It’s no secret that the SD-WAN market is crowded with players all claiming to be unique. But what actually separates them? And what are they really failing to deliver to customers?
Neil Anderson, a practice director of network solutions at World Wide Technology (WWT), has a unique perspective on the market as his company has tested many different SD-WAN products.
WWT is a technology service product that provides technology and supply chain services and does system integration work for data center, cloud, networking outside the data center, security, and collaboration technologies.
According to Anderson, WWT is the No. 1 provider for a number of OEMs including Cisco, VMware, Dell EMC, F5, and Hewlett Packard (HP). “Pick a firm in Silicon Valley, we’re probably selling their products,” he said.
The company first started dipping its toes into the SD-WAN market about four years ago. “We decided very early on that this was going to be a real customer problem, that just sorting through all of the different possibilities and suppliers out there is going to get really, really challenging because they all kind of check the SD-WAN boxes,” Anderson said. “Everybody can do the basics, but what’s really going to differentiate them is a lot more subtle than that, and you’re not going to know unless you really try these things out in the lab.”
So WWT began testing the major SD-WAN platforms for two reasons. One, so it could narrow down the services it offered to its customers to only a few select choices. And two, so it could recommend which service would best serve each customer use case.
Some of the services it has tested include VeloCloud, Silver Peak, CloudGenix, Talari, Citrix, Cisco (iWAN, Viptela, and Meraki), FatPipes, and Fortinet.
SD-WAN For the Large Enterprise
Its customer base is mostly large enterprises — including the Fortune 1000, large public sector and financial firms, and large service providers. So, the SD-WANs tested had to meet certain specifications of the large enterprise.
One of the main requirements, Anderson said, are sufficient routing features. “Most large enterprise organizations have pretty large, complex routing schemes and so you’re going to have to have those foundational routing features. Some of them had it, some of them did not have it — and so we knew they were going to struggle in that market space,” he said.
SD-WAN Needs to Evolve With the Enterprise
As the SD-WAN market matures, customer requirements are likely to change.
“The SD-WAN conversation has sort of shifted. It started out as I want to save money,” Anderson said, adding that replacing MPLS and getting cheaper and faster site connections were the fundamental requirements for SD-WAN. “That was the conversation for the last two years. [However] in the last year or so we’ve seen that conversation really shifting and it tells us that the customer mindset is shifting a little bit.”
One change is that SD-WAN now has to adapt for customers leveraging a multi-cloud environment. “How do I use that to architect the way my enterprise is connected to a docked multi-cloud?” posed Anderson.
It’s no longer about replacing a traditional router with an SD-WAN router, he said. Enterprises are re-architecting the way their sites are interconnected and SD-WAN needs to evolve to that. “That’s a big change we’re seeing and not all the solutions are ready for that,” Anderson added.
The second is that customers are asking for integrated security. “Some of those [SD-WANs] are starting to have it, but it’s pretty early,” he said.
The reason that is difficult is that providers like Silver Peak and Riverbed entered the market with a WAN optimization angle and had to build routing and security on top. Others, like Viptela and Velocloud, came at it from a routing perspective and then had to build security and WAN optimization. And now, security vendors, such as Fortinet, are entering to market and needing to add routing and optimization.
“I don’t know that anyone has the perfect solution out there yet that’s meeting every customer requirement,” Anderson said. “I would say the farthest along are probably Viptela … because of the Cisco investment and they’ve already got tremendous security assets to throw at it, and [WAN optimization] assets. They’re probably the farthest along in their integration.”
The next race that Anderson sees is the race to analytics. “It’s our belief that kind of the next wave of innovation we’re going to see is on that integrated analytics – what can I do that’s different with those analytics to drive my decisions in the SD-WAN space,” he said. While there are visibility tools and analytics startups, nothing yet really meets the customer requirement.