May 19, 2023
When it comes to meeting customers’ needs and expectations, flexibility is priority No. 1 for SD-WAN providers.
SD-WAN has evolved from being network-centric to becoming a converged offering that integrates access requirements for the modern enterprise. To be effective, an SD-WAN offering has to have integrated management to improve operational efficiency. It also has to provide telemetry to both networking and security teams to guide their activities.
Effective SD-WAN implementations have simple policy management and non-disruptive deployment options.
This is our third annual “CF20” focused on top SD-WAN providers, and the sixth if you count our previous CP Lists. Analysts share their views on what it takes for SD-WAN providers to succeed with the technology. It includes an updated list and fresh views on changes in the competitive landscape.
According to MarketsandMarkets, the global SD-WAN market should grow from $3.4 billion in 2022 to $13.7 billion by 2027. That’s a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of almost 32%. The rising need for mobility services is driving the growth of the SD-WAN market.
Priorities for SD-WAN Providers
Eric Hanselman, principal research analyst at 451 Research, a part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, said the pre-pandemic focus for SD-WAN was on supporting a more dynamic branch network and enabling network agility.
451 Research’s Eric Hanselman
“Today, agility is important, but flexibility is paramount,” he said. “The impacts of hybrid work are still settling out. There’s the return to office in some locations and expanding retail activity. But there are other situations where the branch office population is asymptotically approaching one — the remote employee. Customers are expecting more of their requirements to be met by a single offering. Integration of network performance and security capabilities are a necessary part of an SD-WAN offering, whether that’s delivered as a product or a service.”
As zero-trust initiatives are fleshed out, identity is the next integration point that has become a requirement, Hanselman said. The buzz around secure access service edge (SASE) has shifted into expectations of greater security functionality.
Mauricio Sanchez, Dell’Oro‘s research director for network security, SASE and SD-WAN, said technology never stands still, not only because of constant innovation, but also because of environmental changes that create new problems and challenges.
Dell’Oro Group’s Mauricio Sanchez
“Besides the shift towards hybrid work, the pandemic also accelerated the shift of enterprise workloads to the cloud, particularly public clouds,” he said. “How to appropriately stitch these far-flung applications that once were on-premises has increasingly been bedeviling enterprise network architects. In many instances, they may not have even known that the development teams were shifting apps to the cloud, ensuring a new wave of cloud sprawl problems.”
Expectations Ratcheting Up for SD-WAN Providers
Sanchez said he’s starting to hear an increasing amount of frustration from network architects who are having problems stitching the new landscape together consisting of traditional branch locations, remote users and apps sitting in cloud provider pools. The multicloud strategies most development teams are embracing aren’t making it any easier since each cloud provider has its own twist to how it does networking.
“So this all means is that the bar to be a successful, cutting SD-WAN provider continues to ratchet up,” he said. “The foundation use case remains the conversion of branches from using MPLS in the last mile to commodity internet. Moreover, it’s about doing local internet breakout for those apps heading to the internet. The pandemic then overnight shifted everyone to remote work and created new challenges for SD-WAN solutions to address. This leads me to the most recent use case that is ratcheting up — the need to address those cloud-based enterprise apps and being able to stich it all together. Above and beyond these three use cases – branch conversion, remote users and cloud-based apps – leading SD-WAN vendors also need to provide network visibility, security and control, all in the name of a secure digital experience.”
Brian Washburn, Omdia‘s research director of service provider enterprise and wholesale, said SD-WAN as a category is no longer “cutting edge.” It’s now been around long enough that it has an air of maturity and enterprises have developed a base level of trust in how the technology works. (Omdia and Channel Futures are both part of Informa Tech.)
Among SD-WAN providers, there does seem to be further splitting into small/light, medium and large/heavy deployments, he said.
Omdia’s Brian Washburn
“There are some vendors that remain especially good in each category,” Washburn said. “I don’t want to name names too much, because a bunch of platforms are capable in all areas. But you get the idea, Fortinet and Cisco Meraki can be lighter. Versa Networks can sit between light and middle. VMware is middle and larger. Cisco SD-WAN is more toward the high end. I skipped many. It’s more about the principle of three different package types, and each most effective to a targeted customer type.”
We’ve compiled a list, in no particular order, of 20 top SD-WAN providers. It’s based on feedback from analysts and recent news reports. The providers in the slideshow above are making the most of the ongoing competitive landscape and charting success.
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