Enterprises competing in the digital marketplace are often looking at technologies that enable fast and reliable access to applications and critical resources for all users. Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) is one such technology that uses centralised control to securely direct traffic across WAN, thereby increasing application performance, enhancing user experience and reducing IT-related costs for enterprises. The technology can help solve problems such as bandwidth costs and traffic latency, allowing enterprises to move beyond multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and leverage a combination of transport services including MPLS, LTE and broadband internet services to securely connect users to applications.

Owing to these benefits, enterprises across the globe have started deploying SD-WAN to enhance their digital networking experience. Enterprises in India too are turning to SD-WAN solutions to enable digital transformation.

Adoption trends

Globally, North America has the largest share (45 per cent) of the SD-WAN market while Europe holds a 29 per cent share. In comparison, the adoption of SD-WAN in the Asia-Pacific region has been lower, barring a few advanced countries such as Japan and Australia. Enterprises in the Indian market too are rapidly moving towards SD-WAN owing to several factors such as increase in fibre deployments that have led to a significant enhancement of home broadband speeds; increase in cloud adoption; improvement in network reliability; and a greater focus on security needs. These factors have complicated the nature of applications that run on home routers, prompting enterprises to adopt SD-WAN solutions. In a recent report titled “Secure SD-WAN: The Launch Pad into the Cloud”, Barracuda Networks found that a fully integrated, secure SD-WAN is the preferred technology solution for 90 per cent of organisations in India. The report further explains that SD-WAN can help overcome the top two security challenges for enterprises with regard to public cloud – lack of access control and backhauling traffic.

Implementation challenges

While SD-WAN offers a variety of benefits to enterprises, its deployment is riddled with challenges. As per industry experts, early adopters of the technology seem to have faced some critical challenges during implementation. A key issue is that SD-WAN solutions designed for one use case, such as connecting branch offices of an enterprise located in a specific area, are not always suitable for other use cases, such as trying to support a global deployment. Another big problem is securing these new, highly dynamic connections. Considering these challenges, an increasing number of enterprises are opting for managed SD-WAN solutions. In fact, Gartner predicts that managed SD-WAN services are expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 76 per cent between 2020 and 2023.

Impact of Covid-19

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a major factor driving the interest of enterprises in SD-WAN technology. The high cost of enterprise quality bandwidth and the shift towards remote working has amplified the need for enterprises to install a SD-WAN solution, which enables bandwidth aggregation and optimisation while providing high-level network security. After the outbreak, a number of enterprises across segments have shown interest in deploying SD-WAN technology. A number of financial institutions and other enterprises in India have recently floated tenders for deploying SD-WAN. The government too has become more aware of the need for deploying cutting-edge technologies to meet the growing demands in the post-Covid era. It is looking to invest in home-grown hardware and software technology under its Make in India initiative. This opens up opportunities for companies that are betting big on indigenous SD-WAN solutions.

The way forward

Going forward, the adoption of SD-WAN solutions is expected to increase at a rapid pace. Industry reports suggest that by 2022, 90 per cent of the existing router refreshes will be replaced by either virtual customer premises equipment or SD-WAN solutions. Further, as more enterprises look to implement a distributed workforce model, there will be a rise in the adoption of SD-WAN solutions. In this regard, the technology will become particularly important for IT personnel, corporate strategy and real estate planning as businesses start prioritising setting up small micro-offices as opposed to one large campus post the pandemic. Moreover, the onset of the 5G revolution in India would push enterprises to move towards more intelligent, robust and flexible network solutions like SD-WAN, which are capable of coping with the agility and velocity of dynamic and hybrid IT environments.