The Power of AI in Driving SD-WAN Growth

The Power of AI in Driving SD-WAN Growth

By Reece Loftus

The MSP industry has come a very long way in a relatively short time. What was essentially an IT reseller role to provide and install and manage a specific application has evolved into MSPs becoming an integral part of a company's IT provisioning and support network. This has allowed the industry to quickly become one of the most critical business sectors thanks to their adept understanding of the innovative technology available. 

The global managed services market value came in at $278.9 billion in 2022, with Gartner estimating that the growth of the market tripled in 2022 alone. As for continued growth, experts predict a compound annual growth rate of 11.9 percent over the next decade, bringing the estimated market value to a staggering $834.7 billion by 2032. 

The rapid growth comes as no surprise as MSPs are becoming reliable strategic partners for businesses of all sizes and verticals, aiding companies in their often challenging digital transformation journeys. MSPs have effectively become extensions of their clients’ IT teams, or in some cases, have actually become the entire IT team. MSPs make up the shortfall in skills and resources that are lacking internally to ensure IT operations run smoothly and successfully.

This includes helping in the implementation of multi-cloud architectures, enhanced cyber security protocols, and even AI environments, among other technologies and tools. That includes AI-enabled software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) – among the most prominent DX-driven technologies.

"Over the past two years, SD-WAN has experienced one of the highest rates of adoption of any digital transformation technology as more organizations move their business-critical applications to the cloud," said Shamus McGillicuddy, VP of Research at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). "Managed services are nothing new, ranging from IT and security services to storage and the cloud. Recently, the managed services trend has extended to SD-WANs, as MSPs can help organizations optimize network performance, increase network agility and pinpoint disabled network connections."

An SD-WAN is a virtual WAN architecture that allows enterprises to leverage any combination of transport services, including MPLS, LTE, and broadband internet services, to securely connect users to applications. An SD-WAN uses a centralized control function to securely and intelligently direct traffic across the WAN and directly to a trusted source, increasing application performance and delivering a high-quality user experience, which increases business productivity and agility and reduces IT costs.

SD-WAN technology can offer a vast array of advantages to enterprises, especially when paired with AI, but the main benefits businesses are prioritizing relate to connectivity and cyber security. Currently, 34 percent of enterprises are interested in AI SD-WAN hybrid connectivity capabilities, with 30 percent stating interest in integrated network security. 

For example, an AI SD-WAN solution can help centralize and stabilize cyber security measures with the use of zero trust protocols. Zero trust provides improved visibility and management for network teams, with constant monitoring to determine whether anomalies are occurring in terms of resource utilization. This allows businesses to create and distribute security policies across the business, which can then be enforced and maintained centrally.

"In addition to supporting a stateful zone-based firewall, the SD-WAN platform should orchestrate and enforce zero trust end-to-end micro-segmentation. This provides a significant increase in operational efficiency while reducing the overall attack surface and avoiding any security breaches," said McGillicuddy. "The technology should support both the quality of experience and optimal security, adding in native visibility that empowers the network teams that monitor devices, applications, and users." 

Furthermore, AI SD-WAN solutions are designed to enable maximum agility and flexibility. By abstracting the underlying complexities of multiple transport methods and enabling PbR, AI SD-WAN allows enterprises to meet the varying demands of cloud workloads and scale up or down with ease. On top of this, AI SD-WAN enables policy-based routing (PbR) and allows enterprises to leverage the best transport method (e.g., xDSL, cable, 5G, etc.) for the job; this means no more trombone effect and improved performance for mobile users and cloud services.

The demand for the technology is growing quite rapidly – the SD-WAN market value reached $2.7 billion at the end of 2022, with experts estimating the market to continue to grow at a CAGR of 24 percent, reaching more than $4 billion by the end of 2025. This swift growth comes as no surprise to experts within the industry, especially when the benefits the technology offers are factored in. 

However, while AI SD-WAN technology can provide myriad benefits, McGillicuddy states that one of the biggest factors deterring the implementation of the solution is that the setup can be quite complex and taxing. Roughly 30 percent of companies that are adopting SD-WAN are attempting to perform the transition by themselves and are considering the solo transition to be either "somewhat difficult" or "very difficult."

This is where MSPs can play an essential role in helping organizations get their SD-WAN solutions up and running smoothly and sufficiently. From an enterprise's point of view, MSPs can greatly benefit the adoption, implementation, and transition process. MSPs can more confidently offer advantages such as network assurance, integration with other managed services (cloud), filling in network team skill gaps and, most importantly, cost reduction and savings. 

"The SD-WAN managed services trend will continue as more organizations recognize the benefits of handing SD-WAN services off to MSPs. By offloading SD-WAN deployment and management to an MSP, organizations – especially those with limited staff and resources – can allow IT to focus on business-critical projects," said McGillicuddy. "However, MSPs must ensure they are ready to help by adopting and deploying the most cost-effective solution to meet the networking and security needs of the widest range of customers."

So far, the trend of managed AI SD-WAN solutions has gained a foothold with smaller companies, with 76 percent of companies between 500 and 999 employees with an AI SD-WAN using an MSP partner to sufficiently leverage. However, MSPs must continue to ensure they're offering adequate services when related to SD-WAN solutions, lest they lose out on potential clientele. MSPs can surely help turn an SD-WAN implementation situation from "very difficult" to "very easy," but only if they're prepared themselves first. 

On top of this, MSPs should be adopting AI SD-WAN solutions, not simply for the benefit of their customers, but so they can leverage the advantages of the technology themselves.

"With an AI-driven SD-WAN solution, MSPs can simplify network operations and can reduce network trouble tickets to manage across multiple customers. The solution should also enable DevOps approaches for one-click deployment by leveraging APIs to simplify network operations," said McGillicuddy. "As a result, MSPs can rapidly onboard new customers, reduce the time to market with new services, and the impact on customer's business operations is minimal."

Overall, as the world continues to become more digitally reliant with each passing day, it will only become more essential for MSPs to keep up with technological innovations, AI SD-WAN solutions being no exception. When choosing an SD-WAN solution for their customers, managed service providers must consider a variety of factors, ranging from built-in security features to cost-effectiveness to easy integration into the MSP environment. While it may be tough, by finding the right solution, MSPs can differentiate themselves in the eyes of their customers while providing a solution that is built to last. 

During a webinar, "Five Managed SD-WAN Trends to Watch in 2023," which took place last week, McGillicuddy posed a variety of questions that included, "How can an IT organization know if it is choosing the right managed service?" He was joined by top SD-WAN vendor Juniper Networks' Product Marketing Manager, Spencer Rolfs, alongside Jeff Li, Senior Director at ConnX, who weighed in on the future of AI-driven SD-WAN networks and the edge-to-edge visibility intelligent and highly integrated networks enable. McGillicuddy focused on compelling organizations to discover the five things they need to know about the power of a managed SD-WAN solution and how to correctly leverage one for the benefit of the entire enterprise.

Edited by Erik Linask
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Contributing Editor

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