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Has SD-WAN Come of Age for SMEs During the Pandemic?

SD-WAN's fast, reliable connectivity helps SMEs keep their workforces agile.

December 24, 2021

5 Min Read
SDN
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By Salim Khouri

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Salim Khouri

As businesses continue to navigate the turbulent waters of a global pandemic, their journey to the cloud has accelerated dramatically. Not only that, but the way they adopt cloud solutions has evolved, with a much stronger focus on flexible working, data security and the overall online experience offered to employees. Perhaps this is why a significant majority of small- to medium-sized businesses are now turning to software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) to streamline, secure and optimize their online infrastructure.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how SD-WAN works, how its roll out has been impacted by the pandemic and the increasingly pivotal role it’s going to play in helping SMEs stay agile and resilient in a post-pandemic landscape.

Despite an initial slowdown of SD-WAN deployments near the beginning of the pandemic, most likely due to the uncertainty surrounding lockdowns and the so-called ‘new normal,’ the technology appears to have bounced back even stronger as businesses begin to chart their course forward. According to some sources, SD-WAN technology is expected to grow from $1.9 billion in 2020 to a staggering $8.4 billion by 2025; that’s a CAGR of 34.5% and the strongest indication yet that SD-WAN solutions are most certainly central to strategies for post-pandemic success.

So why has SD-WAN become such an important piece of the cloud transformation jigsaw? And why are businesses more likely than ever to need the support of technology partners as they embrace it? Before we look at the advantages of SD-WAN for SMEs, let’s first assess the cloud landscape and the increased pressure on enterprises to migrate.

The Need for Rapid Cloud Transformation

For many, the pandemic is viewed as a catalyst for transformation, spurring companies to embrace new technologies and enhance their operations. In reality, the pressure put on businesses to accelerate the pace of digital change within their organisations might have come with some negative consequences.

In something McKinsey refers to as “The Quickening,” a number of SMEs had to fit a decade’s worth of digital transformation into the space of around 90 days to stay operational during the start of the pandemic. Even Microsoft admitted it had to leap forward by around two years in the space of two months to adjust to the new working landscape. But with high pressure placed on businesses to embrace the cloud and facilitate secure remote working, many have overlooked how they operate in the cloud, and instead just focused on the migration itself. In a world where the online experience offered to employees can make the difference between a happy, productive workforce and one that feels hamstrung and frustrated, SD-WAN can make all the difference. Now, more than ever, businesses of all shapes and sizes need the support of third-party technology partners to ensure their journey to the cloud is as secure as it is rapid.

When Cloud Migration Isn’t Enough

There was once a time where simply migrating to the cloud was enough for businesses to put a tick in the digital transformation box. That time was short-lived and has long since passed. Today’s companies need to demonstrate that …

… they’re able to deliver streamlined, cutting-edge online experiences to their teams no matter where in the world they’re setting up to work for the day. The internet is ubiquitous these days, so it’s less a question of connectivity and more a question of how fast and reliable that connectivity is. This isn’t news to channel partners and others in the industry, but it is for lots of smaller and medium-sized enterprises. While the choice of ISP and selecting the right hardware can certainly be a factor, businesses that are embracing SD-WAN have opened themselves to a new level of potential.

This potential is virtually limitless. Unlike standard internet access, SD-WAN takes an app-centric approach to connectivity, steering traffic and adjusting bandwidth on the fly. This ensures that applications that are in demand always have the resources they need whenever they’re being used, a turn that’s more relevant to potential business customers today than at any other point in time. SD-WAN effectively acts as an overlay for existing MPLS networks, allowing business customers to enjoy the spoils of superfast broadband without having to uproot everything from the ground. What could be better for businesses in 2021 than a cloud-first approach that prioritises applications and puts the user experience above all else? It should be an easy sell.

Connectivity will also be more reliable. Backhauling data on traditional WAN architectures would often result in huge bottlenecks that were difficult to unpick and resolve. Maintenance and deployment times would be affected, and users as part of a distributed team would often be stuck with slow-loading webpages and poor application experiences. SD-WAN does away with these disadvantages, allowing businesses to effectively supercharge their network combining a blend of broadband, LTE and MPLS circuits to all but eliminate the risk usually associated with network outages and slowdowns. Again, what could be more useful at a time when businesses are beholden to the experience they can deliver to their globally distributed teams?

The attraction of SD-WAN for large-scale businesses has always been clear, but it’s only recently that SMEs and even start-ups have begun to turn their attention to SD-WAN as their gateway to the cloud. It’s fast, secure, reliable and offers what a business needs to guarantee its employees a productive day, wherever they happen to be working. Now all they need is to be made aware of it, and given a helping hand to implement it.

Salim Khouri is director of global solutions engineering at Expereo, applying his more than 20 years of experience in support of Expereo’s managed global network and cloud connectivity solutions. His expertise includes global internet, SD-WAN and security. You may follow him on LinkedIn or @expereo on Twitter.

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