It’s been an exciting year for SD-WAN. Not only have the leading industry analysts been bullish, but this year saw a major uptick in the number of high-profile service providers adopting the technology for their customers. I firmly believe the pace of SD-WAN adoption is only going to accelerate and further evolve into new markets. What follows are my top five predictions for SD-WAN in 2017.
1. Software-Defined Security (SD-Security) Will be the Next Big Revenue Driver for Service Providers Already Capitalizing on SD-WAN
According to IDC, by 2020, the SD-WAN market will grow to $6 billion. In 2017, we predict that not only will more service providers realize the financial benefits to adopting SD-WAN, but they will start layering software-defined security (SD-Security) on top as an add on to further increase revenues and differentiate their offering. SD-Security offers all of the security features found in unified threat management (UTM) and next-generation firewall (NGFW) devices, such as firewall, malware protection, URL content filtering, intrusion prevention and more and turns them into virtual network functions (VNF) that only require a generic white box appliance at the branch site. This will further help providers get out of the low-margin business of selling proprietary appliance-based services and focus on generating more customer value and revenue through richer, higher margin software-based services.
2. Enterprises Will Consolidate Devices in the Branch Office to Improve Security and Simplify Management
Branch offices today are littered with different appliances from different vendors. Not only is it a major hassle to get them all working and talking to each other, but every time a particular box is upgraded, an organization has to go through the entire configuration process again. And this becomes especially problematic when the configuration isn’t done correctly. If a device in a branch appliance chain is misconfigured, it becomes the weakest link and a target for hackers. A recent Dimensional Research study that surveyed over 300 network IT personnel, found that growing complexity is the top challenge for managing branch network security. And industry analysts have noted that branch offices are increasingly becoming a targeted point of entry into corporate networks, with attack volume growing more than 500 percent over the last three years. Next year, we predict enterprises and service providers will move toward a combination of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and security (SD-Security) solutions that are aimed at reducing the number of appliances in the branch office. In addition to capex/opex savings, this appliance reduction will make branch office network management easier and more secure, because there will be less room for user error.
3. Watch for a Rise in White Box Appliance Deployments
The beauty of new software-defined networks (SDN) and the technologies that go with them, including network functions virtualization (NFV) is that they don’t require proprietary hardware. This includes products up and down the networking chain from routers and switches to software defined WAN (SD-WAN) to branch office security appliances. As enterprises and service providers begin to understand the capex/opex savings that this new software-defined and NFV paradigm brings, it’s going to signal a change and reduction in proprietary appliance deployments as those organizations migrate to less expensive white box appliances. Next year, we predict white box vendors will start grabbing bigger market share in this space as organizations continue their migration to software-defined LANs / WANs and NFV-based networks.
4. VNF adoption to gain popularity among service providers
In 2017, service providers will continue to expand their managed service portfolio by providing richer IT-level solutions in addition to simple “managed connectivity.” This will be enabled through their adoption of more virtualized network functions (VNF), which will greatly lower service provider costs and increase their agility and flexibility in creating much more customized and cost-effective network and security services. For instance, a provider will be able to offer a managed connectivity service to SMB customers with enterprise-grade security functions hosted in the provider’s cloud; the SMB gets far deeper security at a price point within its budget, which it could never afford previously with expensive on-premises equipment. Service providers (as a channel) will continue to gain access to new markets by enabling affordable yet rich services to smaller (e.g. SMB) or very cost-sensitive (e.g. retail market) customers.
5. As the network gets more complex, SDN and SD-WAN will be leveraged to help prevent outages and vulnerabilities
The evolution of the network is bringing with it exciting new opportunities for businesses. Software defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV) and a host of new virtual network functions that are riding on the wave of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) are allowing organizations to quickly scale to meet evolving business requirements and do so while lowering capex and opex. As organizations continue to tie these new technologies into their external, customer-facing business (i.e., digital transformation), there is little to no room for error. For example, when a network change brings down one of these networks, it doesn’t just leave an organization’s employees stranded, in the case of a recent airline network failure, it can leave thousands of people around the world stranded at the airport. These types of failures not only cost organizations millions of dollars in lost revenue, but it can irreparably harm an organization’s brand reputation. To lessen these types of user-created outages, we predict we’ll see the adoption of software-based (and highly application-aware) networking (both SDN in the LAN and SD-WAN in wide-area) to deliver more self-healing architectures and solutions that essentially insert themselves into an organization network to automatically monitor application and end user experience and automatically make necessary policy-based changes to ensure both uptime and optimal user experience to support ongoing digitalization of business.