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2019: The Year of SD-WAN

Author: John Burke, CIO & Principal Research Analyst

SD-WAN is experiencing explosive growth in interest as the technology, vendors, and service provider offerings all mature. 2019 will be a pivotal year, as the majority of organizations not already planning to deploy SD-WAN will complete evaluations of it and decide whether to deploy.

Among those already deploying SD-WAN, typical deployments are spreading over multiple years; operating in a “mixed mode” (part SD-WAN, part traditional WAN) for a significant span of time is normal. It also mutes the benefits of SD-WAN, limiting some of the management and operational improvements. Even so, companies that have converted more than 90% of their sites to SD-WAN are realizing significant improvements: 20% reduction in staffing required for the WAN, and 33% reduction in the amount of time WAN staff spend on troubleshooting. They are likewise seeing a 69% reduction in the amount of time a typical site is off the network in a year, and an 80% reduction in the length of individual incidents.

Part of the management improvement comes from simplification of the management environment: SD-WAN technology hides layers of infrastructural and management complexity via abstraction and automation. Most organizations extend that simplification to the branch stack, looking to their SD-WAN solution to displace routers, WAN optimizers, even branch firewalls.

Although SD-WAN environments can, and typically will, continue to include MPLS, the news this year is striking: 40% of participants say they will be shrinking or eliminating MPLS as a result of SD-WAN—up from 26% reducing (and no one eliminating) last year back. A major shift is definitely afoot!

On the other side of that shift is the rising importance of Internet connectivity as an alternative to MPLS. SD-WAN is powering increasing reliance on the Internet alone for communications at branch sites, with Internet-only branches rising from a little over 24% of branches now to nearly 40% of them by 2020. Of course, the ability to incorporate Internet connectivity freely creates the potential for “provider sprawl” and the associated costs of maintaining a growing number of business and technical relationships. Most want to outsource that problem to a network aggregator or managed SD-WAN service provider.

IT professionals should:

  • Evaluate multiple SD-WAN options, both DIY and In-net/Managed
  • Specifically work out your organizational taste for collapsing branch stacks into an SD-WAN appliance
  • Communicate realistic timelines to corporate leadership for the transition
  • Make specific plans for the future of MPLS and the Internet: what will you try with respect to Internet-only deployments, how will you judge their success, and what milestones reached will trigger reassessment of the plan
  • Have a plan for dealing with last-mile provider sprawl

Table of Contents
  • Executive Summary
  • 2019: The Year of SD-WAN
  • State of Deployments
  • Operational Improvements
    • WAN Staff Improvements
    • WAN Service Improvements
  • Collapsing the Branch Stack
    • Branch Routers
    • WAN Optimizers
    • Branch Firewalls
  • SD-WAN and MPLS: A Slippery Slope
    • Internet on the Rise
    • Lots More Internet Doesn’t Have to Mean Lots More Providers
  • Conclusion
  • Methodology
    • Participants by Title
    • Participants by Company Size
    • Participants by Technology Culture
    • Participants by Industry


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