When will SD-WANs be broadly adopted?
Another Bog in the WAN Series by Dr. Jim Metzler
This is the fourth in a series of blogs on the topic of the evolving enterprise WAN that is based on a survey that was completed in May 2016 by 110 network professionals.
The first blog in this series, What’s Driving Change in the WAN?, identified the forces that are having the most impact on enterprise WANs and the second blog, The Limitations of the Current Branch Office WAN Architecture, discussed some of the limitations of the current branch office WAN architecture. The third blog, How well do SD-WANs Support the Forces Impacting the WAN?,discussed the perceived advantages and disadvantages of SD-WANs as well as how those advantages and disadvantages match up with the forces currently impacting enterprise WANs. This blog will examine the varying approaches that enterprises are taking to evaluate SD-WANs and will speculate on when SD-WANs will be broadly adopted.
Turning Interest into Adoption
The survey respondents were given a wide range of options and asked to indicate which options described their company’s approach to implementing an SD-WAN. Their responses, which are shown in Figure 1, show that there is broad interest in SD-WANs. For example, only a quarter of the respondents (26%) work for companies that have not yet made any analysis of SD-WANs and only a tenth of the respondents work for companies that have looked at SD-WANs but decided to not take any additional steps over the next year. However, that broad interest has not yet translated into broad adoption as only 5% of the survey respondents indicated that they currently have SD-WAN functionality running in their production networks.
These results raise a number of questions, including: When will all of this interest translate into broad adoption of SD-WANs, and by broad adoption I mean when do we get to where 15% to 20% of organizations have adopted it? Performing a deeper analysis of Figure 1 provides insight into the answer to that question as well as to the process that network organizations will take to evaluate SD-WAN options prior to adoption.
One interesting observations that comes from a deeper analysis of the survey data is that all of the respondents who indicated that their organization had not yet made any analysis of SD-WANs indicated that they would likely do that analysis sometime in the next year. While these organizations are unlikely to both analyze and implement SD-WANs in the next year, the fact that they will analyze SD-WAN options in the next year means that they will be on a path that could lead to eventual implementation.
Drilling down into the data showed that only a third of the total number of organizations that expect that over the next year to either have SD-WAN functionality implemented in a lab, a limited trial or in their production network are using an RFI to front end that implementation. This is in line with my experience working with enterprise network organizations.
Yes, some network organizations are still going to allocate the time and resources it takes to run a traditional RFI-based analysis of SD-WAN solutions. However, a larger number of network organizations will use a more agile process that includes some background analysis and light-weight vendor analysis but which focuses on quickly getting to running a Proof of Concept (POC) with one or more vendors.
10% of the respondents indicated that they expected that within a year that their company will have implemented SD-WAN functionality in their production network. It would be easy to add that 10% to the 5% who have already implemented it and conclude that within a year 15% of network organizations will have implemented SD-WANs. The problem with that is that for a number of reasons, not all of the 10% who expect to implement SD-WAN functionality in their production network within a year, will actually implement it. Those reasons include other projects taking priority, the lack of budget and disappointing POC results. Hence, I don’t think that we will reach a state where 15% to 20% of network organizations have implemented SD-WANs until late 2017 or early to mid-2018.
The next two blogs in this series will look at what network organizations are saying about where they think that WAN functionality should be hosted and what implementation options they prefer: Do-it-Yourself? Managed service? Acquire an SDN-based service from a WAN service provider?