What’s Inhibiting SD-WAN Adoption?

Everybody in IT is aware of the hype cycle that surrounds the introduction of new technologies and architectures such as a Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN). There are two key factors that drive that hype cycle. One of the factors, having unrealistic expectations of the benefits of a SD-WAN, was the subject of my last blog. In this blog I am going to examine the other factor: What is inhibiting network organizations from adopting a SD-WAN?

Immaturity of technologies and products

I recently published a report entitled The 2016 Guide to SDN & NFV: The Use Cases and the Business Case. That report contained the results of a survey in which the survey respondents were given a set of a dozen factors and were asked to indicate the two factors that would inhibit their organization from adopting a SD-WAN.

Based on the responses of the survey respondents, most of the resistance to the adoption a SD-WAN can be attributed to five factors. Two of these factors are:

• The immaturity of the enabling technologies
• The immaturity of the current products

It wasn’t surprising that those two factors were so important to the survey respondents — the vast majority of network organizations are risk adverse and hence don’t want to run business-critical applications on early versions of any technology.

Operational considerations

Two of the other factors that bubbled to the top are:

  • Possible security vulnerabilities
  • Concerns about how we would integrate SDN into the rest of our infrastructure

The issues raised by network organizations early in the technology adoption cycle tend to focus on the lack of understanding of the technology and the associated use cases. One of the pieces of good news coming out of the survey is that the factors listed above are the type of issues that become important as network organizations get close to implementing a new technology.

Lack of a business case

At first I was a bit perplexed that the lack of a compelling business case was at the very top of the list of factors inhibiting the adoption of SD-WANs. I was perplexed because one of the promised benefits of a SD-WAN is its ability to support policy-based, dynamic load balancing of traffic over multiple WAN links. This functionality has the potential to enable network organizations to either cap or reduce their use of relatively expensive MPLS circuits and to use relatively inexpensive Internet circuits for additional WAN capacity.

While perplexing, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the lack of a compelling business case was at the very top of the list. That survey result is totally in line with a finding that I discussed in last week’s blog. That finding was that only 15% of the survey respondents indicated their belief that reducing OPEX was one of the top challenges that adopting an SD-WAN could help them with.

Next steps

In order for network organization to avoid becoming unrealistically disillusioned with SD-WANs, we need to address the factors that are inhibiting adoption. The goal isn’t to totally eliminate the impact of these factors, but to reduce their impact to a point where SD-WAN adoption proceeds at a rational pace.

Relative to the immaturity of technologies and products, that is the type of inhibitor that naturally goes away over time. In addition, given all of the investment that vendors are making in SD-WAN solutions, it is likely that these inhibitors will rapidly diminish in importance.

Concerns about security and integration don’t naturally dissipate over time. However, in 2016 SD-WAN vendors can accelerate the adoption of SD-WANs by focusing a significant portion of their educational efforts on demonstrating the security functionality of their solution as well as how that solution can be easily integrated with a traditional WAN.

As mentioned, the fact that network organizations don’t see a compelling business case for adopting SD-WANs is somewhat perplexing. Making it even more perplexing is the fact that when our industry faced similar transitions, such as the adoption of VoIP, vendors went to great lengths to create templates that network organizations could use to create a compelling business case. Given the survey results, 2016 would be a good time for vendors to create templates that can be used to create a compelling business case for SD-WANs.

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.