2017: The year SD-WAN caught fire – get ready for more to come

by Mike Frane
January 29, 2018

2017 was quite a year for SD-WAN. By the year’s start, we were clearly moving beyond the early-adopter stage. SD-WAN technology from multiple vendors had established a solid foot-hold in the market. A growing number of enterprises were moving beyond trials and into production. Though not all analysts agreed on the details, their near-term predictions were uniformly bullish – and adoption mirrored expectations. 

As the year progressed, many in the industry expected to see consolidation, with merger & acquisition activity organizing around SD-WAN. That, too, unfolded as anticipated, with Cisco buying Viptela and VMWare announcing plans to buy VeloCloud. 

While SD-WAN progressed much as expected, there were several very significant surprises. 

Trends among smaller and larger enterprises 

One 2017 SD-WAN dynamic that few foresaw was the amount of positive traction gained among single-site, single-access customers. Because the use case is stronger for the multi-location enterprises that SD-WAN excels at knitting together, most in the industry expected single-site companies to hold back. That turned out not to be the case, with SMBs adopting at a rate similar to their larger counterparts – driven primarily by overall cloud strategies and the dramatic visibility that SD-WAN provides. 

SD-WAN predictions for 2018 

One trend that hasn’t yet fully emerged, but likely will in 2018, is the appearance of lightweight SD-WAN offerings that target small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) – or Enterprises with SMB-like locations. While single-site enterprises have shown a surprising willingness to embrace SD-WAN, not all of those customers need the full set of features and functions typically provided by current solutions. If standard offerings tailored to SMBs-like sites arrive with fewer options and lower price tags, we should see SMB-like SD-WAN adoption accelerate even faster. 

Moving up to mid-market and large enterprises, 2018 will likely see an acceleration of network function virtualization and “white box” or universal CPE, while we continue to see smaller-sized locations deploying separate hardware appliances for the various network functions. As production ramps up and software and hardware costs make it more economical to deploy multiple network functions on commodity hardware, white box CPE deployment will become more commonplace. In the 2018-2019 timeframe, we can expect to see more sophisticated analytics and machine-learning technology make its way into the SD-WAN arena.

Finally, we should start to see more service chaining from cloud service providers and from managed network service providers; deeper integrations with cloud applications; and greater incorporation of SD-WAN technologies into established hardware vendor’s mainline product portfolios – all due to M&A activity consolidation and general acceptance of the technology.

Regardless of the degree to which these predictions come true, there is one overriding likelihood for 2018: It will almost certainly be the year SD-WAN goes truly mainstream. We can talk about this more in person at this year’s SD-WAN Expo February 14-16 in Fort Lauderdale, FL.