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There is more to WAN transformation than virtualisation

16 Jul 2019

Jan Hein Bakkers

Research Director, European Tech Solutions and Ecosystems IDC

I recently had the pleasure of hosting a discussion dinner with Vodafone Business and Ciena. Network transformation was at the heart of the conversations with senior IT and network executives from a range of industries, highlighting striking differences between organizations in terms of what digital transformation means for them, where they are on their journey, and the objectives and uncertainties they have when looking ahead. At the same time they also underlined the universal need for network transformation.

When it comes to network transformation in general, and that of the wide area network (WAN) in particular, network virtualization tends to be the center of attention. The role of software-defined networking, network functions virtualization, and particularly SD-WAN is extensively debated, and they are certainly very important elements, and key building blocks of IDC's digital-native network vision. However, for all the benefits that it brings, there is much more to WAN transformation than just virtualization. Virtualization does not do away with the limitations of the underlay networks. At the end of the day, even a digital-native network will only be as strong as its weakest link, which means that high-performance network connectivity remains critical for any organization.

We see cloud connectivity, next-generation access technologies, and hybrid architectures as core elements of the road map to a digital-native network. It is clear that the importance of the internet in WAN architectures is growing. However, we expect that internet-only architectures will be the exception rather than the norm for the foreseeable future. In IDC's 2019 Enterprise Communications Survey only 11% of U.K. organizations indicated that their WAN would be completely internet based by 2021. Instead, hybrid architectures will be the way forward for many organizations. By combining the ubiquity and cost effectiveness of public internet with the performance, predictability, and security of private networks, the use of connectivity can be optimized for every location, application, and user. Private IP connectivity (e.g., MPLS) will still play its part in many multisite networks, while high-speed Ethernet services are particularly suited for high-bandwidth and low-latency scenarios, such as connectivity between main company sites and datacenters, or datacenter interconnect.

Digital transformation will need to go hand in hand with WAN transformation. When you plot your course for transformation make sure you do this in a holistic manner and look beyond network virtualization only. A digital-native network will require high-performance network connectivity, and different network solutions will play their part in this hybrid architecture.

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