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IT leaders are increasingly turning to a Software-Defined Wide-Area Network (SD-WAN) overlay. Here, we look into ten of the most popular SD-WAN providers.

What Is SD-WAN?

When designing a network to connect central and far-flung offices, IT leaders are increasingly turning to a Software-Defined Wide-Area Network (SD-WAN) overlay. A software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) is a virtual WAN architecture that's service provider-agnostic. This allows enterprises to leverage any assortment of transport services to securely link to desired applications. The list of transport services includes broadband Internet, Multiprotocol Label Switching, and Long-Term Evolution (wireless).

The increasingly popular and flexible SD-WAN architecture provides a network overlay and decouples network software services from hardware-providedWAN links. SD-WAN gives you a wide array of cost-effective and versatile services with which to build and enhance your enterprise network to meet today’s ever-changing business needs.

10 SD-WAN Providers to Consider in 2024

Cisco SD-WAN Services: Catalyst and Meraki

Cisco Catalyst

Catalyst SD-WAN connects any user to any application with integrated capabilities for multicloud, security, predictive operations, and enhanced network visibility. The offering enables you to deliver network connectivity that’s cloud-agnostic, efficient, and simple to manage, lowers operational costs, and increases control and visibility.

Cisco Catalyst SD-WAN Manager provides a dashboard designed to simplify network operations. It provides centralized configuration, management, operation, and monitoring.

Cisco Catalyst SD-WAN Manager provides a dashboard designed to simplify network operations. It provides centralized configuration, management, operation, and monitoring.

Cisco Meraki

Cisco also offers Meraki SD-WAN, which is viewed as extremely user-friendly, from cloud-based network management to its template-based configuration and deployment. The Meraki cloud infrastructure is designed to be very reliable, with data centers providing redundancy to maintain uptime and performance.

A range of additional capabilities enhances the product, for example, endpoint management and integration with security cameras. Meraki SD-WAN provides comprehensive security coverage, including SASE security and additional capabilities that include an array of device management.

Through the cloud platform, Meraki offers tracking of connected devices from any site and through all types of connectivity options.

Fortinet Secure SD-WAN

The security-focused vendor delivers fast, scalable, and flexible Secure SD-WAN on-premises and in the cloud. Fortinet Secure SD-WAN supports cloud-first, security-sensitive, and global enterprises, as well as the hybrid workforce. The vendor’s Secure Networking approach uses one operating system and consolidates SD-WAN, next-generation firewall (NGFW), advanced routing, and ZTNA application gateway functions.

Fortinet Secure SD-WAN is foundational for a transition to SASE and SD-Branch. It enables organizations to protect their investment and simplify operations en route to their journey to a Zero Trust Architecture. Its SASE offering delivers a set of networking and security capabilities, including secure web gateway (SWG), universal zero-trust network access (ZTNA), dual-mode cloud access security, Firewall as a Service, and secure SD-WAN integration.

Citrix SD-WAN Service

Citrix SD-WAN service secures your hybrid workforce. Citrix SD-WAN extends the network into IaaS/PaaS clouds.

It uses deep packet inspection to identify the type of application and apply the configured firewall policy to its traffic. This integration of the firewall on the branch appliance helps reduce the unnecessary traffic getting backhauled and wasting valuable WAN resources only to be blocked at the head-end.

The Citrix SD-WAN service is designed to manage data centers and clouds through monitoring analytics and performance assurance. The SD WAN solution offers Quality of Experience monitoring, troubleshooting and management tools.

Versa Networks SD-WAN

Versa Secure SD-WAN enables network teams to remove the barriers that legacy WAN branch architectures have placed on strategic IT projects and business processes.

The vendor’s solution, powered by Versa networking and security software along with commodity hardware, offers several crucial capabilities for enterprises. Versa eliminates appliance sprawl in the branch office with a software-based approach to SD-WAN and security functions.

