Data CenterNews & Analysis

SD-WAN is an Essential Component of the Post-Covid Enterprise


Until the global pandemic, software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN) was primarily marketed to enterprises as a way to reduce costs and improve WAN flexibility by allowing traffic to burst directly from the branch office to the Internet, rather than having it routed over the traditional (and more expensive) multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) links.

The pent-up demand caused by the pandemic that rather forced businesses shift from legacy technologies and adopt digital business models and create networks of the future that are robust, resilient and capable of supporting newer and unlikely forms of business, further accelerated the demand for SD-WAN. As IDC predicts, even in the middle of the pandemic, revenues from SD-WAN grew 18.5% from 2019 to 2020, and is expected to grow over 26.5% this year.

riteshIn a recent interaction with CXOToday, Ritesh Doshi, Director of Enterprise Networking at Cisco India & SAARC, explains how enterprises are enabling digital transformation with SD-WAN. He also sheds light on SD-WAN’s evolving support to the future of network landscape.

What is the significance of SD-WAN in a post-Covid world?

One thing we know that the pandemic has changed is that what can be delivered digitally must be delivered digitally. There is a rising demand for everything-as-a-service consumption models, where everything is software-driven and delivered. Today, businesses, big and small, are accelerating their digital agendas. They have to reimagine apps to accommodate new ways of hybrid working, and these applications need to be hosted on a cloud or hybrid environment. According to a report, more than 500 million new applications will be developed over the next three years. In this digitized world, networks no longer connect branches to the datacenter, it connects users to apps.

The rise of multi-cloud networking and the proliferation of connectivity has triggered enterprises to augment their networks and to adopt SD-WAN for networking and secure access server edge (SASE), as it helps deliver security and networking services together from the cloud, and allows organizations to securely connect any user or device to any application.

Moreover, SD-WAN technology has revolutionized the management of enterprise network connectivity by automating service creation and management, providing cloud orchestration of value-added services, improving network visibility and security as well as powering the hybrid workforce. As we traverse through the cloud-first world, for the IT departments, SD-WAN will be key in increasing visibility for newly remote companies, ensuring company data is heavily guarded, and managing demand for products.

 How is SD-WAN evolving to support the future network landscape?

As users, devices, and distributed applications have grown in number, the networking environment has become exponentially more complex. Today’s organizations face a constant balancing act: minimizing complexity across networks while securely enabling growing numbers of devices, multi-cloud access, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications without compromising end-user performance. As a cloud-native WAN overlay, SD-WAN ensures application performance adapts to changing conditions—with minimal manual intervention. It is the foundation for a secure access service edge (SASE)-enabled architecture and offers the ability to extend IT’s visibility beyond the corporate network and into the internet and cloud.

The goal is for the network to continuously monitor and adjust network performance to help assure desired business outcomes. Going forward, SD-WAN will evolve to support the development and operations of next-gen communication networks. It will be a more software-controlled environment with advancements in switches, routers, and devices. As the new work model continues to be distributed, interconnected, and cloud-driven, telecom service providers, technology providers, and SD-WAN itself will have to adapt to fit the demands of this new business and networking environment.

What is the business driver for SD-WAN? And how does it mesh with Cisco’s strengths?

The need for improved mobility, rapid digitization, transition to cloud-driven business, the advent of Industry 4.0 technologies are giving organizations across the globe the opportunity to re-evaluate efficiencies and security. SD-WAN has been proved as the right technology to address the emerging network requirements. It provides greater flexibility to manage the ever-increasing need for bandwidth as organizations look to securely connect remote offices, cloud applications, and cloud servers. Furthermore, IT teams are increasingly relying on SD-WAN to help improve network security by encrypting traffic and segmenting the network to minimize damage if breaches do occur. At Cisco, we are bullish to capture the growth in this segment.

The Cisco SD-WAN solution offers a complete SD-WAN fabric with centralized management and security built-in, creating a secure overlay WAN architecture across campus, branch, data center, and multi-cloud applications. Being a pioneer in the WAN space, we also understand the traffic (Voice, Video, and Data) moving on the WAN much better and have the offerings to attend to it. Because of our expertise in the space, we are the only one providing transport independence to our customers. Most importantly, we deliver solutions that have security built into them, delivering application experiences and building enterprise scale. With integration like ThousandEyes in all our edge devices, we have the ability to provide greater observability of the network, whether it is on a private network or any Cloud residing anywhere on the internet. Think of it as Google maps for the network. If you know the potential weak points in your network beforehand, or while the traffic is live, the fabric is intelligent enough to make sure that it takes the most optimum route to the destination without compromising on user experience. Cisco has heavily invested in SD-WAN. This is one of our key areas where significant engineering resources are continuously committed to bringing our customers the next level of innovation.

 How is SASE beginning to affect virtualized wide-area networking?

SD-WAN and SASE are two networking frameworks that are used to create connectivity between data and application sources. SASE is a network framework that combines VPN and SD-WAN capabilities with cloud-native security functions such as secure web gateways, cloud access security brokers, firewalls, and zero-trust network access. The SASE model consolidates numerous networking and security functions-traditionally delivered in siloed point solutions- in a single, integrated cloud service.


