The Hybrid WAN: Industry Peers Weigh In
We’re putting context behind the latest survey results from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) on changes in the WAN. Now, you can apply the insights from our survey to your SD-WAN initiatives.
See what is and isn’t working for your peers, from procurement preferences to architectural choices and network operations strategies. Don’t have time to read? Listen to our webinar video instead.
Demographics of the survey
|Top Job Titles||Top IT Groups|
21% IT architecture
17% IT manager/supervisor
21% Project/program management
15% Network architect
12% Network operations center/IT operations
10% Project manager
9% IT security/cybersecurity
6% Network operations staff/analyst
9% Network engineering
|Company Size (Employees)||Geography||Top Industries|
22% Midsized (250 to 999)
63% Large (1,000 to 9,999)
15% Very Large (10,000+)
50% North America
9% Retail/Wholesale/ Distribution
8% IT-related consulting or professional services
7% Healthcare/Medical/ Pharmaceutical
Note: EMA excluded smaller networks (fewer than 10 sites) from its survey.
Enterprises are hybridizing the WAN
Our survey of 300 enterprises found that 99% of them are adding internet connectivity to their overall WAN architecture. In the early days of SD-WAN adoption, the big prediction was that MPLS would be completely phased out. So far, we haven’t seen it play out that way.
Of the 99% incorporating internet into their architecture, many are supplementing their existing MPLS footprint.
54% said they are making no change to their managed WAN services.
23% said they were downsizing their MPLS investments. They may be reducing number of links or the amount of bandwidth, but not getting rid of MPLS entirely.
Only 17% of those surveyed said they were retiring their MPLS.
There was also a small number of respondents who said their MPLS footprint was never significant to begin with.
Why businesses are going hybrid with their WAN
We identified the top three drivers for enterprises going hybrid.
- Connectivity to the cloud
- Network flexibility
- High bandwidth requirements
- 60% are going hybrid to improve their connectivity to the cloud. Many enterprises are interested in a full-mesh network.
This trend is traced to the pandemic. Enterprises want to get all of their remote sites into the cloud as quickly as possible.
Bringing in internet removes the central data center middleman for traffic heading to the cloud. Internet connectivity can be enabled to support direct cloud access from remote sites.
- 56% are looking for network flexibility. They want to be able to move, add and change more easily. MPLS networks are just not as flexible in this way.
- 45% are going hybrid to meeting higher bandwidth requirements. MPLS is bandwidth constrained and expensive to ramp up. In general, it is easier to scale up with internet networks than with MPLS networks.
If you have a lot of real-time application traffic to support, supplementing your network with the internet is the logical move.
Overall, 92% of networks report improved WAN performance after hybridization with 39% describing significant improvement.
How do they go from an MPLS network with an SLA attached, to the public open internet and see a performance improvement?
The answer is, by adopting SD-WAN. SD-WAN enables the cloud onRamps that you want to implement if you are driven by cloud connectivity.
SD-WAN also has integrated security features within its architecture that reduce concerns about the open-internet’s safety. NetOps can more securely connect into the cloud through a centralized SD-WAN console where they have visibility into their network.
SD-WAN enables the hybrid WAN
Our research shows that 98% of our survey respondents are engaged with SD-WAN in some way. This is not surprising since 99% of the same survey respondents are engaged in hybridizing their WAN with internet.
37% have their hybrid WAN solutions fully implemented, a 15% increase from when the same survey question was asked two years ago.
45% of enterprises surveyed are currently in-progress with their SD-WAN implementations.
Note: The high level of engagement around SD-WAN is not only due to first timers. Many enterprises are on their second SD-WAN implementation because of vendor transitions in their network.
Hybrid WAN creates operational obstacles
As with any changes to the familiar, there are obstacles to resolve and steer around. Let’s look at the top operational problems enterprises face when adopting a hybrid WAN.
Top Hybrid WAN Problems:
- Relationship Management
32% of enterprises found the learning curve of managing multiple ISP relationships to be steep. Prior to their hybrid WAN, they might have had one strategic provider who handled all the MPLS connectivity on a global basis.
Once a company moves from MPLS to individual internet service providers, there are many more business relationships to manage. These relationships come with more meetings, more specification requirements, more RFPs and renegotiations of contracts and renewal terms.
- Security Risk
Security risk comes in as the second most reported problem with hybrid WANS at 29%. Security is something you can address with SD-WAN.
Enterprises are interested in SD-WAN for its ability to integrate security into the network architecture. Adding internet to a WAN can create security-anxiety for enterprises.
- Application Performance
28% have found hybrid WAN to introduce application performance problems. It’s complicated to enforce the QoS on a new hybrid network.
