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Coronavirus Is ‘The Epitome’ Of A Real-Life SD-WAN Use Case

‘People understood the complexity of the edge, but the edge really meant maybe 25 percent of the workforce was actually remote. Now, everyone is, so many businesses just woke up and realized their network edge exists everywhere except the place they spent all their money,’ says one solution provider of the explosion of interest in SD-WAN during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is forcing employees to work remotely via bandwidth-intensive applications from their homes. The result? Networks are being impacted in new and unprecedented ways, solution providers say.

As users move off the campus network to remote connections, SD-WAN adoption is taking off because it provides a virtual WAN architecture that lets businesses use any combination of transport services, including MPLS, LTE and broadband internet services, to securely connect users to applications.

Information Technology Partners is a Chicago-based MSP selling secure access service edge (SASE) solutions from cloud networking specialist Cato Networks for its customers' remote access deployments. There's no denying that SD-WAN is on the rise thanks to the millions of people that are now working outside of the office, said Michael Thompson, CEO of Information Technology Partners.

"We onboarded 3,000 end users in the last six weeks," Thompson said of the SD-WAN growth his company has seen during the pandemic.

Thompson said that the channel opportunity around SD-WAN right now is “huge.”

"People understood the complexity of the edge, but the edge really meant maybe 25 percent of the workforce was actually remote. Now, everyone is, so many businesses just woke up and realized their network edge exists everywhere except the place they spent all their money," he said.

[Related: Coronavirus Will Change Tech Landscape In A ‘Radical’ Way, Solution Providers Say ]

According to recent research from SD-WAN company Aryaka, two weeks after various local governments began enforcing social distancing, and, in some cases, shelter-in-place orders in March, networks started to feel the strain. Video conferencing shot up by a factor of 3 times the normal rate and employees are working more during the weekends for the first time, while campus traffic is down as many companies partially or completely closed their offices, the company reported.

"To say that remote user traffic has doubled would be a gross understatement right now," said Olen Scott, senior vice president of worldwide channels for Aryaka. "The reality is that it's changing almost daily, but for Aryaka customers, we're seeing massive shifts in where their traffic is coming from."

Aryaka's data is showing that companies with SD-WAN in place were much more ready for the pandemic, Scott said.

"The coronavirus is the epitome of the real-life use case for cloud-based compute and next-gen software-defined networks," he said. "As the whole planet goes home to work, what good is your corporate MPLS network?"

Privately-held SD-WAN specialist Versa Networks is also seeing a boom in its enterprise customers expanding SD-WAN remote access -- an increase of 200 percent so far since March 22 compared to usage in January and February -- and that figure keeps growing, according to Michael Wood, chief marketing officer of San Jose, Calif.-based Versa Networks.

Remote user traffic has increased by between 800 to 900 percent, and traffic to enterprise private hub locations has increased by 10 times for private data center applications and storage access since the start of the pandemic, Versa told CRN.

"I think this situation will only accelerate SD-WAN adoption," said John McCarthy, president of rediTech solutions at ATSG, a New York City-based MSP.

ATSG specializes in managed services, including enterprise networking, security and cloud services. SD-WAN, McCarthy said, is part of nearly every conversation the firm has with enterprise customers, but the deployment of the technology still has a long way to go, he added.

"If there was any hesitation, [SD-WAN] will certainly will now be re-prioritized to the top of the stack after we look back at what we learned," McCarthy said.

Cato Networks, which does 100 percent of its business through partners, has had a very strong first quarter of 2020, despite the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, said Yishay Yovel, chief marketing officer of Tel Aviv, Israel-based Cato Networks.

"In the last 60 days, millions of people that were working primarily from offices have moved to work from home," he said. "Suddenly, instead of having 10 percent of your workforce using remote access VPNs, 100 percent of your users need to connect to applications remotely, and 24/7. Those solutions were never built for that and often can't scale," he said.

Cato's approach to the crowded SD-WAN space combines security, mobility, and SD-WAN via its SASE platform, which can be consumed the same way Amazon Web Services can be consumed, Yovel said. A SASE service treats all users the same way and is designed to scale and support "huge" amounts of traffic, he said.

Cato saw the number of remote users on its network increase about 150 percent so far during the pandemic, Yovel said.

"It didn't matter that users moved to their homes, the connectivity and security were maintained immediately, and they didn't have to install any hardware -- it was basically seamless," he said.

The Cato Networks platform lets partners deploy, onboard, and begin analyzing traffic immediately across user laptops, iPads, and mobile phones, Information Technology Partners’ Thompson said. And partners can get SD-WAN up and running quickly for their clients, without a large upfront cost, he said.

Fortunately for the channel, SD-WAN is a “sticky” offering that customers will keep even after employees return to the office once the coronavirus restrictions have lifted, Thompson said.

"Businesses can step into paying monthly for the SD-WAN licenses and get the management, too," he said. "It's a good business to be in right now. Partners are providing real value."

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