Healthcare, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing are all industries where IoT will have significant effects on the network. What is your plan for handling the vast amount of sensor data coming from branch locations that need to be analyzed in the cloud?

As the sole platform that binds, protects and enables increasingly dynamic and dispersed applications and workloads, the network plays a central role in helping businesses build their resilience. In other words, network resilience that maintains network connectivity and uptime is no longer enough. Businesses across sectors need the resilience enabled by an advanced network platform that can respond quickly to any circumstances, enable new operating models and services, integrate with IT processes, and safeguard their customers, core activities, and brand.

According to Gartner, approximately 70% of data center networking tasks are performed manually, which increases time, cost, and the likelihood of errors and reduces flexibility. Innovations in the area of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Intent-based networking (IBN), virtualization and programmability, and open platform controllers are making automation a reality in networks today.

Automation, AI, multi-cloud networking, wireless, and network security have the ability to power the biggest wave of network transformation seen in decades. Our SD-WAN portfolio delivers live, real-time visibility into sites, devices, connections, packet loss, latency, jitter, and performance issues, enabling businesses to identify problems and map what traffic is being sent where. It facilitates granular control and enables businesses to create policies to inform the network how certain types of traffic should be treated, keeping high-risk traffic from ever entering the network in the first place. Overall, our SD-WAN’s features provide the intelligent functionality that optimizes the network, making remote and hyper-connected environments more secure.

What are the key challenges of SD-WAN Migration, and how can CIOs overcome these barriers? Is managed SD-WAN a solution for midsize businesses for whom budget is a concern?

Effective SD-WAN deployment requires planning and, most importantly, awareness of their own landscape to avoid missteps. SD-WAN delivers rich benefits as far as costs, security, and simplicity. But the key to a successful SD-WAN transformation is to put the right focus on the initial setup and transition of the first 5 to 10 sites, then to expand SD-WAN across the rest of the enterprise rapidly. Vendor selection, underlay provisioning, cloud connectivity, cost reduction, and management are all challenges that must be considered along with specific requirements.

To overcome these barriers, firstly, CIOs must assess what outcomes they are looking for before beginning the process of adopting SD-WAN. Secondly, consider your internal resources before moving forward. Just having enough expertise to implement an SD-WAN infrastructure for a customer is not enough. One needs to have the capacity to deliver and maintain connectivity to applications over the WAN – often to one or more clouds.  With the explosion of applications consuming greater bandwidth, adjusting for the ebbs and flows of business can become a challenge in providing the Application Quality of Experience your customers need in a multi-cloud world. Thirdly, embrace managed services. Not all businesses have huge networking teams in place. For those who don’t have their own network operations teams, using a provider to manage their SD-WAN service will ensure optimal benefit – like the ease of deployment and management resulting in a reduction of your operating costs. Cisco enables you to deploy and accelerate service offerings to help your customers with strategic services such as SD-WAN.

 In what ways will SD-WAN undergo further innovation with more enterprises leveraging 5G and edge networking?

The higher throughput and lower latency of 5G bring a lot of promise for increased workforce productivity and a better user experience. With 5G, enterprises will now be able to support more users in more locations using cellular to offer wireless connectivity with a wider reach. On the other hand, the explosion of bandwidth demands puts significant stress on network capacity, forcing organizations to deploy SD-WAN and secure access server edge (SASE), as it enables networks to access cloud workloads and SaaS applications securely.

5GAs more businesses rely on wireless technology to support their WANs, SD-WAN will become a cornerstone in encouraging this type of modern WAN. It will allow enterprises to optimize the user experience by using all available paths, like wireless or internet, giving users the fastest access to cloud applications without compromising security. SD-WAN also makes it easier to enforce policy across all available paths and locations like the branch, campus, and cloud. The result is a superior application experience and secure connectivity for employees and customers.

 What according to you is the SD-WAN outlook for 2022-23?

Digital transformation, business automation, and resilience are today shaping the requirements of a new kind of network. We all know 2020 was about change and adapting to a new way of ‘new normal.’ Whereas 2021 is all about bringing those learnings to life, capturing the rebound, and leveraging the opportunities the pandemic has opened up for all of us. According to a report by Research and Markets, the global SD-WAN market will achieve revenue of $859 million by 2024 at close to 20% CAGR. The continued growth will be spurred by demand for more agile, high-performance, and secure connections to cloud applications. In other words, SD-WAN is now an essential component of the post-Covid enterprise.

We believe, disruptive events will keep challenging us and our networks. It’s time to rethink how your network strategy enables your business resilience strategy and prioritize the new network capabilities most necessary to stay ahead of the next big thing. The automation and AI-enabled insights offered by intent-based networks provide a powerful platform to help you adapt to any circumstance. They deliver the agility, security, intelligence, and speed required to support resilience for the workforce, workplace, workload, and operations. As we go deeper into the digital-first world, organizations of all sizes are expected to modernize their Wide Area Networks to provide improved user experience for a range of cloud-enabled digital applications.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at