In a survey of 200 senior IT and networking managers in the US and the UK, Sapio Research found 20% of respondents said they have a software-defined WAN project in progress, while 32% haven’t explored the technology and 27% may look at it in the future. About one-third of respondents said they wanted to reduce network costs and to better manage their network infrastructure. The research study found that 48% of those are running SD-WAN proof of concept at select sites or other limited deployments. That means only about 10% are transitioning fully to SD-WAN.
The survey was commissioned by Teneo and based on input from 200 senior IT and networking managers evenly split between the U.S. and U.K. The companies have worldwide operations and revenues between $127 million and $38 billion. The survey found that 32% have not yet explored the technology, though 27% may do so in the future.
When senior IT professionals were asked why they were considering SD-WAN, the most common reason was the increasing complexity of network infrastructure and performance tasks (cited by 36% of interviewees), closely followed by the need to cut network costs (34%) and the need for better management of network infrastructures (also 34%). Increasing pressure on both company resources and budgets as IT team look after more complex network infrastructures is driving companies to examine SD-WAN’s potential.
Exactly half of companies questioned say that deploying and managing networking infrastructure is time-consuming. Interviewees estimate that these upkeep tasks take up 36% of their overall IT budget. One third of the survey (33%) admit that they had used ‘as a Service’ models from external providers to keep on top of maintenance tasks.
Researchers also found that companies are blending connectivity options to get necessary bandwidth: nearly four in ten (38%) of interviewees want to add more MPLS, 22% want more Internet connectivity, and 20% want to add more Internet and MPLS combined. Under one in five (17%) said their needs were satisfied.
Half of the respondents pointed to the time-consuming nature of deploying and managing a network as their main driver. Overall, those interviewed said that upkeep consumes as much as 36% of their IT budgets. One-third said that they have used “as-a-service” platforms to keep pace. Varied offerings have emerged. “Due to the immaturity of the SD-WAN space each vendor has come to the market with a different strategy,” wrote Steve Evans, Teneo’s vice president of solutions engineering in response to emailed questions from FierceTelecom. “We are seeing this converge in some areas. However, there are still noticeable differences between the major players in the space. I would not say that the vendors do not know what to bring to market. I think it’s more that some vendors favor particular features over others.”
The SD-WANs enterprises deploy will look different from one another, according to the survey. Thirty-eight percent of respondents want to add MPLS, 22% want to add broadband and 20% want to add both. Seventeen percent are happy with their current connectivity.
It is perhaps surprising that companies want to add MPLS, since reducing costs is seen as a key driver of SD-WAN. “SD-WAN is not about removing MPLS, although there can be cost benefits,” Evans wrote. “With the reliability of Internet circuits or broadband improving, the usage of MPLS will still have a place until people are comfortable with running business critical applications over circuits with no SLAs.”
Evens did point to cost savings of using broadband where it makes sense. “We have seen SD-WAN being used to enable businesses to utilize all of the MPLS bandwidth they are paying for to improve service for critical applications and then augment this bandwidth with the cheaper options for less important traffic, thus removing the expensive backup circuits and gaining more bandwidth for less cost,” wrote Evans.
There still is a learning curve for both vendors and end users. “The challenge around understanding SD-WAN is that vendors are all talking features and that they all fit every situation,” Evans wrote. “They are not starting with what the customer is trying to achieve and then showing how their technology would fit the needs. There is also a misunderstanding on what is meant by certain features and in comparing how well one solution executes on a feature.”
Progress is being made, however. “More and more businesses already have a basic understanding of SD-WAN and are able to articulate their requirements, but some are still looking to get an understanding of the market and the technology,” according to Evans. “Both groups need help understanding exactly how their requirements map to the available SD-WAN technologies.”
Another element that is not yet clear is who companies prefer to work with. Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents want to partner with a global network vendor, 24% with a telecommunication partner and 24% with a management consultancy.
The survey found that 8% of respondents are considering specialist SD-WAN vendors, 3% are considering specialist integrators of SD-WAN and 3% will use multiple partners.
“Network managers are looking at SD-WAN strategies to run multiple networking environments in standardised ways – whether the underlying motivation is greater simplicity, cost efficiency or transforming critical applications’ performance across their company’s operations,” said Marc Sollars, CTO of Teneo.
“Many firms are clearly putting a toe in the water on SD-WAN, or doing a proof of concept, but it’s still very hard to say when this test phase will start to translate into enterprise-level implementations,” added Sollars. “In many ways, the broad range of choice that SD-WAN brings is what’s causing companies to hesitate over their decisions.”