Many NetOps personnel do not have the right tools to see when QoS is insufficient. They struggle with the inconsistent quality from different ISPs. Different ISPs have different types of performance baselines and different levels of quality. This makes monitoring and troubleshooting difficult.
- Inconsistent Global Performance Across Geographies
And finally, 22% of respondents find inconsistent global performance across geographies to be their biggest operational problem.
When geographically distant sites need to communicate over the internet, the global internet backbone can be an issue for visibility. This can require enterprises to compensate through their SD-WAN architecture.
Can SD-WAN’s native monitoring close the operations gap?
Native monitoring can certainly be useful. According to our research, it is the third most important product in an SD-WAN’s product capability for buyers. This comes just behind hybrid connectivity and integrated security.
What might surprise you, is that not everyone thinks this native visibility is essential. In fact, it’s not a best practice to focus on this capability when implementing SD-WAN. Enterprises with successful SD-WAN implementations said they were less likely to find native monitoring critical.
Our research found that 65% of enterprises they have significant issue with SD-WAN’s native visibility capabilities.
Top challenges include SD-WAN monitoring
35% say they have no significant problems with their SD-WAN monitoring, but the remaining 65% face significant issues. 30% say they have limited or no visibility into the WAN underlay.
An SD-WAN solution gives you visibility into the tunnels it creates as an overlay over the physical network. However, when it comes time to figure out what’s going on with the ISP provider, SD-WAN has few answers to give you.
Many SD-WAN solutions do not provide adequate visibility into application performance and application flows. These solutions struggle at identifying, classifying and monitoring individual applications.
Another big issue that we uncovered is that native data collection tends to lack sufficient granularity. You might want to collect data at a higher rate than your MSP is willing/able to generate. If you turn it up and start collecting data at lower intervals, you see degradation of performance.
Many SD-WAN vendors are software centric, delivering off-the-shelf hardware paired with their software. Their R & D resources go into the software.
Issues with the hardware are redirected to another source for troubleshooting. Ex: questions about memory capability or interface-level insights about the device.
Difference in Opinion of Native Monitoring
62% of NOC staff said they saw no significant challenges using native monitoring while network engineers feel differently.
63% of network engineers see issues with the WAN’s underlay visibility. They are not satisfied with their SD-WAN’s native monitoring capability.
Looking at these juxtaposed answers, what do they mean?
The sales engineers have to bring in an outside NPM solution to answer their questions. and improve upon data collection granularity (more data at shorter intervals).
If you work in a NOC resolving tier-1 or tier-2 issues, the native SD-WAN monitoring console may be more than adequate. Beyond that, people who are application owners or network engineers need a tool that can monitor SD-WAN from a third-party perspective. Network performance management (NPM) is the key piece in that.
Third-Party NPM tools are Essential
Our research shows that third-party management tools are essential to SD-WAN operations. Network performance management is pervasive in SD-WAN. 92% of enterprises say they are adding third-party NPM solutions or considering it. Only 9% say no.
Best practice alert: 51% of successful SD-WAN project owners say third-party monitoring of SD-WAN is critical. It is more critical to IT executives, network engineers and security professionals.
The people getting escalations from the NOC and other places need that third-party monitoring. It is less likely for this solution to be critical for NOC staff. Only 18% of NOC respondents felt NPM tools were critical vs 41% of the overall market.
How are Enterprises Getting Their Third-Party SD-WAN Monitoring Implemented?
56% said they integrated their tools on their own with their SD-WAN solution. Maybe it was just a question of configuring their SD-WAN solution to generate NetFlow.
48% relied on vendors to integrate tools for them.
13% said the tools supported their SD-WAN out of the box.
What you might notice is that those three numbers do not add up to 100.
Nine percent of those surveyed selected more than one answer. What this tells you is that some enterprises have a multi-pronged approach with more than one tool vendor. Perhaps they had two NPM solutions, or maybe a separate solution for base flow or SNMP monitoring.
48% of enterprises are satisfied with their third-party tools. The satisfied 48% is more likely to be consumers of a managed service. On the other side, 48% see room for improvement in their third-party SD-WAN monitoring solution.
How to Act on These Findings:
Your To-Do List
- Develop – a hybrid ops model with your SD-WAN provider. If you are using SD-WAN as a managed service, your provider will align your tools for your SD-WAN solution.
- Stretch – beyond native SD-WAN monitoring tools. Your NOC may lean on the native SD-WAN console, but sales engineers need deeper visibility into network performance management solution.
- Diversify – think about how you might want to diversify your data collection. You might want to expand your use of internet metrics for end-to-end loss, latency and jitter across paths.
- Push – your NPM tool vendor and your SD-WAN vendor to integrate and possibly support that integration professionally.
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