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Half of UK organisations question the relevance of SD-WAN in Covid-driven remote workplace

An investigation into the attitudes of IT leaders in the post-Covid-19 environment claims to have found “widespread confusion” among UK IT leaders regarding the benefits of software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN), with nearly half of organisations saying it is “less relevant” to the burgeoning remote workplace that’s emerged since lockdown.

The study by IT consultancy Accelerate Technologies – The future of SD-WAN in a UK economy – was based on the views of 800 IT leaders in private sector construction, finance/accounting, legal and utilities sector organisations with over 500 staff and 10 or more offices/sites, across multiple industries, to uncover the opinions of SD-WAN and how it has changed since the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak. 

The top-line discovery from Accelerate was that 58% of IT leaders said the key challenge of the UK government’s work-from-home directive was managing remote worker performance and support issues. Nearly half reported issues with bandwidth, 40% noted infrastructure capacity, while 42% said the increased number of dispersed and unmanaged remote worker devices was problematic and not having the visibility to measure and improve performance compounded the issue. 

A quarter of the UK IT leaders surveyed were bringing forward cloud migration projects, with half prioritising projects to improve visibility and security for remote workers and cloud infrastructure because of Covid-19. Improving application performance for cloud-hosted apps/software as a service (SaaS) was found to be imperative since the pandemic.

Looking at SD-WAN and the future workplace, the survey found that 62% of IT managers already have, or plan to deploy, SD-WAN, with a vast majority (45%) improving application performance. Over a third said SD-WAN increased agility and reduced the cost of WANs, while half said their primary objective was to simplify the management of branch office infrastructure and enable secure branch office internet break-outs, which over half had achieved – potentially supporting the future remote workplace where number and size of office locations could possibly reduce.

Yet despite the emergence and rapid take-up of SD-WAN, a third of organisations have no plans to deploy SD-WAN, with 55% favouring the emerging single cloud service model of secure access service edge (SASE), which converges SD-WAN features with cloud-based security services for remote workers and devices. Nearly half said WAN optimisation already gave them the required performance, or preferred the centralised security and single point of public entry offered by traditional multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) WAN architectures.

Of those with no plans to deploy SD-WAN, a quarter felt it didn’t support remote worker access, even if 55% of organisations with SD-WAN said it had done exactly that. A third cited a lack of internal skills or difficulty finding a suitable technology partner that can fully own and manage the deployment as reasons for not considering SD-WAN.

Accelerate’s data found that there is confusion among IT leaders around the benefits of SD-WAN and SASE. Just over two-thirds (43%) viewed SASE as a completely different use case to SD-WAN, while one in four saw SASE as an enhancement to SD-WAN architectures, bringing together secure zero-trust access for the new and increased remote workforce.

Assessing the key findings of the research, Darran Clare, director of technologies at Accelerate, said the remote worker challenges introduced by Covid-19 had naturally shifted people’s focus from site-to-site WANs to the needs of a more flexible workplace, hence the increased interest in SASE architectures. 

“We also see concrete proof that WAN optimisation is far from dead, and such services can play a key part in improving the performance of cloud-hosted applications where latency is the underlying issue,” he noted.

“While most SD-WAN and SASE vendors will advertise WAN Op capabilities, such claims should not be taken at face value as the scale and depth of application optimisation can vary greatly. The general consensus is that SASE…is able to extend beyond the physical limits of the network. There is clearly confusion concerning the capabilities of SD-WAN, and how best to implement the technology. 

“SD-WAN, while delivering undeniable value, has not managed to serve the entire needs of all organisations during the work-from-home directive. Covid-19 presents an enormous and evolving challenge as we look to return to a ‘new normal’ way of working, with many employees continuing to operate from home.” 

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