It is implemented at data centers, clouds, and branch sites, enhancing service agility and significantly reducing capital and operating costs. The Versa SD-WAN allows integration of essential security functions, such as next-generation firewall and secure web gateway, into network infrastructure via service chaining. The SD-WAN solution uses Zero-Touch Provisioning to simplify network setup and management.

Read more: 10 SD-WAN Providers & Solutions to Consider in 2024: An Overview

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Learn from leaders how to put satellite, wireless, and undersea cable options to work for your enterprise.

With hostilities in progress around the world, countries have used flexible options to keep crucial communications open without business disruption. What can enterprises do?

How can corporations and countries use flexible options to counter discord and protect their assets here and abroad? What can they learn from projects focused on organizing and diversifying communications here and with overseas offices? The challenges are unique.

In situations of internal discord, governments often black out communications to prevent protesters, etc., from informing the rest of the world what is transpiring. There are ways around government-run and owned service providers.

Minimizing business disruption from communications outages

Crippling undersea cable cuts

The last few years have seen a surge in submarine cable cuts and service disruptions, with many thought to be the result of malicious activity on the part of unfriendly neighbors with geopolitical issues. For those with sites abroad, the two best options where available and affordable are route diversity and route diversity with multiple carriers.

A crucial project to watch is the construction of a massive cable that begins in Asia, passes through India, and connects to nations in the Middle East and Western Europe. The SeaMeWe-6 cable project was snatched away from China and controlled in part by the U.S. It is due to be completed in 2025 and will feature advanced security, protection, and advanced optical technologies.

Pentagon IoT 5G Network

While few organizations have the funds and need to pull it off, the Pentagon has been working on building its own platform as a foundation for a 5G Internet of Military Things so that every device can talk to all others. The wireless network is called the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2).

The breadth and depth of this IoT network, which could be overkill for all but the largest enterprises, has been described as the DoD's plan to connect sensors from all the branches, including the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Space Force, into a single net. Each group has its own but has encountered challenges communicating directly with each other.

“JADC2 enables the Joint Force to "sense," "make sense," and "act" on information across the battle-space quickly using automation, artificial intelligence (AI), predictive analytics, and machine learning to deliver informed solutions via a resilient and robust network environment,” according to the DoD.

5G New Radio RedCap: Delivering more data faster

With the emergence of 5G Reduced Capacity (RedCap) expected in 2024 and 2025, far higher throughput and data speeds can be attained for IoT networks, many of which are running at low speeds with limited functionality but help manage LPWANs in vertical industries such as energy, agriculture, and manufacturing.

Function-specific wireless networks-FirstNet

After problems with interagency communications experienced during 9/11, groups sought to create a single wireless broadband network to link all first responders. The First Responder Network Authority of the United States was created under the Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The NTIA is the parent organization. The purpose of FirstNet, which has a $451 budget next year, was to establish, operate, and maintain an interoperable public safety broadband network. AT&T won the project, with the network enabling the coordination of groups like firefighters to surround and combat large wildfires and other crises.

Enterprises could establish a far smaller scale network to connect those charged with handling crises and coordinating interagency response efforts.

The satellite option(s) – LEO, MEO and GEO

Satellite services have served as a communications staple since the second half of the 1980s. Voice and data services from birds in geosynchronous orbit above the Earth have found a home in almost every industry, from retail to the military.

Services based on low-earth orbit satellites such as SpaceX Starlink high-speed Internet access are widely used in homes, far-flung offices, and on the front lines of warfare in both Ukraine and the Middle East. For U.S. businesses with sites outside the states, LEO satellite-based services can provide a crucial, flexible, and affordable Internet lifeline – when all else is in jeopardy.

Some argue business sites should have LEO-based internet services as a backup for emergency communications required by natural disasters, terrestrial and submarine cable cuts, or worse. For sites overseas, LEO satellite services come in handy when state-owned terrestrial services are shut down in times of protests and geopolitical turmoil.

What is next for urgent communications services?

