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Digital transformation shaking confidence in SD-WAN

Cato Networks survey highlights importance of considering not only SD-WAN as an MPLS replacement but also its applicability to the broader needs of the digital business, such as cloud migration, network agility and global reach

A Cato Networks IT survey has found that while software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) is set for strong growth in 2020 as buyers migrate from multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) to a more agile and affordable alternative, failing to fully consider digital transformation requirements in this process can undermine firms’ long-term SD-WAN satisfaction.

The fourth annual state of the WAN report, Networking in 2020: Understanding digital transformation’s impact on IT confidence in enterprise networks, surveyed 1,333 IT professionals across the globe, examining 2020 budgets, challenges and digital transformation readiness of today’s enterprises.

Respondents were asked about the state of digital transformation within their organisations and how it affected their confidence in their networks to support it. The survey captured their reactions across four characteristics – agility, security, performance, and management and operations.

By comparing their reactions before and after digital transformation Cato Networks was able to derive the change in network confidence. Results were further grouped by the respondents’ network architecture, such as MPLS, SD-WAN or secure access service edge (SASE).

The survey came to a surprising top-line finding that enterprises which had deployed SD-WANs were less confident in their networks after undergoing digital transformation. The results highlight the importance of considering not only SD-WAN as an MPLS replacement but, more importantly, its applicability to the broader needs of the digital business, such as cloud migration, network agility, global reach and a mobile workforce.

Most enterprises move to SD-WAN primarily because of site-related issues, but digital transformation involves more than connecting sites. Firms were also failing to consider the broader implications of digital transformation during SD-WAN selection, thus undermining network confidence. As a result, nearly three-quarters (74%) of SD-WAN respondents expressed having significantly less confidence in their networks after digital transformation.

Nearly three-quarters of SD-WAN respondents expressed having significantly less confidence in their networks after digital transformation

Cloud connectivity was revealed as a major factor, with 69% of SD-WAN owners indicating less confidence post-digital transformation.

SD-WAN was found to do little for security. Although most respondents (66%) cite defending against malware/ransomware as a primary security challenge in 2020, only 37% claim their SD-WANs help protect locations from malware and other threats. This was despite most respondents (66%) prioritising defending against malware/ransomware.

Secure mobile access, a strategic goal for IT executives, is ignored by SD-WAN. Managing mobile/remote access was the second most popular networking challenge for IT executives. More than half (52%) of respondents made enforcing corporate security policies on mobile users a primary security challenge for 2020. Yet, mobility is not included with SD-WAN.

Most respondents (56%) consider SD-WAN as a way to reduce WAN costs, and network agility as it applies to sites – whether in the form of faster site deployment or increasing bandwidth – was also a popular outcome. Cloud applications are now key to the enterprise but not native to SD-WAN. Most respondents (60%) said cloud applications would be the most critical to their organisations over the next 12 months, even more critical than applications hosted in their private datacentres. Yet SD-WAN solutions require additional software and integration to support the cloud.

Only enterprises with SASE architectures showed increased network confidence following digital transformation. Most respondents (62%) with a SASE architecture were more confident about their networks after digital transformation. By contrast, only 26% of SD-WAN respondents were more confident in their networks. Cato said this was likely to stem from the close alignment of SASE’s capabilities with digital transformation requirements. The market segment converges networking and security into a global, cloud-native service that uses SD-WAN to connect sites, client/clientless access for mobile users, and native cloud integration to support cloud resources.

Site connectivity emerged as the continuing driver of networking challenges in 2020. The three leading primary networking challenges for 2020 all related to site connectivity -- bandwidth costs (46%), performance between locations (46%) and managing the network (44%).

The outlook is bright for SD-WA in 2020. Most respondents (66%) will have some kind of SD-WAN deployed by the end of 2020. What’s more, 40% of MPLS respondents will have converted to SD-WAN.  Overall, respondents were optimistic about networking and security in 2020, with more than half expecting to adopt some form of SD-WAN.

Commenting on the results, Shlomo Kramer, CEO and co-founder of Cato Networks, said: “Enterprises need to anticipate their future requirements if they’re to remain confident in their WAN transformation. Thinking only about MPLS replacement leads to incremental, point solution acquisitions when confronted by digital initiatives, making their networks more complex and costly to run.”

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