SD-WAN is experiencing growing pains. Instead of just providing an inexpensive alternative to pricey MPLS connections, SD-WAN is emerging as the essential glue connecting services running in the public cloud, as well as emerging 5G and Internet of Things applications.
Indeed, SD-WAN promises to deliver revenue growth for telcos, cable operators and other service providers to offset flat revenues from other enterprise services, said Heavy Reading analyst Sterling Perrin at a panel at Light Reading's Network Virtualization & SDN Americans conference in Dallas in September. Analysts at Ovum project SD-WAN revenues to grow to nearly $10 billion in 2023, up from almost $4 billion today. (Heavy Reading, Ovum and Light Reading are owned by the same company.)
And the SD-WAN climate has gotten more business-friendly for service providers. Enterprise customers 18 months ago were concerned about cost savings, but now they are interested in other things, John Isch, Orange Business Services practice director of network and voice center of excellence, said at the same conference.
"The conversation has moved from 'How do I use SD-WAN to enhance my network,' not 'How do I use SD-WAN to save money on the network,' " Isch said.
But SD-WAN has a "Baskin-Robbins problem," Robert Victor, Comcast Business SVP of product management, said at the MEF conference in November. Enterprise customers are grappling with managing too many varieties of wide-area networks. He estimated that there are 80 SD-WAN vendors, making it impossible for enterprises and the operators who serve them to keep up on skills and management. Failure of vendors to consolidate has made it harder for telcos looking to provide SD-WAN services, Isch said.
Finding the right balance between DIY, self-managed and fully managed SD-WAN services can be a challenge. Likewise, telcos need to transform their corporate cultures, business processes and training to deliver on the promise of SD-WAN -- because SD-WAN, like Soylent Green, is all about people.
Simply making sure enterprises, vendors and service providers are speaking the same language can be problematic. That's where MEF stepped in, releasing specifications for SD-WAN services and their attributes, so that enterprises, service providers and vendors know what to expect from a transaction.
Vendors and operators delivered SD-WAN upgrades in 2019. Cato Networks, which provides a cloud SD-WAN service, introduced hands-free management for enterprise customers that don't want to have anything to do with running their own SD-WAN. Silver Peak expanded its global reach and sought to strengthen ties with telcos to partner on enterprise sales. Aryaka, which already had global reach, deepened its service to offer regional connectivity and other tools, as well as complementing its private-network SD-WAN with service offered over the public Internet.
Also, Infovista relaunched its two-year-old Ipanema SD-WAN in March, with new capabilities designed to help operators prioritize and guarantee performance for strategic applications. And Juniper launched a cloud-based SD-WAN service in April, boasting a high degree of scalability and integration with the WAN, LAN and managed WiFi.
Service providers see 5G in particular as an SD-WAN opportunity. "5G will multiply the opportunities for SD-WAN," Didier Duriez, Orange Business Services EVP of global solutions, said in March.
Both Verizon and AT&T introduced plans in February to update their SD-WAN services with 5G.
Investors are taking note of the SD-WAN business opportunity. SD-WAN startup CloudGenix announced a $65 million funding round in April. SD-WAN is presenting business opportunities for a new class of service providers that delivers SD-WAN services over the cloud. And investors are taking note. Cato Networks announced in January it raised $55 million. Aryaka picked up a $50 million funding round in May.
Analysts at Gartner say that SD-WAN and the needs of the market have changed significantly, requiring cloud delivery models that bundle wide-area networking with security. Gartner has coined a new buzzword to describe the transformed technology -- SASE, pronounced "sassy," for "Secure Access Service Edge." If Gartner gets its way, despite SD-WAN's success, we might not be talking about "SD-WAN" much longer.
— Mitch Wagner Executive Editor, Light Reading