Updated: Jan 20, 2020
With the promise of delivering more network agility at a much lower cost than multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) bandwidth, it’s not surprising that the SD-WAN market is estimated to grow 33% (CAGR) over the next five years. In fact, the market is expected to reach $1.3 billion, according to analysts (Source: SDX Central). While SD-WAN has the momentum and potential to supersede the use of physical WANs and MPLS, there are some limitations to the technology which should be thoughtfully addressed. Some concerns include mobility limitations, lack of industry standards and cloud-based obstacles. Before jumping in, take a closer look at these limitations, and the possible workarounds, to software-defined WANs.
Keeping pace with mobility demands- Today’s increasing demand for on-the-go connectivity and streamlined access to apps in the enterprise has completely transformed the modern network. As a result, endpoint security and perimeter security strategies are no longer reliable. And unfortunately, firewalls and malware protection are left outside of the typical SD-WAN package, which means they must be installed and managed separately. This adds to the Total Cost of Ownership (ROI) of an SD-WAN investment and requires additional IT resources for managing the technology.
This forces many IT admins to make tough decisions when delivering cloud-based resources and applications to their workforce, whether they are working from the corporate office, branch campuses, or from the road. Administrators have to strike a delicate balance between total WAN cost, security, performance, and control.
On top of that, faced with greater mobility demands, many enterprises cannot fully leverage the benefits of SD-WAN today. Instead, IT administrators are pressed to let user traffic travel unencrypted, opening the network up to massive vulnerabilities.
In this scenario, policy configurations often become fragmented across multiple environments and terribly complex. In some cases, IT admins may require mobile users accessing public cloud resources to do so from a specific location. Requiring users to be tied to a location, such as a corporate office, is not practical nor what SD-WAN is supposed to provide in terms of reliable, untethered cloud-based application delivery.
Lack of standards- In the current SDN-WAN market, each vendor generally uses its own set of standards to develop its SDN controller. This includes companies like Cisco ACI, VMware NSX, VeloCloud, BigLeaf, Viptela, etc. That means that pretty much every device used on the network has its own supporting tools and APIs. Even APIs from the same provider can be different to configure and vary from one application to another, even in the same family of products. While this isn’t dissimilar other aspects of the networking environment, it can cause some challenges particularly in today’s business climate where network managers need the ability to configure, manage and change network services quickly. Currently one of the biggest open-source codebases for SDN and NFV is OpenDaylight. This codebase has gained traction by many of the biggest players such as Cisco and IBM. The continued adoption of standards that promote interoperability with multi-vendor deployments will go a long way in easing SD-WAN concerns.
More prioritization of cloud-based applications- Many organizations considering SD-WAN should also look at how the SD-WAN application prioritizes traffic across the network. For instance, many SD-WAN providers such as VeloCloud, prioritize voice and video traffic for many VoIP and UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) applications to support a high-quality experience for users and devices across multiple locations. VeloCloud’s cloud-powered SD-WAN solution, in essence, makes bandwidth-hungry VoIP and UCaaS applications more bulletproof. However, in order for SD-WAN offerings to get to the next level, it’s important that the technology has the ability to prioritize cloud-based applications in general, according to their requirements and the dynamics of the network. SD-WAN technology that can intelligently adapt to changing Internet problems and application needs, will help organizations be successful and have a much more dynamic network. In other words, optimizing the connection at the cloud level, instead of focusing on specific voice or video apps, will help IT administrators ensure a superior internet experience for users across the enterprise.
Overcoming the hidden complexities of hybrid, cloud-connected networks and cutting the high-cost of MPLS connections are all a top priority for today’s IT administrators. Although not without some growing pains, SD-WAN vendors and managed cloud providers are working to breakthrough common SD-WAN challenges and establish a more agile network that delivers the best possible user experience wherever and whenever business gets done.