Covid-19 greatly disrupted the US WAN market. Virtually overnight the pandemic forced businesses to support a distributed, remote workforce while ensuring continuity. Covid-19 underscored the importance of agility and the need to carefully choose a WAN deployment model. Service providers have responded well to the crisis, but their ability to address long-term impacts is unclear.

The DIY and co-managed SD-WAN deployment models dovetail with the need for agility, reinforced by Covid-19. US enterprises have favored DIY over managed services but are now gradually taking the co-managed route as they increasingly find they need a greater level of support due to the complexity of modern IT.

One aftershock of the pandemic is that remote network management has grown in importance. Also, as a result of the WFH explosion, demand has shifted from large campus access to Internet access and corporate VPNs. Service providers’ ability to quickly respond to these requests has tested the flexibility of their orchestration platforms. Most operators now offer a variety of SD-WAN products that can be integrated with existing WAN solutions. Dynamic path selection, VNF support, automation and centralized control are table stakes.

By enabling a software-defined approach to the WAN, SD-WAN has helped enterprises improve network performance, save costs and remain agile. Thus adoption of SD-WAN has increased, especially since the onset of Covid-19.

Simplified, self-service web portals are a prominent feature of new WAN services. Portals offer comprehensive management of all CPE endpoints. Customers can, for example, add sites, reconfigure the network, evaluate network performance, pay bills and place orders.

SD-WAN eliminates operational complexity for IT by treating the home environment as a branch extension of the corporate network. Thus it will play a key role in managing connectivity, authentication, and security for the sizable remote workforce that will persist post-pandemic. SASE will be used in conjunction with SD-WAN gateways to provide at-home employees more direct access to SaaS applications (such as Microsoft Teams).

Recommended actions for WAN vendors

  • Providers should be flexible in order to support customers suffering operational, logistical and financial pressures. However, providers should reference Covid-19 to underscore the importance of the network to enhance employee productivity through cloud-based services.
  • Providers need to be aware of the shift in preference from DIY to co-managed services deployment and calculate the best way they can support their customers.
  • Rather than a service in its own right, WAN services are becoming part of an infrastructure for delivering line-of-business applications at a time when buyers are fixated on supporting them. Providers should thus lead with an application discussion when describing performance, value-adds and SLA guarantees.

Recommended actions for buyers

  • WAN services are part of an overall IT security strategy. Buyers need to take a long-term view of their service needs, provider partners’ network reach and adjunct managed network/security services support. Let the buyer beware – a low-cost operator may not be suited to meet the enterprise’s longer-term needs.
  • End users should strongly consider adopting SD-WAN for the capabilities and benefits it provides. However, cost savings may not be one of them. While SD-WAN enhances Internet performance, Internet can not necessarily replace all or most MPLS connections. However, SD-WAN’s capabilities may deliver efficiencies beyond base access costs.
  • New WAN services (predominantly SD-WAN) offer simplified, self-service web portals for powerful, comprehensive management of all CPE endpoints. Even enterprises that insist on DIY management should consider the capabilities of these new, centralized management interface models.
  • VPNs are highly resistant to security compromises; the threat in the network, if any, lies at the VPN termination points. Network providers are in an excellent position to fortify end-point security. Two examples: tools such as managed CPE/cloud-based firewalls and threat intelligence (detecting and warning about anomalies from observing the universe of network traffic).