Wide-Area Network Transformation: How Enterprises Succeed with Software-Defined WAN

by Shamus McGillicuddy, Research Director, Network Management

The enterprise wide-area network (WAN) can no longer be the static, bandwidth-constrained plumbing system that companies have relied on for decades. The old days of connecting branch offices to the corporate data center are over. Applications are migrating to the cloud, which forces architectural change. Branch offices require more bandwidth than legacy WAN services can offer. Change is constant, and security is keeping everyone up at night.

A crowded market of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) products have emerged with promises of easy WAN transformation. There are scores of vendors offering products today, and they vary wildly in capability. Although the SD-WAN market is about as settled as the old Wild West, enterprises are not wasting any time. Ninety-seven percent of distributed enterprises tell Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) that they have some kind of formal engagement with the technology today, and 24 percent have completely implemented SD-WAN on their networks.

EMA’s new research, Wide-Area Network Transformation: How Enterprises Succeed with Software-Defined WAN, looks beyond the hype of SD-WAN to understand exactly how enterprises should be tackling change in their networks. Based on a survey of 305 enterprise WAN decision-makers, this report examines all aspects of WAN transformation and then looks at how SD-WAN fits into the picture. The report identifies base practices, and some warnings on what enterprises should definitely not do with their networks.

The Cloud is Spreading Chaos

The average enterprise can trace 48 percent of the traffic coming in and out of the remote sites on its WAN to public cloud services. Nearly half of the application traffic on networks comes from the cloud, not the data center. Traditional, data center WANs are useless in these environments.

More than half of enterprises have found ways to allow their remote sites to connect directly to the cloud, rather than backhaul traffic to the corporate data center for an internet breakout. This shift in architecture isn’t easy. Enterprises told EMA that they are most worried about security and network complexity. SD-WAN solutions are increasingly focused on enabling this cloud connectivity.

The Internet is the Future of the WAN, But MPLS is not Dead

Ninety-two percent of enterprises say they are increasing WAN bandwidth at their remote sites. But private WAN services like MPLS are usually too expensive to support this bandwidth demand. This is just one of the reasons why 87 percent of enterprises are turning to internet services as a primary WAN connectivity option. The cloud is another driver of internet use.

This shift to the internet doesn’t mean that enterprises are abandoning MPLS. More than half of them say they are using the internet to supplement their MPLS bandwidth. Only 15 percent are actually retiring MPLS circuits.

The internet also presents some challenges. Enterprises are most concerned by the security risk of using a shared resource for business-critical traffic. They also worry that they will have to manage multiple ISP relationships and that they will struggle with application performance.

The WAN is Hard to Manage

Forty-three percent of enterprise network teams respond to more than six complaints per week about IT service problems experienced at a remote site on the WAN. It’s not always easy to address these issues. Only 5 percent of companies have on-site network experts at 100 percent of the remote sites on their WAN. The typical enterprise only staffs between 60 percent and 80 percent of its sites.

Given the challenges of managing a distributed network, network managers need tools that support distributed WAN management. In fact 90 percent of enterprises in EMA’s research said they require an end-to-end management system for the WAN. Enterprises were most interested in managing remote-site WAN infrastructure, network security, VPN connections for telecommuters and mobile workers, and branch office LAN infrastructure from within this single tool. SD-WAN, which is supposed to support WAN transformation, typically supports half of these requirements.

SD-WAN and Network Transformation

SD-WAN is a promising technology, according to EMA research. Enterprises say their top three business drivers for SD-WAN adoption are closing skills gaps in the IT organization, cloud enablement, and improved network security. They said that network visibility, integrated security and centralized management and control are the most critical SD-WAN features.

SD-WAN is also not a standalone tool. It needs to be integrated into the IT organization. Fifty-five percent of enterprises want to integrate SD-WAN into their IT service management platforms. More than a third of enterprises require SD-WAN to integrate with both security incident and event management systems and compliance management tools. This is eye-opening since SD-WAN vendors mostly market their ability to integrate with network performance management tools. In EMA’s research, performance management was ranked sixth on the list of integration priorities.

Countless Other Insights in the Full Report

The insights described here are just a sample of the data and analysis available in the full report, which will be available on the EMA website within the next month. Highlights from the report will be revealed in my December 13 webinar.

Wide-Area Network Transformation:
How Enterprises Succeed with Software-Defined WAN

Webinar Date / Time:  Thursday, December 13
@ 11 am Pacific | 2 pm Eastern