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There’s no doubt that software-defined WAN is transforming enterprise WAN. According to IDC, SD-WAN is going mainstream as enterprises look to increase agility and flexibility as they pursue their digital transformation strategies and adopt cloud. The research firm expects the market for SD-WAN products and services to reach $8 billion in 2021.

In a presentation at Future WAN ’18, an online summit sponsored by Cisco, Brad Casemore, research director of data center networks at IDC, discussed what’s next for the hot market.

SD-WAN helps companies overcome issues associated with traditional enterprise WAN, which wasn’t built for cloud and lacks operational efficiently, he said. The use cases for SD-WAN have been well established, including improving application performance by enabling use of multiple WAN links, simplifying WAN architecture, reducing reliance on MPLS, and improving SaaS performance by automatically steering traffic based on application policy instead of backhauling all traffic to the data center.

IDC sees SD-WAN evolving to incorporate more intent and intelligent automation, with business intent consistently applied to application delivery and performance, he said. Intent-based networking is a hot buzzword in the industry right now, generally describing technology that uses automation and machine learning to implement business policy.

In addition to incorporating machine learning and artificial intelligence, SD-WAN also will evolve to provide pervasive security, automatically steering applications over appropriate links and providing secure segmentation, Casemore said.

“This is all moving us toward the software-defined branch,” he said. “SD-WAN serves as the precursor and serves as the essential conduit to SD-branch and network as a service at the edge.”

In the software-defined branch, routing, firewall, and WAN optimization are provided as virtual functions in a cloud-like NaaS model, replacing expensive hardware. Management is automated and services can be easily adjusted as business needs change, Casemore said.

All the change that’s happening in IT today with cloud adoption and increased automation can be unnerving for networking pros, but it actually can help them, he said. Rather than being viewed as “tin huggers” focused on managing devices and not able to keep up with the pace of today’s business, networking pros can shift to a key role in digital transformation.

“This allows them to become meaningful contributors to business outcomes,” Casemore said. “This is a huge development.”

Practitioner view

In another Future WAN ’18 session, network engineers weighed in on SD-WAN benefits and best practices in a roundtable moderated by Tom Hollingsworth of Gestalt IT.

Eyvonne Sharp, network architect for a Fortune 100 healthcare company, said SD-WAN provides the ability to build templates instead of using CLI. An engineer can define what kind of applications run at a particular site and make policy changes in the templates.

“These templates really can make your life easier,” she said.

Phil Gervasi, a senior network engineer, said spinning up a branch office for a remote location using MPLS would take too long. SD-WAN “provides the opportunity to spin up sites more quickly and cheaply,” he said. He also noted that the technology reduces the need for CCIEs to run the WAN.

Greg Ferro, co-founder of Packet Pushers, said SD-WAN will shift networking pros to other areas such as microsegmentation and detailed analysis. “There will be more networking, not less…You’ll be doing more stuff, fun stuff.”

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