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‘Robust’ market opportunities ‘still abound’ in SD-WAN

Research reveals demand for cloud agility and cross-enterprise visibility, and that the integration of enterprise-grade 5G will continue to drive opportunities in software-defined wide area networks

Prior to the pandemic, the uptake of software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) had been on a solid trajectory. However, since then, and with the emergence of secure access service edge (SASE), which integrates SD-WAN with edge security, a perception has grown that SD-WAN is somewhat outdated, something ABI Research has claimed to be unfounded.

Indeed, according to the leading technology analyst’s The future of SD-WAN in enterprise connectivity report, there is still a considerable market opportunity across the entire software-defined portfolio for innovative suppliers looking to keep up with enterprise vertical demand.

Framing the analysis, ABI noted that network connections were becoming more complex as more devices require connectivity from infinitely more locations. This proliferation of the internet of things has driven demand for software-defined offerings to optimise networking costs, improve enterprise agility, or scalability, and enable the integration of cloud applications.

While it identified the traditional suppliers – such as Cisco, VMware and Aruba – as leading the way in the SD-WAN marketspace, ABI also highlighted the emergence of what it called “key cloud-native innovators” such as Cato Networks and Aryaka Networks, which it said were challenging the traditional leaders by offering services that shift computing to the cloud, enabling enterprise verticals to develop versatile and scalable cloud-native networking strategies. Moreover, the analyst predicted these providers would become increasingly important given the benefits that shifting network infrastructure and applications to the cloud can bring to nearly all enterprise verticals.

“As enterprises shift towards ‘cloud native’ strategies, it is imperative for suppliers to keep in lockstep with enterprise demand by providing universal access to network points of presence,” said Reece Hayden, enterprise connectivity and distributed edge computing research analyst at ABI. “For SD-WAN suppliers, the most efficient strategy would be the formation of partnerships with public providers, such as Equinix or Megaport. This would provide them with near-immediate global coverage with limited setup costs.”

The analyst also saw communications service providers, appliance suppliers and enterprise verticals as still having a lot to gain from SD-WAN. “Lateral thought and product innovation remain the key requirements for suppliers within the enterprise connectivity ecosystem,” he said. “Suppliers must continue to drive innovation across the entire SD-portfolio and offer solutions that seamlessly integrate the traditional (office) and new (home) workplaces with complete visibility and universal cloud accessibility.”

Going forward, ABI Research forecasts that the next stage of innovation in SD-WAN will be led by the integration of 5G into the enterprise networking ecosystem. This innovation, it believes, will be led by quality of experience demand, the rise of multi-access edge compute and improvement in security created by network segmentation.

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However, given what it said was the immaturity of enterprise 5G infrastructure, ABI cautioned that it is unlikely this will be universally possible for three to five years. It also said it is likely that, when the infrastructure is in place, communication service providers will be in the driver’s seat to benefit from integrating 5G with SD-WAN.

In a call to action to the supplier community, ABI said that with the SD-WAN market maturing, appliance suppliers and communication service providers must continue to develop services that differentiate themselves from the competition, while continuing to keep in touch with demand from enterprise verticals.

“The enterprise connectivity ecosystem is driven by demand,” said Hayden. “Enterprise verticals generally want a fully integrated, managed or co-managed, OPEX-led networking solution that provides cross enterprise visibility and cloud accessibility; given the highly saturated nature of the SD-WAN market, suppliers must develop solutions that closely reflect the needs of enterprise verticals.

“While it is vital to keep an eye on the future and the migration to SASE, SD-WAN continues to offer significant opportunities to enterprises, communication service providers and appliance vendors,” he said.

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