The Top 5 Trends in SD-WAN

There have been some important developments in SD-WAN technology over the last year. We need to continually assess changes in key technologies so we can make informed decisions and move our businesses forward. Let’s take a look at some of these developments so you can determine whether they might be important to your organization.

SD-WAN, or software defined wide area networking, is now well over a decade old as a technology. The term SD-WAN was coined in 2014 by Cisco well after the technology’s introduction, so SD-WAN is now considered a mature service.

What is SD-WAN?

Here’s a quick overview for those unfamiliar with SD-WAN. Traditional site-to-site connectivity models relied upon closed private networks in the past. Typically, we saw MPLS or private lines connecting sites back to a centralized data center. Those data centers had the applications and security stack for the organization. Also, internet access was concentrated at that data center behind that security stack. This provided ease of management and concentration of security tools creating a strong security posture. These networks were expensive, but they guaranteed quality of service and security as well as reliability.

Over the last decade, that model has changed though.

  • More applications were pushed to the cloud
  • Real-time applications, such as video and web conferencing required minimal latency and more bandwidth
  • Redundancy requirements forced public internet connections as failover at all sites, so security was pushed out to the branches and management became much more complex

As a result, the datacenter became less important as a central computing hub, and distributed security made the centralized security platform less important as well. This gave rise to SD-WAN.

How does SD-WAN work?
SD-WAN allows users at each enabled location to access cloud applications directly over the public Internet, bypassing the need to route through a data center hub and enhancing performance. So, SD-WAN reduces costs and management effort while improving performance without sacrificing security.

Here’s a brief outline of how SD-WAN works and is used:

  • SD-WAN is best used with redundant public internet connections, typically eliminating expensive private connections and allowing the organization to purchase whatever internet is available at that site
  • SD-WAN enhances quality of service over the public internet by determining the best route for individual sessions or packets
  • SD-WAN is frequently purchased with next generation firewalls and increasingly other cloud-based security services
  • Management is accomplished through a single portal ensuring consistency across all locations

SD-WAN is Mature & Reliable
SD-WAN is offered by the most reputable names in the networking industry and has completely replaced MPLS or private line for new network deployments. Most mature technologies enter into a state referred to as the plateau of productivity according to Gartner Hype Cycle, where SD-WAN is well entrenched in at this point. Typically seen in this phase of the technology lifecycle is a stagnation on product development. The industry focuses more on consolidation and adoption, rather than new capabilities. This is because the easy stuff has already been invented and so new capabilities come slower. However, the development within SD-WAN doesn’t seem to be slowing down. SD-WAN remains a dynamic and evolving technology as capabilities are pushed into the cloud rather than residing on a heavy appliance on site. To add, with the computing scale of the cloud, additional services are easy to add, and the industry continues to move forward.

What’s new with SD-WAN?

When evaluating an SD-WAN strategy there are some new trends to consider.

Secure Remote Access
One of the biggest developments in SD WAN is the coupling of secure remote access. The work-from-home strategy changed the focus of all IT professionals from secure location to securing the individual or the data itself. Some forward looking SD-WAN providers have already incorporated secure remote access before the pandemic, aligning their strategy with Gartner’s Secure Access Service edge (SASE). Other SD-WAN providers have since paired secure remote access capabilities with their SD-WAN platforms.

In fact, small office locations for some customers are eliminating SD-WAN architecture and just using the secure remote access of their SD-WAN provider. What you lose here is application prioritization and seamless failover. That may be acceptable for a few users who might work from home if necessary, in an SD-WAN for home deployment. For a location with five or fewer people broadband connectivity is probably adequate for applications and redundancy is not absolutely critical, where you might have a wireless redundant option rather than a fixed circuit option for redundancy. What you gain is a lower cost structure.

Co-Managed SD-WAN
Early on, enterprises with considerable staff of network architects purchased SD-WAN devices and deployed and managed those devices themselves. This provided ultimate control similar to what they had in their prior WAN environment. Over time, however, organizations have realized that SD-WAN doesn’t require much care and oversight. The talents of the network architect are better used in strategy, policy and design rather than maintaining the appliances.

One of the key benefits of managed SD-WAN is a co-managed environment between the managed services provider and clients’ IT teams. Co-management is now the most popular strategy where SD-WAN service providers maintain the device and its high-level configurations and the customers manage the application policy within the SD-WAN platform. This gives clients a sense of control that they need to run their network while delegating the non-value-added work to a vendor. Some clients are completely outsourcing the management of the WAN, and this option is frequently paired with a network carrier, creating a true network-as-a-service environment.

Wireless Only SD-WAN
While this option has existed for years now since wireless was integrated into SD-WAN, with the increased mobility of the workforce and supply chain issues affecting the delivery of wired services, wireless SD-WAN has caught on. Typically, with just a single wireless service SD-WAN prioritizes the application, so limited bandwidth is optimally utilized and eliminates non-business activity on the network, saving the aggregate bandwidth costs. Certainly, 5G makes this a very interesting exit strategy, but at least in the United States, it’s only really applicable for certain low utilization use cases because of the cost.

SD Branch
Software Defined branch office technology is an extension of the SD-WAN concept. The monitoring and management of branch LANs, access points, print resources and other branch peripherals reduces the need for on-site support and improves the service to the branch. The SD-WAN architecture is core to SD branch delivery.

Security Tools
Look for SD-WAN providers to continue to expand horizontally into other SASE categories, such as secure web gateway, data loss prevention, remote browser, etc. The industry is very fluid right now and SD-WAN is at the center of most security strategies. Going forward demand continues towards becoming the core interoffice connectivity technology. We’ll see automation and AI begin to make its way into the industry allowing the platforms to make adjustments in real time.

So, SD-WAN is mature, but not idle. There is a lot of growth in the industry and it’s important for users to have a well thought out strategy before making an SD-WAN decision. If you’d like to know more how SD-WAN can help your business and how Sangoma’s Managed SD-WAN services work, click here.

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