WAN Transformation in The Times of COVID-19

Last week, it was my privilege to participate in a fantastic thought-leadership round table with some leading minds in Australia and New Zealand to discuss emerging patterns in network connectivity. I learned a lot and want to thank each and every participant and the Ortus club.

A while ago we published another blog titled “Don’t be the last network manager to buy a router” and we got some healthy debate going on LinkedIn. A very similar discussion unfolded along similar lines in last week’s discussion. The basic premise of the blog was that the application world moved away from their hands-on server dependency, and that the network world will inevitably follow in adopting the same fundamental design patterns: abstractions, re-usability and as-a-Service deployment. I firmly hold on to that view. Moreover, many announcements and news articles over the last months and weeks indicate that the move away from networking hardware (aka routers) as the key element in network architecture is now gaining further momentum fueled by the ongoing -at least where I live- COVID-19 crisis.

It’s now quite evident that even the largest proponents of a “box strategy” are now openly trying to embrace more innovative business models. When -for example- the most successful networking box company of all time now constantly highlights its transition to a software revenue model, you know the networking market is changing very rapidly. There have been many articles analyzing said vendor’s current challenges when it comes to that business model transformation.

The problem when dominant companies try to adapt to a changing market is that they tend to do it half-heartedly: they are known to try to stop industry renewal and innovation in its tracks and continue to monetize the ways of old as well as keep customers captive in an environment that often no longer services customers’ best interests. In a software-defined networking world, a dominant vendor emphasizes software, but ultimately to take the best advantage of that software, proprietary hardware is required. Isn’t that a bit self-serving? Now you get software licensing while *still* monetizing hardware sales cycles.

I can’t blame a company for catering to an existing market for as long as possible. But here’s one thing I do find a bit worrisome, since it seems to indicate that dominant networking hardware vendors perhaps *still* don’t quite get how fast the market transition is happening: As recently as May 2020, a top leading box vendor SD-WAN architect touted the following statement as a novel, ground-breaking insight into network change: “In traditional SD-WAN, what we’ve told you is, hey, go ahead build your underlay and then we’ll just throw the overlay overtop. But while SD-WAN may be easy to use and manage, the process of building out the underlay remains quite complex.” First of all, this problem existed since day one of virtual overlays and it’s nothing new. Second of all, if you just started selling an SD-WAN solution to customers and yet you already call it “traditional”, aren’t you blatantly already preparing your customers for yet another hardware upgrade cycle since you kind of admit you didn’t get it right? And finally – a company like Aryaka solved this problem many years ago by building out a single global network core fabric that delivers a Cloud-First SD-WAN with complete ease of use and transparency to enterprises – there’s nothing complex about it. You can and should make it easy and immediate to consume – build out your global network within 48 hours via re-usability patterns, AWS-like. Easily provide strict SLAs for business-critical traffic and cost-effective internet connectivity, all via immediate business intent and without having to read a 500 page book on “easy policy-driven” SD-WAN beforehand (and note it’s recommended you already have an advanced networking certification to really understand the book). The same disconnects persist in several other areas, ranging from openly embracing optimal connectivity to best-of-breed collaboration, cloud or security solutions rather than exclusively home-grown solutions that are seldom best of breed.

In a nutshell, change was happening in WAN networking before COVID-19. But the participants in the Ortus Club event nodded in agreement when I stated that the current situation has ushered a perfect storm of WAN transformation. Even the most loyal network traditionalists now seem to consider embracing consumption models that freed their IT counterparts in application computing from the tyranny of “server hugging”: constantly right-sizing hardware, manually upgrading memory modules and patching operating systems and so on. Now, more than before, I repeat the title of that previous blog: “Don’t be the last network manager to buy a router”. Times are changing very fast, as-a-Service consumption models already rule in the application and computing world and are set to do the same in networking.

Over the last few months, we have onboarded several enterprises that decided that the traditional WAN traffic lull in the times of COVID-19 presented a great opportunity to transform their entire approach to wide-area networking. Over the next few months, we’ll invite these network managers to share their motivations and recommendations.

Join us for a short SD-WAN demo if you want to learn more!

About the author

Paul Liesenberg
Paul is a Director in Aryaka’s Product Solutions Team. Paul has over 20 years of experience in product marketing, product management, sales engineering, business development and software engineering in Cisco, LiveAction, Bivio Networks and StrataCom. Paul enjoys scuba diving, motorcycles, open software projects and oil painting.