What does the future hold for WAN Edge Infrastructure? Emerging technologies are beginning to shape how we manage, maintain and connect out WAN. Which future trends in WAN do you need to be aware of?
1. Thin Verus Thick Branch
One of the major decisions IT Teams will increasingly need to make in the next few years is whether to select a thick branch with all functions deployed at location or more of a thin branch with some functions on the edge supplemented by functions hosted in the cloud. The former would be for organisations with stronger IT teams that want more on-premises control. The latter is for leaner IT and, ultimately, more operational flexibility.
2. Merging of Security and Networking/SASE
At one time, security and network procurements were handled separately. Increasingly, network and security decisions are being made at the same time and more often with the same solution. This is largely driven by the move to distribute internet access to support cloud applications and change the security perimeter. This goes with the deployment of SD-WAN at the branch locations to manage the internet transport. As part of a desire to minimise branch sprawl, expect to see more organisations looking for vendors with a combined security and networking solution or as part of a broader ecosystem. The deployment model will also be determined by the decision of the thin versus thick branch.
Gartner increasingly sees vendors building a common orchestration among the LAN, WLAN, WAN and, sometimes, security, which is increasingly known as SD-branch. It offers increased simplicity in managing WLAN, LAN, WAN and security policies and profiles with a single orchestrated solution. Integrating these domains will increasingly be a differentiating factor for some vendors. Although Gartner still sees businesses procuring LAN/WLAN separate from WAN, there is increasing evidence that this may change for certain environments.
4. Leveraging AI/ML
There is a trend to more autonomous and self-driving networks in which AI/ML technologies can be leveraged to adapt to network traffic patterns. The objective is to make networking even easier for Day 2 operations for end users, reduce operating expenditures (opex), increase speed/agility and improve uptime/performance. Although it is still early in many vendors’ product development, we are seeing this functionality being incorporated into an increasing number of vendor solutions offering differentiation.
5. Application Analysis
Application visibility and analytics are becoming more important to get better feedback as to the applications running on the network. Whether this is for on-premises applications or applications in the cloud, enterprises are looking for more details to help troubleshoot, plan and confirm that specific applications performance/QoE is being delivered for end users. Increasingly, the demand for end-user experience metrics from the end user to the actual application, which may be hosted in a CSP.
6. Remote User Access
With the impacts of Covid-19, remote user access has become critical for ongoing business operations. It has moved from an occasional use model that was not supported with an SD-WAN fabric to an overnight need. We are seeing this move away from remote VPN and extending the SD-WAN fabrics directly to end-users or with zero trust network access (ZTNA) as part of a SASE offering. Although the future of remote working is unclear, workers will be increasingly mobile. SD-WAN vendors are focused on solving this connectivity option going forward.
7. Cloud Onramp
There are various ways to connect to cloud workloads, whether they are IaaS or SaaS. Depending on how distributed your cloud workloads are will influence cloud onramp options. Options include directly connecting to cloud service providers such as Azure or AWS; a software-defined cloud internet (SDCI) provider; or deploying virtual instances of SD-WAN gateways in various cloud providers. For cloud-first enterprises, how this is supported is becoming increasingly relevant for buying decisions.
5G is hyped technology that some expect to replace wired access WANs. Gartner’s view is, due to limited coverage, various 5G technology options with different performance and RF propagation, and few truly unlimited data plans, 5G is still not in a position to transform WAN architectures for at least another two years. However, new mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) use cases will take advantage of 5G.
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