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5 reasons why SD-WAN hasn’t lived up to the hype

SD-WAN has long been hailed as the saviour of network management and the answer to solving three critical challenges facing IT teams today - reducing costs, increasing efficiency and tightening security. SD-WAN is not a new concept, but it has been heralded as one of the most innovative developments in networking that we’ve seen for many years. But is it really the panacea for all network problems, as SD-WAN protagonists would have us believe?

At the end of 2019, a survey conducted by IDG found that the overall cost and associated skills gap are still major barriers to SD-WAN adoption for nearly half of those businesses surveyed. This goes some way to explaining why, according to Altman Vilandrie & Company research, many large companies with bigger IT teams have adopted SD-WAN, while smaller enterprises have shied away.

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So why has SD-WAN not lived up to its significant promises? In this post, we’ll highlight the five most common reasons:

1) Potential cost savings have evaporated

SD-WAN was lauded as a vehicle for IT teams to realise huge savings, relying on the internet for networking, rather than deploying expensive Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) circuits. However, over the course of the last decade, the difference in costs between the two has diminished dramatically (in the UK at least), as MPLS prices have normalised.

What’s more, savings can’t be found in replacing MPLS by SD-WAN because many companies adopting SD-WAN keep their legacy MPLS technology running in parallel. Altman Vilandrie & Company’s research suggests that as many as 70% of companies buying SD-WAN still buy MPLS, too.

2) Managing SD-WAN takes too much time

SD-WAN puts an IT team in full control of network management, providing the capability to oversee and administer every element of the network to the most granular detail. This level of control is often seen as a gap, because of traditional network silos and the involvement of multiple vendors.

But with the exception of large companies that have a similarly large depth of IT resources, few IT teams have the time to devote to detailed network management tasks, such as changing failover settings or creating circuit tunnels.

Most IT teams are already running at full capacity as it is, and often beyond it. Yet, SD-WAN management demands significantly more human effort and more importantly the right skill sets - in many cases it requires training and up-skilling. More companies are taking this into consideration when evaluating SD-WAN and are recognising the major impact it can have on raising the total cost of ownership.

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3) Companies use service providers they don’t want

The fundamental premise of SD-WAN is that companies can configure and oversee their entire network themselves and make changes quickly, without having to rely on a slow or unresponsive service provider. However, as mentioned in the previous point, this is a time-consuming and complex undertaking, managing circuits across 4G, DSL,  internet, WAN, private home workers, as well as tunnels and firewalls.

Because of this, many businesses realise that they want to deploy SD-WAN but they can’t do it themselves, and so they turn to a managed service provider to provide it as a solution. This puts them right back where they started, and gives them a new approach to networking without any of the benefits of control they sought originally.

4) UK infrastructure can’t properly support it

The technical attributes of SD-WAN may be able to be fully realised in the United States where connectivity is generally very good. But on this side of the Atlantic, the UK is still some way behind in coverage of even 4G, let alone in the emerging roll-out of 5G. 

This means British businesses relying on SD-WAN are vulnerable to problems when it comes to reliable connectivity - bad news at a time when customers and employees are more demanding than ever. So, without a significant improvement in the UK’s network infrastructure - which would take years to implement - IT teams still have a great dependence on MPLS.

5) It’s an older solution than it seems

SD-WAN is not the shiny new innovation many would have you believe. It’s actually a combination of a number of different network technologies, some of which have been well-established for years, packaged together through a single user interface.

Initially, SD-WAN was poorly integrated and suffered in some cases from vendor lock-in, and while some of these issues have been addressed, the elephant in the room of its high management workload remains. While it might look like an attractive proposition at first glance, it can easily be more expensive than it seems, both from a technological and TCO perspective.

In summary

Arguably, SD-WAN creates more issues than it potentially solves. It adds to the workload of busy internal IT teams already over-stretched, it requires resources and skills that quickly expand TCO, and it often leads businesses back to the managed service provider model they were trying to escape in the first place.

For large IT teams with the skills and resources to dedicate to SD-WAN, it is a viable solution. But for smaller IT teams, it fails to solve the underlying administrative burden most face - instead only serving to exacerbate it.

If you’re looking for an alternative to SD-WAN, why not learn more about a new approach to network management that puts busy IT teams in more control of the network, without the administrative burden of managing it. Download the Connectivity-as-a-Service guide here:

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