If a business had the luxury of operating in a static and stable digital landscape, its ideas would flourish uninhibited and its potential would always be within reach.

As the past couple of years have underscored, however, that is most certainly not the case. Each and every business is vulnerable to a maelstrom of external pressures, from economic crises to global pandemics, each with the power to derail their day-to-day operations or at the very least demand a change in strategy. For this reason, more businesses than ever are seeking to mitigate risk and uncertainty from their daily operations, providing their employees with stable and steadfast working environments from wherever in the world they choose to log on.

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To this end, an increasing number of business leaders are opting for Software-Defined Wide-Area Networks or SD-WAN as their connectivity tool of choice. Back in 2018, only 18% of businesses globally reported installing SD-WAN on at least part of their network. By 2020, as we began to navigate the choppy waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, that figure had more than doubled to 43%. But are they making the most of this technology? In this article, we’ll explore briefly what SD-WAN is, its myriad benefits, and why not all of those benefits are currently being taken advantage of.

The ‘what’ and ‘why’ of SD-WAN:

For those uninitiated, SD-WAN can best be pitched as a virtual WAN architecture that allows enterprises to take advantage of a combination of connectivity services, from MPLS and LTE right through to good old-fashioned broadband. The differentiator between conventional WAN, which was never designed for the cloud, and SD-WAN, is that the latter gives MSPs and businesses the ability to intelligently steer traffic from on-premise data centers, public and private cloud platforms, and even prioritize cloud-based SaaS applications.This kind of “application-aware” routing across a network has untold benefits for businesses of all sizes, but first and foremost, it preserves the QoE (quality of experience) for end-users no matter where they are in the world.

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Where more conventional WAN models are rigid and router-centric, simply routing traffic based on TCP/IP addresses and ACLs, SD-WAN enables businesses to take a cloud-first approach to connectivity that can respond dynamically to a business’ needs. For many, this has become a necessity rather than a luxury in a post-pandemic landscape. But how can a business tell if its deployment and configuration of SD-WAN is working as well it should?

Making the most of SD-WAN

What business today wouldn’t be relieved at the prospect of a plug-and-play solution that just works? Go to any SD-WAN vendor, and that’s more than likely what you’ll be greeted with. However, if your goal is to scale your business and perpetually optimize your connectivity as you grow, things get slightly more complicated. As a business, you need to make sure that policy management and steering orchestration is centralized and aligned with your goals as a company. Business-critical applications, for instance, may change from week to week, and your organization needs to be able to make sure those applications are in a “stable” traffic lane with the most optimal performance. Less essential applications, such as chatting or casual collaboration apps, can be moved into a less stable lane where impacts such as traffic and application requirements are less of a concern. It’s a delicate balancing act that all companies need to be prepared to orchestrate if they are to get the most out of their SD-WAN solution. As a bonus, this service-centric approach to traffic optimization will also make it easier to comply with security policies throughout the network.

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Things cannot improve without data and insight, so analytics tools that take advantage of open APIs are crucial too. With this, businesses will have better visibility over how their network is performing, allowing them to better classify application traffic and make more informed decisions around load balancing and quality of service.

The case for deploying SD-WAN as a connectivity solution has never been stronger, particularly as the world adapts to new hybrid ways of working. But rather than treating SD-WAN as a commodity or a tick in a box, businesses should instead be seeking to continuously optimize and refine their use of the technology, or at least enter a partnership with a vendor that can offer a similarly dynamic service.

Frost & Sullivan recently evaluated the North American managed SD-WAN services industry and, based on its findings, recognizes AT&T with the 2021 North American Managed SD-WAN Services Market Leadership Award. The company has the largest deployment of SD-WAN sites in North America and led the 2020 market in terms of revenue share. Based on the number of contracted sites yet to be deployed and deals closed in the first three quarters of 2021, the company is well-positioned.

AT&T’s managed SD-WAN solutions portfolio is among the most comprehensive in the industry. It recently added Aruba Networks (Silver Peak), Palo Alto Networks, and Fortinet to its mix of existing partner vendors, which include Cisco and VMware. Customers have access to network-based SD-WAN via an AT&T FlexWareSM device, over-the-top (OTT) SD-WAN through vendor-specific appliances, or a hybrid of the two options.

According to Roopa Honnachari, VP of Research, Network & Edge,“Security and networking continue to converge and make way for secure SD-WAN or SASE services, enabling AT&T to build a robust portfolio of SASE solutions. The company currently offers SASE solutions from Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks and Cisco, with plans to add VMware to the mix in the future.”

Most businesses deploying SD-WAN opt for managed service at all sites to enable consistent performance and address the challenges of lack of knowledge in-house and trouble with LAN discovery at branch sites. AT&T understands the level of complexity involved in designing global WANs as a long-time leader in the business network services industry. Some benefits of AT&T managed SD-WAN service include:

The Expert Engineer, offering customers high-touch solution support and deep network design verification covering WAN, LAN, and applications.
The Integrated Service Experience (ISE) team, acting as a single point of contact for managed services support across overlay, underlays, and security solutions, eliminating the complexity of deployment.
Immediate customer response for any kind of incidents or outages.
Network management tools and orchestration platform, enabling seamless service chaining, reducing uCPE price by over 50% in the last couple of years.
Multiple key network functions in virtual formats (e.g., routing, WAN optimization, security, session border controllers), which reduces appliance sprawl, improves network scalability, and eases manageability.
AT&T FlexWare devices eliminating the need for a separate CPE and allowing businesses to seamlessly integrate SD-WAN functionality into their WAN architectures, driving additional revenue growth and creating customer loyalty.

AT&T investments in software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) position it strongly as businesses speed up their digital strategies. AT&T’s hybrid networking solutions allow customers to grow at the pace of their WAN infrastructure. It enables customers to access a range of network service options (broadband, DIA, Ethernet, wireless, IP VPN, and MPLS) with SD-WAN, driving loyalty. With its focus on building and supporting managed SASE services, the company offers a simplified and future-proofed approach to security and SD-WAN services for businesses.

“This recognition from Frost & Sullivan is a testament to our approach to SD-WAN and commitment to caring for our customers as their businesses evolve,” said Will Eborall, Assistant Vice President, Edge Solutions Product Marketing Management, AT&T Business. “From emerging SD-WAN technologies to existing solutions, AT&T’s comprehensive portfolio, global reach and ability to scale operations is enabling customer digital transformation journeys with managed end-to-end SD-WAN services.”

“AT&T is the leading communication service provider in US markets with a broad range of solutions and deep expertise in the network services market. Its brand strength has earned it the highest market share in 2020 and various recognition for its excellence,” said Honnachari.

Each year, Frost & Sullivan presents this award to the company that has developed an innovative element in a product by leveraging leading-edge technologies. The award recognizes the value-added features/benefits of the product and the increased ROI it offers customers, which, in turn, raises customer acquisition and overall market penetration potential.

Frost & Sullivan Best Practices awards recognize companies in various regional and global markets for demonstrating outstanding achievement and superior performance in leadership, technological innovation, customer service, and strategic product development. Industry analysts compare market participants and measure performance through in-depth interviews, analyses, and extensive secondary research to identify best practices in the industry.

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