IT Leaders Need to Get Aggressive with SD-WAN

Late last year I moderated a MicroScope roundtable in the UK on the challenges and opportunities of SD-WAN. The representatives included 12 leading SD-WAN vendors, including Michael O’Brien, vice president of worldwide channel sales for Silver Peak. I started off the discussion by introducing a data point from a TechTarget survey (TechTarget owns MicroScope) that only 26 percent of companies surveyed had an SD-WAN deployment underway. This spans any stage of the deployment cycle, including testing. Given the hype around SD-WAN and how many conversations I have with IT leaders about it, this number seemed low to me, so I wanted to get a better feel for what the leading vendors thought about it.

Going into the roundtable, I wasn’t sure if the vendor community would think this number was too high or too low, but I did expect to get uniformity in their responses. Instead, their responses that were all over the map. The most pessimistic view came from a smaller and relatively new entrant into the market who felt that less than five percent of companies had an SD-WAN deployment underway. The most optimistic was Silver Peak’s O’Brien who felt that the number was a bit low and should be closer to around one third. Another industry leader supported O’Brien when he said that 55 percent of its customers plan to make an SD-WAN decision in the next nine months. Everyone else provided a perspective that fell somewhere in the middle.

Based on my own research and anecdotal discussions, I think 26 percent is just about right.  The smaller vendor’s outlook on the industry is more a reflection of their late entry into the market. As a corollary to this, Silver Peak jumped into the space early and would have an overly positive opinion of customer adoption. The other industry leader is an interesting case as now that they finally have a viable offering, they’ll be pushing their install base hard, which should create a “rising tide” for all vendors.

So, what does all this data tell us? Whether the number is five percent or 33 percent (I’m not including the 55% number here as it’s a projection), the fact is, given the strong value proposition and maturity of SD-WAN technology, it’s something all businesses should carefully evaluate. Not for the cost savings, but rather the increased network agility that enables tighter alignment with digital transformation initiatives.

The next obvious question is, “Why haven’t more companies adopted SD-WAN?”. The answer to this is likely that many network engineers are still clinging to the past and aren’t ready to make the shift. Most current SD-WAN solutions are built on the concept of simplicity and use high amounts of automation, enabling the network to learn and adapt to changing requirements to ensure the highest levels of performance of an organizations’ users and applications. For example, the Silver Peak Unity EdgeConnect™ SD-WAN edge platform is constantly monitoring network and application performance, applying a number of optimization techniques to maintain application performance and availability. In the past, network professionals would endlessly fiddle with network configurations to accomplish the same thing. That worked in the past when traffic volumes were lower and there were only a few applications that were dependent on the network. Today, due to the rise of cloud and mobility, almost all applications require a reliable, high quality network connection to deliver a high quality of experience to users.

Based on the results of the Tech Target survey and the feedback from the MicroScope roundtable, I’m appealing to all CIOs and IT leaders. If your company isn’t at least piloting an SD-WAN, why not? Several senior IT people I have talked to tell me that’s a decision left in the hands of the network engineers. But that’s like asking a traditional auto mechanic if people should buy an electric car. Of course, a router jockey whose livelihood is tied up in hunting and pecking on a command line all day is going to be resistant to change.

If the network team isn’t ready to modernize the network, it will hold the company back so it’s really up to IT leadership to mandate the change. Again, not because of cost, but because it’s too risky to sit idle while your competitors get jiggy with SD-WAN and are able to do things your business can’t. Instead, it makes far more sense to be aggressive and leapfrog the field to maintain a competitive edge. SD-WAN is the biggest evolutionary step in the WAN since the invention of the WAN and the time to move is now.