SD-WANs Advancing, but Still an Immature Industry Segment

    Perhaps the hottest area in networking is software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs). These network overlays extend the advantages of virtualization over the distributed reach of decentralized organizations. In the process, they shepherd less vital data onto cheaper broadband links while maintaining Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) for higher value data.

    SD-WAN is also a hot area for vendors and service providers. This week, BT launched Agile Connect, an SD-WAN that it positions as helping large organizations in their digital transformation, according to ZDNet. The platform, which uses BT and Nokia technology, enables enterprises to prioritize applications via a portal. Virtual network function (VNF) capability will be added later, the story says.

    Last week, InfoVista and Cato Networks announced a joint offering. The press release says that the platform, which includes InfoVista’s Ipanema SD-WAN and Cato’s Cloud network service, addresses the challenge of simultaneously managing broadband and MPLS networking.

    These are significant announcements. The point is, however, that many like them are happening on a continual basis. It is a crowded and fractious field, with startups and established vendors vying for exposure and customers.

    Organizations must educate themselves on the many vendors, service provider offerings and the types of SD-WAN options that are available. Researching and shopping for an SD-WAN is difficult, according to SD-WAN Experts’ Founder and President Steve Garson.  Products from different vendors “can sound insanely alike.” Creating lists of desired features is helpful, but incomplete. Useful aspects of the product may not be easily noted on a list. Likewise, there may be unfamiliar features that wouldn’t make the list – but would be beneficial.

    It’s subjective. The goal is to find the product with the features that are needed, easy to use and priced right. Garson added that vendors are often reluctant to discuss pricing, which is another complication.

    Delphi President Gary Audin offers a nice explanation of why SD-WANs are hot. The piece, at No Jitter, describes traditional network approaches. The emphasis in these networks is MPLS. That’s a costly way to go, and invited change as software grew stronger:

    SD-WAN addresses a shift in application and WAN traffic profiles and delivers a better cost-benefit solution. SD-WANs can help overcome the challenges for digital transformation in a manageable way for the enterprise. The concept is to have at least two or more WAN connections (hybrid WAN) for each branch office. This means leveraging two or more different network connections such as MPLS, broadband, or wireless.

    Audin concludes by listing the attributes of SD-WAN and how they map with the objections enterprises have with previous approaches. The bottom line is that SD-WANs are just what the networking doctor ordered.

    The need for careful study is great. SDxCentral earlier this month posted IHS Markit ‘s quarterly numbers for SD-WAN. The two biggest players are VeloCloud and Vipetela. They combined to control between 40 percent and 45 percent of the market in both the first and second quarter of the year. The bigger takeaway, however, is that more than 40 percent of the market in both quarters was “other.” This suggests that it is still an immature segment and that extra care should be taken in deciding which vendor to use.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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