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In 2020, as the workforce went home, the capability of the business network transformed overnight from an IT concern into a matter that could mean the difference between viability or closure, and as networks struggled under the pressure of mass remote work, they also had to cope with complexity and security concerns, according to research from Aryaka.
In its fifth annual global State of the WAN report, the cloud-first WAN solutions provider took the opinions of more than 1,350 global IT and network practitioners at enterprises spanning all verticals, headquartered in North America, Asia-Pacific and EMEA. The survey asked respondents about their networking and performance challenges, priorities and plans for 2021 and beyond at a time when networks were under both unprecedented strain and assumed unprecedented importance.
The underlying business environment was one where home working allowed companies to trial several flexible, innovative ways of doing business, and a seamless, secure network infrastructure was always non-negotiable. That meant, said Aryaka, 2020 was nothing short of a “network nightmare”.
The study was said to have reflected many trends seen in recent reports, such as the ongoing integration of cloud-based networking services and security, namely the increased adoption of secure access service edge (SASE), as well as strong demand for virtualised networking solutions targeted at work from anywhere (WFA) and hybrid work environments.
As an indication of the acceleration of the fusion of networking and security planning, almost a third of enterprises said they are already deploying what they consider to be a SASE architecture. Another key trend was the demand for a hybrid work environment that will persist after the pandemic recedes, with more than 80% stating that they expect over a quarter of workers to remain remote, and over two-thirds desiring flexibility between on-premise and remote deployments.
The wide area network (WAN) continued to extend its reach, with the number of enterprises connecting to more than 100 inter-regional sites growing by 50%, from 19% in 2020 to 28% in 2021. This was coupled with continued application growth, with the number of enterprises stating they’ve deployed more than 500 distinct applications growing to 46%, compared with 32% in 2021. As evidence of collaboration traction, Zoom was identified as critical by 36% in 2021, up from 25% in 2020.
Yet continued WAN and application growth was resulting in increased network complexity. The number of enterprises reporting the deployment of more than 500 distinct applications grew to 46%, while 37% of enterprises identified complexity as their number one network concern. Just over two-fifths (43%) of enterprises identify application performance as an underlying driver for WAN transformation.
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However, Aryaka found that WAN transformations have slowed this year due to the pandemic, and more than 70% of enterprises intend to move to managed services versus just 18% who prefer the autonomy of a do-it-yourself WAN solution. Those who identified cost as a major issue grew to 20% in 2021, from 16% in 2020 – a 25% increase. This, said Aryaka, may be attributed to cloud or MPLS cost concerns.
Overall, investment priorities receded in some areas, due to tactical pandemic concerns driving near-term planning. For example, only 17% of respondents plan to conduct an SD-WAN/SASE-driven network refresh this year, versus 29% in 2020.
However, combining this with remote access upgrades, a new entry at 22% and security at 21%, results in strong momentum going into 2021. In contrast, LTE/5G experienced growth from 24% in 2020 to 31% in 2021. VPN investment crept up to 31% in 2021, compared with 27% in 2020. Aryaka saw the new remote workforce, due to the pandemic, led to this VPN increase.
As an indication of a maturing market for SASE, the study showed that 26% were evaluating SD-WAN this year, up from 22% in 2020, and a marker of a drop in identified barriers to SD-WAN adoption. Enterprises were less concerned that the WAN service would not address application performance, coming in at 36% this year, versus 43% in 2020, with corresponding drops in SLA concerns, technology maturity and a lack of skills.
Enterprise SASE deployment plans were found to be accelerating, with 29% stating that they are already deploying what they consider to be a SASE architecture. Another 56% are planning to deploy a SASE architecture in the next 12-24 months. As part of a complete SASE architecture, the top capability identified was SD-WAN transport at 34%. And for deployment, more than 50% prefer a solution that includes technology from both their WAN supplier and security specialists, spanning across cloud and the edge.
Addressing a large shift to remote work that began in March 2020 and will continue going forward, the survey found that more than half (59%) of the respondents stated they expect 25-50% of their workers to remain remote, while 21% were planning for more than half of their workforce to continue working from home. Businesses are also prioritising flexibility, with 63% stating that they consider the ability to quickly move resources between on-premise and remote to be very important.