Enterprises with an eye on digital transformation are using more and more cloud service providers, to the point where their architecture is evolving into a “multi-cloud” approach. This is driving them to rethink their wide area network strategy and look to the software defined WAN (SD-WAN) to tie everything together.

According to the analyst firm IHS Markit, the challenges of connecting branches and on-premises data centers to each cloud provider data center creates a high degree of complexity beyond what a traditional WAN architecture can handle.

A new report by the firm says the average enterprise is now using 10 different cloud service providers for SaaS (Software as a Service) and 10 for IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), and both of those numbers are expected to continue to grow.1

How SD-WAN can help

The SD-WAN offers flexibility and control through its centralized management of devices, policies and applications, as well as its visibility into application performance, support for enhanced security, and dynamic load balancing. This creates a foundation for the multi-cloud.

The ability to leverage analytics for assessing user behavior, to enhance branch security, and to have a centralized management portal helps keep the WAN manageable while delivering a better user experience and boosting productivity.

An SD-WAN strategy results in improved cloud application performance, with its ability to set priority policies for application traffic and sophisticated performance monitoring features. But there are other reasons SD-WAN can improve enterprise network performance, such as:

  • Improving WAN utilization
  • Simplifying provisioning, eliminating the need for skilled technicians to go onsite at branches
  • Provisioning new sites rapidly
  • Automating and streamlining bandwidth adjustments via a self-service portal

The WAN/SD-WAN divide

A survey of enterprises contrasting those using a traditional WAN architecture and those using SD-WAN yielded some interesting findings.1

For instance, SD-WAN enterprises appear to spend more on their networks than traditional WAN users. But those appearances are deceiving; when you compare costs based on bandwidth – pricing it out at megabits per second – the SD-WAN costs are about 30 percent lower per Mbps.

The SD-WAN users also tend to be companies that are more geographically dispersed and have a much higher percentage of mobile or remote employees. As a group, they are embracing a strong cloud-based delivery strategy and are moving more aggressively on deploying IoT.

The year of SD-WAN growth

SD-WAN adoption is sharply climbing and is expected to grow 40 percent each year until 2022, according to IDC.2

One of the key drivers of this expansion is the growth of cloud and IoT applications, which are highlighting the importance of computing at the edge. Those cloud-based services are one of the major forces pushing up WAN bandwidth.

With legacy WANs cloud apps come in through a central data center network connection, travel over the WAN to the branch, and then reverse the cycle, which leads to latency issues. SD-WANs address that by allowing the enterprise edge to access cloud services directly, reducing traffic and improving application performance.

What is also happening is that enterprises are moving away from the methods by which they have consumed SD-WAN services, with a mix of standalone managed services or self-managed onsite hardware and software. The trend is toward a managed service bundle that includes additional services such as a firewall, other security enhancements, and load balancing.

The priorities for enterprises in the market for SD-WAN solutions are, in order, security, network reliability, application delivery performance, costs, and the confidence that they can rely on the provider for the desired levels of service and support.

As they navigate toward and through the multi-cloud architecture, creating their own customized mix, enterprises will increasingly look to an SD-WAN to provide the foundation for enabling and managing that architecture.

1IHS Market, SD-WAN for a multicloud world, 2019