Earlier this year, a series of 5G wireless providers began teaming with satellite carriers to announce plans to integrate non-terrestrial networks (NTN) for global integrated service offerings.

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Will the $1 billion in grants awarded to expand and upgrade these networks be enough to close the digital divide? Some say no.

There’s debate as to whether the NTIA’s $1 billion middle mile network funding program is enough to upgrade and extend high-speed networks connecting locations to the internet backbone.

The $65 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) provides funding to states to deliver broadband access to unserved and underserved locations. But can middle mile networks handle the resulting increase from the larger last mile networks in largely rural areas?

The Enabling Broadband Middle Mile Networks Program

Congress appropriated $1 billion for the program and identified two key objectives: to “encourage the expansion and extension of middle mile infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas to the backbone of the internet” and to “promote broadband connection resiliency through the creation of alternative network connection paths that can be designed to prevent single points of failure on a broadband network.”

All funding for grant awards from the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program has been awarded to 36 organizations across 40 states and territories. "No additional awards will be announced," said the NTIA in a press release.

The Middle Mile Debate

“There is much debate about just how useful the subsidization of those networks is actually going to be,” explained Jeff Heynen, VP of Broadband Access and Home Networking with Dell’Oro Group, a global market research and analysis firm. “There are some who are pointing to the $1 billion that’s been doled out as more than enough to cover the additional capacity requirements and location expansions to support the growth in residential broadband and enterprise connectivity.”

Huge response to the middle mile funding program

The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced in September over 260 applications were submitted, totaling more than $7.47 billion in funding requests for the Enabling Middle Mile Infrastructure Grant Program.

The other side of the debate

The other side of the debate has many claiming that the $1 billion is not nearly enough.

"The program itself was massively oversubscribed," added Heynen. "The debate is something to keep an eye on, especially for larger enterprises who have multiple locations and work with companies like Zayo for SD-WAN, SASE, and other services across these multiple locations."

The NTIA’s take on middle mile networks

The NTIA would not say whether it believes the effort needs more funding. "Clearly, there is significant demand for these networks," said a spokesperson for the group. "We haven't publicly supported legislation that would provide additional funding." It's unclear what happens to all the grant applications that were not funded.

What is at stake with upgrading and expanding middle mile networks?

The stakes of upgrading and expanding middle mile networks are high for enterprises looking to implement bandwidth and security architectures key to transform the way they do business.

Election year: Given the oversubscription of middle mile networks, Heynen believes the $1 billion from the NTIA in grant funding will not nearly be enough. He is concerned that in an election year, the ability to secure additional funds from a polarized Congress would be extremely tough.

Expansion to rural areas: Will the middle mile funding be used in part to extend current networks to unserved areas? Some have claimed California’s middle mile network bulks up current networks but does little to serve new areas.

Competition: Many areas do not have middle mile access or have one ISP option, meaning an outage can be devastating. One estimate claims that only 40% of the population has access to more than one ISP. The resulting lack of competition often translates into higher prices, with ISPs needing to negotiate with competitors for middle mile network capacity.

Choice: Selling direct to enterprises without choice can make it tougher for businesses to secure crucial service level agreements for offerings such as SD-WAN. Companies are seeking more and stronger SLAs as they move to emerging architectures to secure flexibility.

Advice for enterprises

Enterprise IT would be well advised to look at the big picture when considering WAN evolution undertakings.

“With the evolution of the larger SD-WAN and SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) implementation models very much in flux, it is more important than ever to look holistically at the enterprise communications infrastructure when undertaking modernization projects,” writes ChoiceTel, a technology consulting firm. "Maturity in the market is important, as well as a commitment to application performance backed by SLAs, application visibility, and many other aspects."

The bottom line on middle mile networks

The General Accounting Office (GAO) was asked to investigate the funding process. In October, the group said it recommends that the NTIA:

Establish performance measures for the middle-mile grant program and ensure the measures have a specified target.

Establish a process for developing performance goals and measures during program planning and design.

