Analysts Weigh in on Networking in 2020

By Elizabeth ThorneJan 28, 2020


SD-WAN is still the hot topic among network professionals, but questions remain on how best to implement it. There is more work to be done.

That was a theme of the WAN Summit London’s analyst and consultant roundup. This session was all about reflecting on the biggest lessons learned and the most important trends discovered during the two-day event last fall. Participating analysts and consultants broke down these lessons into actionable pieces of advice for WAN managers and service providers.

With 2020 well underway, it seems like a good time to take a quick look back at where we left off with the WAN last year.



What Are WAN Managers Up Against in 2020?

The analyst and consultant roundup immediately turned toward SD-WAN.

Two panelists—Adrian Joyce, head of consulting for The Network Consulting, and Richard Brown, managing director of Straxia—cited difficulty choosing an SD-WAN provider (which was mentioned by both attendees and presenters) as a key sticking point.

Joyce also pointed to the continued role of MPLS as another area of friction for WAN managers, noting that MPLS may be “on a long tail,” meaning it has passed its peak but may live on at a lower level of usership for some time.

Another key theme, according to our own Research Director Rob Schult, is that “the underlay is still significant—and there are significant challenges with it.” Although businesses would like to use a template when deploying SD-WAN, that’s not always possible, Schult observed.

Leo Whyte, principal consultant for PA Consulting, pointed to the role of the proof-of-concept (POC) as a recurring challenge. POCs, he said, are sometimes too focused on technology and instead “should be more about value.”

What Will 5G Mean?

It’s 2020 now, so that means it’s time to talk about 5G.

In that spirit, one of the liveliest discussion topics centered on what 5G will mean for enterprise networking.

Joyce views 5G as an access technology that could provide resiliency and/or enable service to a location quickly. He also predicted that it could put pressure on traditional fixed access pricing.

Joyce views 5G as an access technology that could provide resiliency and/or enable service to a location quickly. He also predicted that it could put pressure on traditional fixed access pricing.

“We think the business case for 5G doesn’t stack up for the consumer,” said Whyte. He added, however, that 5G has the potential to support private 5G networks and massive internet of things networks, making it potentially disruptive.

Before using 5G, however, Joyce cautioned users to make sure they’re happy with the level of security that the technology supports.

The high throughput of 5G makes it attractive, but service offerings are likely to vary from one country to another, noted Schult. Business users will have to manage their mobile providers and watch out for usage caps that some providers may impose.

Advice for Service Providers

Another lively area of discussion came in response to a question about the advice that panelists would offer to service providers who want to remain relevant.

Service providers should offer business customers more flexibility to make changes to the services that they buy. The providers “can hold a client longer if they allow [the client] to move seamlessly between products and even reduce bandwidth,” said Brown. He also advised providers to move away from a circuit mentality. Some providers still behave as if they are selling circuits that just happen to have SD-WAN on them, he said.

Service providers should be proactive and “be part of the network optimization discussion,” advised Schult. He also cautioned service providers about relying on a single SD-WAN partner. “Different customers need different features,” he said.

Actionable Advice for WAN Managers

So what should you do with this information? Panelists had several core pieces of advice for networking specialists:

  • Identify the problem you are trying to solve. In contemplating network upgrades, businesses should not neglect to identify the problem they are trying to solve, cautioned Joyce.
  • Recognize that there is no such thing as “zero-touch.” Although enterprises may want zero-touch networking, it simply isn’t here yet, said Brown.
  • Take your time. “Don’t rush,” advised Whyte. “Think about what you’re doing and trying to solve. There is a lot of hype out there.”
  • Talk to other networking specialists. Sharing your experiences with other networking specialists is vital, observed Schult. He advised attendees to ask each other questions such as why they chose a specific vendor.
  • Don’t overlook implementation and integration issues. Schult also cautioned attendees against testing technology in a lab but neglecting to consider issues such as how many circuits they would need to switch.


2021 SD-WAN Vendor Guide

Elizabeth Thorne

Elizabeth Thorne

Elizabeth Thorne is a Research Analyst at TeleGeography. Her work is focused on enterprise network research.