The Impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. WAN Market

G. Willsky

Summary Bullets:

  • SD-WAN improves network performance, saves costs, and helps organizations remain agile. Thus, adoption has increased, especially since the onset of COVID-19.
  • SD-WAN treats the home environment as a branch of the corporate network. For this reason, it will play a key role supporting the post-pandemic, remote workforce.

COVID-19 greatly disrupted the U.S. WAN market. Virtually overnight, the pandemic forced businesses to support a distributed, remote workforce while ensuring continuity. COVID-19 underscored the importance of agility and the need to carefully choose a WAN deployment model. Service providers have responded well to the crisis, but their ability to address long-term impacts is unclear.

The DIY and co-managed SD-WAN deployment models dovetail with the need for agility, which has been reinforced by the impact of COVID-19. In the U.S., enterprises have favored a DIY approach over managed services, but they are now gradually taking the co-managed route as they increasingly find they need a greater level of support due to the complexity of modern IT.

One aftershock of the pandemic is that remote network management has grown in importance. Also, as a result of the work-from-home (WFH) explosion, demand has shifted from large campus access to internet access and corporate VPNs. Service providers’ ability to quickly respond to these requests has tested the flexibility of their orchestration platforms. Most operators now offer a variety of SD-WAN products that can be integrated with existing WAN solutions. Dynamic path selection, VNF support, automation, and centralized control are table stakes. By enabling a software-defined approach to the WAN, SD-WAN has helped enterprises to improve network performance, save costs, and remain agile. Thus, adoption of SD-WAN has increased, especially since the onset of COVID-19.

Simplified, self-service web portals are a prominent feature of new WAN services. Portals offer comprehensive management of all CPE endpoints. Customers can, for example, add sites, reconfigure the network, evaluate network performance, pay bills, and place orders.

SD-WAN eliminates operational complexity for IT by treating the home environment as a branch extension of the corporate network. Therefore, it will play a key role in managing connectivity, authentication, and security for the sizable remote workforce that will persist post-pandemic. Secure access service edge (SASE) will be used in conjunction with SD-WAN gateways to provide at-home employees more direct access to SaaS applications (such as Microsoft Teams).

While service providers have been responsive to the COVID-19 crisis, the ability of their portfolios to address long-term impacts has yet to be determined. It is therefore difficult to anoint an undisputed leader in the U.S. WAN market. However, AT&T and Verizon are making the strongest cases. Both have made significant strides with edge compute deployments and invested heavily in deploying SDN technology within their core networks to support automation and deployments of virtualized services.

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