Leading the WAN
Big Interview

Leading the WAN

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Sunil Khandekar, founder and CEO of Nuage Networks, talks to Melanie Mingas about the new use cases SD-WAN is bringing to life

In 2018, author Tom Goodwin published Digital Darwinism, a book based on the idea that if companies want to survive in a fast-changing world, what could be perceived as forces of destruction — i.e. digital technologies — must be embraced as drivers of change.

While Goodwin’s case was compelling, digitalisation didn’t become a life-or-death issue for enterprise until 2020, when the world was turned upside down by a virus, and those who had invested in their digitalisation found themselves pre-armed with the tools to keep their heads above water.

Many think they owe their survival over the last year to the likes of Zoom, Slack and Teams, but for those on the network side, it’s software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) that has come into its own.

Sunil Khandekar, founder and CEO of Nuage Networks, says: “In 2020, working from home demonstrated that SD-WAN has to be more than a tactical solution for ‘branch to branch’ or ‘branch to cloud’ networking. Enterprises are now recognising that they need an SD-WAN fabric that extends from branch to HQ to public clouds, to homes and even to mobile users and industrial IoT devices.

“It’s a much more strategic approach than many early adopters, who focused on cost savings by replacing MPLS with broadband internet.”

Last June, Nuage Networks and Futuriom released the SD-WAN Growth Report, which calculated the global SD-WAN tools and software market would reach values of $2 billion before the end of that year.

As the trajectory continues this year, that figure is set to reach $2.85 billion, rising again to $4.6 billion by 2023.

For Khandekar, there are three major developments behind the forecast: the acceleration of hybrid cloud adoption due to working from home (WFH); the customer realisation that traditional VPN solutions were inadequate for more than occasional use; and the emergence of SD-WAN as a service, as global enterprises started to demand unprecedented scale.

“We saw global enterprises deploying SD-WAN across their international footprint and larger enterprises, especially in banking, demanding 3,000 to more than 5,000 endpoints in a single SD-WAN enterprise,” he explains.

With WFH arrangements set to extend throughout 2021, SD-WAN has become the strategist’s solution of choice, putting mobility firmly in the spotlight.

“We are starting to see SD-WAN as a technology more and more is right at the heart of the digital transformation that enterprises are undergoing. It has accelerated due to the pandemic, specifically due to branch at home or home working now it is touching all workers,” Khandekar says.

But there’s more, specifically a growing relevance for technology that can bridge the path to the SAS cloud as well as the enterprise. Khandekar says the result is that mobility, which was previously considered separate from the main IT function, is now being considered in how IT aligns with the wider needs of the enterprise.

“So essentially, the bottom line is that we expect SD-WAN has the right architecture and implementation to now become this universal networking fabric for all things in terms of the enterprises’ digital transformation,” he says.

Where the puck is going

A busy year for SD-WAN is a busy year for Nuage Networks.

Last April, a partnership with Asavie extended Nuage Networks’ SD-WAN 2.0 solution to include enterprise mobile and IoT devices by integrating the Asavie SD Edge. Among the features, mobile professionals could now bypass VPN clients on their devices, an important point for Khandekar who says, “enterprises are loathed to load VPN clients to the devices they bring to work.”

It was an industry first that had been through an extensive R&D process, but as luck would have it, it launched just as the enterprise world needed it most.

“I would love to say that we envisioned the demand, but it was just serendipity.

“At Nuage we have tried to stay ahead in terms of anticipating customer requirements and this was one of those cases where we have seen how mobility, especially enterprise mobility, had been treated so far,” he adds.

While the R&D process at Nuage starts with hiring “the best folks required”, it also includes listening to the customers’ “understanding of the market and, if you will, where the puck is going”.

For the development of SD-WAN 2.0, that puck was heading in a few directions. One notable point of discussion for Khandekar was around the “single pane of glass” functionality, because “through a single pane of glass you can implement the same sort of policies enterprise-wide regardless of the type of device or endpoint, regardless of whether it is fixed branch, a home branch, or a mobile endpoint.”

The puck also headed towards balance sheet-friendly solutions and CFOs looking to trim excess costs soon became part of the R&D mix, too.

Khandekar explains: “It was mainly the CFOs not CIOs looking at this, because they were concerned about data overage charges on the mobile devices, rather than including mobile devices as any other endpoint, if you will, that would allow the enterprise users to do business wherever it is they do that business; unfettered without any issues or cumbersome processes.

“It was all about data overage!”

Slice of the network

For its next trick, Nuage Networks is heading for the seas as it looks to a proof of concept (PoC) that will further accelerate the SD-WAN use case.

“We see SD-WAN — and this is the software architecture, implementation matters a lot — we see it becoming the universal fabric for the digitally transforming enterprise.

“What that means is we started by connecting branches, so branch to cloud, home, mobile devices. Going forward we anticipate that will naturally start to cover a couple of things: industrial IoT and 5G.

“With the help of the mothership, we will be able to lead in that area where we provide a 5G connectivity option for SD-WAN, specifically for industrial IoT devices and, also, we see multi-cloud networking becoming rather important,” Khandekar reveals.

“We see both trends, multi-cloud networking and IoT with 5G, will quite substantially accelerate,” he adds.

Doing its part for that acceleration, Nuage Networks is currently engaged in what Khandekar says are “early trials” at a large, unnamed, European port to test “SD-WAN, LTE, 5G and internet all mixed together”.

The ongoing PoC starts with the need to connect the multiple shipping companies, cargo hauliers, docked ships, surveillance cameras and various other components across the port.

Khandekar explains: “All that requires some sort of networking to be able to collect information, provide access to different shipping lines, and also be able to monitor everything.”

That’s the easy part — the next feat is to give each its own slice of the network.

Khandekar says it’s all in the ability “to slice each one and keep it independent”. That means each shipping line has its own slice of the network, and each IoT device also has its own slice.

“Then it’s being able to connect to wherever it needs, in the cloud or to the factory supplying parts. All that is a use case we are doing now. It’s a fairly comprehensive use case that we are testing,” he adds.

Trials alone are expected to last three to six months.

Sharing that it has been “incredibly gratifying and just a fantastic experience” to address SD-WAN’s adjacent markets in such a project, Khandekar says: “We feel pretty excited about the position we are in, especially the way the market is starting to trend.”

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