Many businesses are unable to run well without a dependable, high-quality wide area network (WAN) service. But as digitalization steps up and companies continue to move functionality into public and private clouds, they also grow hungrier for bandwidth.
Enterprises are unable to upgrade their network bandwidth every few months as they add to their arsenal of applications. Even if they could, it's not a cost-effective or efficient way to manage the network that connects them to their clouds and between different office locations. But software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) can help.
Gartner predicts that the SD-WAN market will grow at 59% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2020 to become a $1.3 billion market.
SD-WAN is a strong contender for telecom cable operators searching for market differentiation and lateral expansion ideas. It is a technology service that businesses already want, and telecoms can package it into a complete WAN solution for their corporate clients.
Businesses Want SD-WAN Services from their Cable Operators
SD-WAN is a top telecom trend right now, taking the principles of SDN and applying them to WAN. The SD-WAN layer can measure the traffic on the network for latency, packet loss, and availability, and then respond to that information by selecting the right pathway for the data. The technology can manage multiple types of connection, from multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) to broadband and mobile to hybrid WAN. And at the hardware level, SD-WAN providers offer products that are a lightweight replacement for traditional routers.
The benefits for customers are clear:
- Reduced capital and operational costs at the WAN edge
- Increased agility and reliability by combining the bandwidth of multiple connections
- More secure transmissions as SD-WAN can encrypt traffic from one place to another and isolate sections of the network in the event of a breach
- High performance for companies as they increasingly adopt cloud-based applications and further digitize their business
These benefits are spurring a rapid adoption rate among customers, according to Gartner, from just a handful of customers in mid-2014 to around 3,000 as of February this year. And that is anticipated to grow to a huge 25% of enterprises in the next two years.
Why Operators Should Become SD-WAN Providers
At first glance, SD-WAN might look like a competitive threat for cable operators. MPLS is a huge source of revenue for most telecom service providers, and the main advantage for customers in overlaying SD-WAN is to avoid paying more for MPLS. But smart cable operators will leverage this to create a market differentiation that holds on to existing customers and attracts new ones, as strategy consultant Cartesian point out.
Much has been said about the need for telecom firms to move away from passive provision of networks and into active areas of service provision, and SD-WAN provides just such an opportunity. Customers already want this technology service, but it is not providing every functionality they require. According to one of Gartner's SD-WAN analyst, there are substantial gaps in many well-known SD-WAN providers' products, including:
- T1/E1 interfaces
- Integrated 4G/LTE capability
- WAN optimization
- Support for IPv6
Some of these missing features will need to come from SD-WAN providers, but cable operators can package SD-WAN with options for WAN optimization, virtual private networks, security solutions, and a whole host of value-adds alongside MPLS for a complete WAN services package.
Who's Making Moves?
A number of telecom firms are already recognizing this opportunity. In September, China Telecom Global announced it would be providing an SD-WAN service with integrated security provided by Versa Networks as part of its effort to expand worldwide. Earlier this year, Nokia's SDN venture Nuage Networks also announced a deal with Spanish multinational Telefonica to provide SD-WAN services to global enterprise customers.
These companies see SD-WAN as a great lateral expansion opportunity. It fits in well with what they're already providing, it gives corporate clients the technology they want, and it helps establish a new service provision relationship for the telecom.
A technology with this predicted growth rate and such clear benefits to customers can't be ignored by the telecom industry. Those that don't make a move soon may find they're no longer differentiating, but instead playing catch-up.