Gartner released its annual SD-WAN Magic Quadrant last week. I agree with their placements and predict that in the coming years the field will grow from six providers to four.
An SD-WAN solution is a long-term investment that takes years to implement, so choosing a vendor can feel like a big gamble. Gone are the days when Cisco had a monopoly and you could take a Cisco router, connect it directly, and work with a Juniper or another vendor’s routers. In the SD-WAN world, an SD-WAN router from one vendor cannot communicate with another vendor. Even within Cisco, their Meraki SD-WAN solution cannot interconnect with their Viptela solution. SD-WAN is a proprietary technology that will never have an IETF protocol standard. Once a company has chosen a supplier, it is difficult to go back.
My keys to predicting where the SD-WAN market will be in three years are based on the following:
- Safety first, up to the point strategy. Security is the main requirement of the network, beyond cost, performance and management. Cyber insurance and board interest are driving companies to ensure they are implementing market-leading solutions. The second is that security begins at the very edge of the network. Local and WAN segmentation with Unified Threat Management (UTM) protection is essential to identify and contain malicious traffic in near real-time.
- Client-cloud integration for end-to-end network security and performance. End-to-end means a proprietary solution that can encrypt and control traffic and use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to detect performance and security anomalies. The lack of interoperability of SD-WAN, security, and management functions means that organizations must rely on a single vendor to get the most out of their investments. A vendor-edge strategy spanning from access to distribution WAN, through data centers and cloud cores is no longer viable as network solutions no longer meet industry standards.
- Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) support. Routing is critical to integrating today’s networks with tomorrow’s SD-WAN and multicloud networks. BGP is the best routing protocol to do this. All SD-WAN vendors use open source routing as part of their solutions, and some vendors have done a better job of improving BGP and making it available through a CLI than others. Managing overlay and underlay routing tables is tricky.
- Go big or go home. Niche vendors lack the resources to create, sell, implement and support large, company-specific networks. In 2015, there were over 60 SD-WAN vendors. The number is down to 30. I predict the market will continue to contract with less than 10 viable vendors in three years.
I predict that the top four SD-WAN market leaders in three years will be:
- Fortinet – They offer a very strong firewall, an SD-WAN solution already integrated into their firewall platform, and an effort to deliver a leading solution from the customer to the cloud. Fortinet is very cost effective and integrates (almost free) SD-WAN with its firewall offering. The company has just released its first-generation AI/ML solution.
- Palo Alto – This leading firewall vendor purchased CloudGenix to enter the SD-WAN market. Palo Alto still has a few years of work to create a fully integrated end-to-end solution. Good BGP routing support will be essential for their ability to integrate existing networks with new and cloud networks.
- Cisco – The company has invested heavily to integrate its acquisition of Viptela and leverage its strong base to migrate. Cisco is trying to marry its feature-rich platforms with its simple Meraki cloud management. Unfortunately, the company will continue to struggle with the complexity of a fully integrated end-to-end solution without being a leading firewall vendor.
- Juniper – This company has all the ingredients to be a leader but must put everything in place. Mavis, Juniper’s AI engine on its access solutions, is very impressive, along with the acquisition of 128 Technology with intelligent session routing, as well as an end-to-end product portfolio including security, has the potential to compete with other leaders.
Betting on the right provider is not only important for a business, but also for network managers, architects, engineers and support staff. There is a 25-40% compensation premium for training and experience with industry-leading solutions. The only thing we know is that being a leader today does not guarantee leadership three years from now. Who are you going to bet on and why?