SD-WAN is steadily replacing MPLS, says TeleGeography

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COVID-19 motivated many companies to accelerate plans to adopt SD-WAN and use more cloud-based applications. (jimfeng)

SD-WAN is steadily replacing MPLS, and IT managers are no longer looking at it primarily as a way to cut costs - now it's about boosting capacity, access and performance. These are the findings of TeleGeography's latest WAN Manager Survey, which collected responses from IT managers at 125 large companies during 2020.  

Roughly two-thirds of the managers surveyed have already installed SD-WAN or are piloting/rolling out the technology. When the survey was last conducted two years ago, many respondents were on the fence, but now less than 25% are still undecided about SD-WAN. 

Source: TeleGeography

The analyst team at TeleGeography noted that the pandemic slowed SD-WAN rollouts for a period of time, but increased interest in adoption of the technology.

“The pandemic caused enterprises across the globe to really re-evaluate their operations and seek new ways to improve performance and efficiency," said Elizabeth Thorne, research analyst for enterprise networks at TeleGeography. “A growing number of WAN managers are seeing the opportunity in SD-WAN and adapting their networks, which could explain the 24% decrease we’ve seen in MPLS from 2018 to 2020.”

The survey found that the average network had MPLS at only 58% of sites in 2020, compared to 82% in 2018. Many initial SD-WAN deployments were motivated by a desire to replace MPLS connections with a solution that was seen as more cost-effective.

The companies represented in this survey had median revenue of $10 billion, and 85% of them reported that the majority of their workforce was remote at some stage during the pandemic. The key challenges faced by WAN managers at the onset of the pandemic were congestion at internet gateways from the influx of remote users, paired with the performance of at-home broadband.

Respondents were asked to rank the factors that drove them to pursue SD-WAN deployments and were given six choices: increasing site capacity, using alternative access solutions, improving performance, cutting costs, reducing provisioning time, and improving security. The first three choices tied for number one, followed by cutting costs, reducing provisioning time and improving security.

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Managed vs. unmanaged

TeleGeography asked respondents about three different SD-WAN deployment models: fully managed, unmanaged, or the middle ground: co-managed service, where a provider handles deployment and management, but an enterprise can view network analytics, add applications and establish policies through their customer portal. The co-managed option was the most popular choice for respondents, followed by unmanaged and then fully managed.

For service providers, managed SD-WAN represents an important new revenue opportunity, but also a challenge. Many enterprises have started the SD-WAN journey on their own with one or more vendors, and now want a service provider to integrate and manage the existing equipment along with the provider's own solutions. In addition, many enterprises will want third party security software to be part of their SD-WAN deployment.