Slow Down sign on the roadside

What’s Holding Back SD-WAN Adoption?

The emergence of a fundamentally new technology or an approach to implementing technology is typically followed by a spate of articles that describe the use cases for that technology or approach. We have certainly seen that over the last year or two with software defined WANs (SD-WANs). Identifying the use cases is important, but use cases are only part of a broader narrative; as part of completing that narrative we have to answer some key questions. In the case of SD-WANs, one question we need to answer is: What are the key factors that are preventing enterprise organizations from deploying an SD-WAN?

What’s not inhibiting the adoption of SD-WANs?

I recently published a research report entitled the 2015 State of the WAN Report that was based on a survey that I gave to over 100 IT professionals. One of the survey questions asked the respondents to indicate the primary factors what would inhibit their organization from implementing a SD-WAN. I was equally fascinated by both extremes – the factors that were mentioned the least often and the ones that were mentioned the most often.

The factor that was mentioned the least often was “It would not improve visibility into WAN performance and it could make it worse.” The optimist in me looks at this result as a sign that the majority of network professionals believe that implementing a SD-WAN will provide more visibility into the performance of their WAN and hopefully the applications that run on top of it. The pessimist in me looks at this result and thinks that network professionals don’t think that implementing a SD-WAN will reduce the amount of visibility that they have into the performance of their WAN because they don’t have much visibility today.

I believe that my optimistic side is more in line with the sentiments of the survey respondents than is my pessimistic side. I believe that in part because SD-WANs have a centralized control point — they are positioned to provinetwork de more visibility into network and application performance than are traditional WANs. However, as is always the case, the devil is in the details. Network organizations who are evaluating SD-WAN solutions need to thoroughly examine the current and planned management functionality of those solutions.

What is inhibiting the adoption of SD-WANs?

Two of the factors most-often mentioned as inhibitors to the adoption of SD-WANs had to do with the maturity of the current products and the enabling technologies. These are common inhibitors to the adoption of any new technology, and the impact of these inhibitors tends to lesson rather quickly over time.

Another factor that was mentioned frequently is that the adoption of a SD-WAN would add complexity. On the one hand I was not surprised with this result because the introduction of any new technology adds complexity, at least in the short term. On the other hand, I did find this result to be quite ironic because part of the value proposition of a SD-WAN is that it reduces complexity.

What’s the bottom line?

There is no doubt that reducing the complexity of the WAN is a very appealing prospect. If a SD-WAN solution can achieve that goal, then that is a compelling reason to implement that solution. However, if the journey that a network organization has to take to go from their current WAN to a less complex SD-WAN is itself unduly complex, then that will at best reduce, and at worst eliminate, the interest that the organization has in adopting a SD-WAN.

To eliminate this impediment to adoption, vendors of SD-WAN solutions need to accomplish two tasks. One task is to make sure that their solution is as simple as possible to implement and manage. The other task is to provide detailed guidance to network organizations about the adoption process, including how to conduct a Proof of Concept (PoC) trial, how to create a business case, and how to implement a SD-WAN and integrate it with the existing traditional WAN.

About the author
Jim Metzler
Jim has a broad background in the IT industry. This includes serving as a software engineer, an engineering manager for high-speed data services for a major network service provider, a product manager for network hardware, a network manager at two Fortune 500 companies, and the principal of a consulting organization. In addition, Jim has created software tools for designing customer networks for a major network service provider and directed and performed market research at a major industry analyst firm. Jim’s current interests include both cloud networking and application and service delivery. Jim has a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Boston University.