costs and the need for better management of network infrastructure. Both were cited by 34% of the respondents.

Half of the respondents pointed to the time-consuming nature of deploying and managing a network as their main driver. Overall, those interviewed said that upkeep consumes as much as 36% of their IT budgets. One-third said that they have used "as-a-service" platforms to keep pace.

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Varied offerings have emerged. "Due to the immaturity of the SD-WAN space each vendor has come to the market with a different strategy," wrote Steve Evans, Teneo's vice president of solutions engineering in response to emailed questions from FierceTelecom. "We are seeing this converge in some areas. However, there are still noticeable differences between the major players in the space. I would not say that the vendors do not know what to bring to market. I think it’s more that some vendors favor particular features over others."

The SD-WANs enterprises deploy will look different from one another, according to the survey. Thirty-eight percent of respondents want to add MPLS, 22% want to add broadband and 20% want to add both. Seventeen percent are happy with their current connectivity.

It is perhaps surprising that companies want to add MPLS, since reducing costs is seen as a key driver of SD-WAN. "SD-WAN is not about removing MPLS, although there can be cost benefits," Evans wrote. "With the reliability of Internet circuits or broadband improving, the usage of MPLS will still have a place until people are comfortable with running business critical applications over circuits with no SLAs."

Evens did point to cost savings of using broadband where it makes sense. "We have seen SD-WAN being used to enable businesses to utilize all of the MPLS bandwidth they are paying for to improve service for critical applications and then augment this bandwidth with the cheaper options for less important traffic, thus removing the expensive backup circuits and gaining more bandwidth for less cost," wrote Evans.

There still is a learning curve for both vendors and end users. "The challenge around understanding SD-WAN is that vendors are all talking features and that they all fit every situation," Evans wrote. "They are not starting with what the customer is trying to achieve and then showing how their technology would fit the needs. There is also a misunderstanding on what is meant by certain features and in comparing how well one solution executes on a feature."

Progress is being made, however. "More and more businesses already have a basic understanding of SD-WAN and are able to articulate their requirements, but some are still looking to get an understanding of the market and the technology," according to Evans. "Both groups need help understanding exactly how their requirements map to the available SD-WAN technologies."

Another element that is not yet clear is who companies prefer to work with. Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents want to partner with a global network vendor, 24% with a telecommunication partner and 24% with a management consultancy.

There are nice players as well: The survey found that 8% of respondents are considering specialist SD-WAN vendors, 3% are considering specialist integrators of SD-WAN and 3% will use multiple partners.