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SD-WAN takes the lead as transformer of enterprise networks

SD-WAN is not just marketing hype! It adds tangible business value to NFV deployments and aligns with cost reduction and revenue growth goals for enterprise WAN services.

The transformation of carrier networks and enterprise network services is focused on three main areas:

  • Cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G and enablement of edge computing
  • The programmability of software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) and software defined networking (SDN)
  • Innovation brought about by orchestration, automation, and network functions virtualization (NFV) 

SD-WAN is delivering real results for service providers serving enterprise customers because it gives them much-needed agility and flexibility at the enterprise edge.

SD-WAN popular, SDN loses momentum but still influential

At the recent SDN and NFV World Congress in The Hague, analysts at the event came to the opinion that SDN technologies have not achieved any significant market traction in enterprise networking. True enough, although SDN has influenced the market growth of whitebox switches, the open-source hardware movement (supported by the Open Compute Project Foundation) and the development of independent network switch software providers. 

For years, service providers focused on making incremental improvements to their networks, centered around speed and features. Network priorities have now shifted, influenced by SDN and the need for agile programmable networks, and driven by the growth of digital businesses, and customer demands for better application performance and quality of experience (QoE). To keep up, service providers are now compelled to aim for more automation and agility in their network operations and management. 

Photo credit: Layer123

SD-WAN as a network automation enabler

SD-WAN sets the path towards network automation, enabling zero-touch SD-WAN service provisioning and service lifecycle management. This allows for the creation of fully dynamic networks and gives enterprise end users control over network services as their requirements change. A crucial benefit for service providers is the ability to both deploy and maintain SD-WAN features and service upgrades via software deployment. Service providers also expect to automate network orchestration and policy control in the core network, given the rise of DevOps methodologies, and largely driven by the popularity of SD-WAN.

SD-WAN as an NFV enabler 

All of these factors make it likely that SD-WAN will be a gateway enabling NFV-based infrastructure with multi-vendor and multi-domain capabilities. The latest generation of SD-WAN is transforming into full-scale NFV deployments, with orchestration across multiple vendor environments and integrated virtual network functions (VNFs) like virtual routers and firewalls. 

Since standard SD-WAN solutions have some limitations in terms of underlay visibility, service providers are expanding their deployments to orchestrate across underlay circuits and overlay SD-WANs.

With 5G fixed wireless access (FWA), SD-WAN-driven NFV infrastructures could expand even further, crossing into orchestration of the 5G domain as well. Potentially, the SD-WAN wave could become the catalyst for larger scale deployment of NFV: uCPE, cloud-based NFVi with virtual machine-based and container-based Virtual Infrastructure Managers (VIM) layers, cross-domain orchestration featuring NFV, and SDN controllers.

Note: in moving to SD-WAN, it is possible to get the benefits of agile, cost effective networks and the added benefit of better end user experience by eliminating performance visibility blindspots. How? It’s explained here