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SD-WAN surges over past two years as MPLS plummets

Survey reveals increasing site capacity and using alternative access solutions as main drivers for 43% of enterprise wide-area network (WAN) managers to install software-defined WAN in 2020, more than double that recorded in 2018

The migration from networks based on multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) to the more agile and affordable alternative, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), continues apace, as revealed by the latest WAN Manager Survey from TeleGeography.

“Our annual WAN Manager Survey always provides interesting insights into enterprise networking trends globally, but has been of particular interest this year due to the impact of the pandemic on our findings,” observed Greg Bryan, senior manager of enterprise research at TeleGeography, a global telecommunications market research and consulting firm.

“SD-WAN has dramatically increased in adoption in the past couple of years. The pandemic slowed roll-outs for a time, but increased interest in adoption. SD-WAN frees WAN managers to select a broad mix of underlay technologies, and can also boost performance.”

The report aimed to offer a clear picture of how mid-size to large enterprises are adjusting to emerging WAN technologies, helping suppliers make more informed decisions. It provided an in-depth analysis based on the experiences of WAN managers from 125 companies, with those represented in the survey having a median revenue of $10bn and a range of IT managers covering the design, sourcing and management of US national, regional and global corporate wide-area computer networks.

The standout finding for the study was that 43% of enterprises surveyed had installed SD-WAN in 2020, compared with just 18% in 2018. Driving this growth – and key motivators for WAN managers pursuing SD-WAN, according to the survey – were increasing site capacity and using alternative access solutions.

Two-fifths of respondents preferred a co-managed SD-WAN setup and, on top of this, enterprises were running MPLS at an average of 71% of sites during the three-year period of 2018-2020. MPLS use was, however, on a marked decline, with the average network having MPLS at only 58% of sites in 2020, compared with 82% in 2018.

Dedicated internet access (DIA) was found to be the key underlay product for larger capacity sites, and more than a quarter of DIA sites were larger than 100Mbps. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, 85% of enterprises reported that the majority of their workforce had been working remotely at some stage.

The key challenges faced by WAN managers at the onset of the pandemic were congestion at internet gateways from the influx of remote users, paired with the performance of home broadband.

“A growing number of WAN managers are seeing the opportunity in SD-WAN and adapting their networks, which could explain the 24% decrease we’ve seen in MPLS from 2018 to 2020,” said Elizabeth Thorne, research analyst for enterprise networks at TeleGeography.

“The pandemic caused enterprises across the globe to re-evaluate their operations and seek new ways to improve performance and efficiency. It’ll be interesting to see the lasting effects of the pandemic in terms of accelerating digital transformation and changing networking models globally,” she added.

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