SD-WAN is all the buzz right now. The most obvious reasons: network transport independence via MPLS, AnyG (3G, 4G, or the coming 5G), and more integrated security that’s independent of transport. SD-WAN also offers application context-aware traffic steering and dynamic cloud-based provisioning. But there is something even more dramatic happening in India that accentuates new reasons for this explosion that are unique to the Indian subcontinent.
But before we go there, it is instructive to look at something called, “technology leapfrogging.” This refers to the adoption of advanced or state-of-the-art technology in an application area where the immediate prior technology has not been adopted. While this may not be something that the Western hemisphere is familiar with, it is a common occurrence in Africa, Southeast Asia, and China.
The impact of technology leapfrogging can be dramatic and immediate. In the case of India for instance, before 2G really settled in, 3G/4G rushed forward in India. This fueled the mobile smartphone boom with IP networks that could provide decent bandwidth without being saddled with too much backward compatibility and interoperability issues.
An even more dramatic leapfrog was the Aadhar initiative spearheaded by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which provided every Indian person a unique 12-digit number with which they could participate in the modern economy and ensure that numerous welfare benefits go to the genuine beneficiaries — usually the underprivileged in society. (Previously, only 50 million people had passports — less than five percent of the total population — and about 150 million people had a driver’s license — about fifteen percent of the population).
Something similar is happening in the SD-WAN space right now. MPLS — preceded by Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and Frame Relay — have afforded service providers and vendors predatory pricing resulting in obscene margins. That game is over. Even before MPLS gets a decent foothold in India, SD-WAN will take the lead of providing affordable, reliable, and dynamic connectivity that will render MPLS obsolete.
Let’s look at some of the drivers behind this boom.
While e-commerce giants like Flipkart have led others with a digital-first approach as its primary business model, the biggest brands like Aditya Birla, Titan, Max Life, Kotak Bank are now rapidly transforming every aspect of their business — from marketing to sales to advertising — into a digital-first model.
Because the Indian consumer has a mobile-first approach (over a billion mobile users in India now), every consumer-facing company — banks, insurance, automobiles, retail, healthcare — is turning to applications that deliver better engagement with the end user. And in the B2B space, migrating from traditional desktop and server applications like Microsoft Office and the locally-hosted Exchange to applications like Office 365 are driving a boom in the bandwidth consumption and reliability requirements between the enterprise branches, headquarters, and the cloud. And with it, the need is rising for a cost-efficient way to enable this connectivity.
India is well on the path to become the most populous country on the planet, and the increasingly connected Indian (straddling all stratas of society) is a big target for large and small companies alike. Many of these companies, like Flipkart, have been born in the past decade. Just like the skip from mobile technology directly over to 3G/4G, the adoption of cloud Infrastructure-, Platform-, and Software-as-a-Service (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS) offerings have been dramatic with little to no investment in traditional data centers. This has driven the need for consistent and cost-efficient bandwidth as that is the lifeline to the cloud and the foundation for enterprises’ business operations.
However, where this cloud-first approach becomes a real issue is when customers using (for example) SAP or Salesforce are rudely surprised when they move from dedicated MPLS connecting their branches to the headquarters to the cloud using traditional WAN. This is due to the promise of cheaper broadband over the Internet because of unreliability of this WAN, and is where the need for SD-WAN arises.
Unlike the Western nations, deregulation in the fixed line telecom sector in India is only happening now in stark contrast to the mobile deregulation, which happened over a decade ago. The most recent regulation change allows for voice-over-IP (VoIP) to call to public switched telephone networks (PSTN), which is likely to spur innovation and create a new wave of services for smaller enterprises. There will be a surge in Vonage-like organizations that are focused on providing unified communication services — one of the most popular use cases in the U.S. for VoIP — and these communication services will ride on the wave of the most cost-efficient and latency-sensitive backbone: SD-WAN.
The largest private telecom in India, Reliance Telecom, and the incumbent public sector broadband enterprise BharatNet, a telecom infrastructure provider set up by the government of India under the Digital India initiative, are aggressively deploying broadband to every part of the country. BharatNet is targeted to cover more than 100,000 village administration units. India is well on the way to have the largest broadband density very soon. This will undoubtedly spur Indian enterprises to open shop anywhere they choose as they will have a reliable nationwide broadband backbone and will use SD-WAN as the primary connectivity choice.
That’s the case for 2018 being the year of “something dramatic” when it comes to SD-WAN adoption in India. The four drivers — digital transformation, cloud first, telecom deregulation, and broadband everywhere — are powerful mutually reinforcing forces that will cause this spaceship to lift-off into stratosphere. Fasten your seatbelts.