The GAO said the NTIA agreed with its recommendations.

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The continued rise of single-vendor SASE offerings promises benefits to businesses. What are the pros and cons of the security architecture option?

Mounting interest in single-vendor SASE solutions looks to be on the road to flipping the market away from multi-vendor offerings that have been tracked since pre-Covid.

Some market research reports done this year confirm that more enterprises are opting for one company, as opposed to multiple technology firms, to provide and pull together all crucial pieces of the SASE architecture. One example is from Dell’Oro Group, where its research found that while multi-vendor solutions have accounted for most of the market for years, single-vendor SASE solutions will take the lead this year.

Another report by the Gartner Group found that single-vendor SASE offerings are expected to constitute one-third of all new deployments by 2025. That is up from just 10% last year.

Why is the single vendor SASE trend paramount to IT leaders?

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is an enterprise networking technology category introduced by Gartner in 2019. It converges the functions of network and security solutions into a unified, global cloud-native service. SASE allows an architectural transformation of enterprise networking and security. That, in turn, lets IT provide an agile and adaptable service to its users. It combines WAN edge services with Secure Service Edge tools and services to securely connect remote users and sites to data, cloud services, and the enterprise.

Enterprises are finding single-vendor SASE offerings more appealing than before. That's largely because the segment maturity has and continues to increase, which has resulted in an increase in comfort in purchasing an entire security architecture package from a single vendor, according to Dell’Oro Group.

Single-vendor SASE benefits

With this approach, one SASE provider delivers multiple benefits. The offerings typically:

  • Converge network and security capabilities into a single, cloud-delivered service.
  • Enable enterprises to consolidate different point products, drop appliances, and empower consistent policy enforcement.
  • Cut integration and management times and resources between multiple SASE components.
  • Make it easier to monitor and troubleshoot.
  • Attain granular SLAs spanning all aspects of performance provided by the single vendor to cut finger-pointing.

Potential disadvantages with single vendor approach

Going with a single vendor approach with SASE is not without risk, according to Ian Barkin, a business of technology and management issues expert, founder of 2B Ventures, and an MIT Management Graduate. He notes that some points to consider with a single vendor solution are that:

  • Enterprises face vendor lock-in, where you are dependent on one vendor with limited power in negotiations and changes.
  • Businesses may miss innovation and new capabilities that working with multiple providers can often deliver – and faster.
  • Depth and breadth of expertise and resources that may exceed what is available with a single vendor that may be available by a multiple vendor team.
  • Enterprises may have to deal with quality issues or service disruptions if the vendor underperforms or fails.

Another technology expert believes single vendor SASE solutions are an “overpromise” and that finding a single SASE provider is easier said than done.

"They promise simplicity, integration, and a single point of contact for support," began Matthew McKee, Director of Technology and Transformation at Bluewave Technology Group, a tech assessment and evaluation firm. "However, in practice, finding a single vendor that excels in all the areas encompassed by SASE can be a daunting, if not impossible, task, and that's before layering in the unique requirements of your business." Network solutions and security are complex fields, each comprising multiple sub-disciplines. It is rare to find a single vendor with top-tier expertise in all these areas."

The top SASE vendors: Key takeaways

The most important point when it comes to teaming with a top SASE vendor is that the companies in the market offer a wide array of services and solutions. Some of the vendors deliver a complete and managed SASE service. These offerings are often called single-vendor SASE solutions. Others supply either critical SD-WAN or cloud-based security solutions and then, in turn, team with a vendor or provider that complements their offering to build a complete SASE solution. Given these points, how should businesses advance their understanding of SASE single vendor approaches and beyond?

Technology research and analysis firms such as Gartner Group and Dell 'Oro Group have recently published reports on single-vendor SASE, with most positioning vendors based on what they offer and what they lack.

Reviewing independent research combined with content that explains SASE basics, market trends, and relevant industry developments will aid in your undertakings.

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The plan targets five bands for greater use, calls for a dynamic spectrum-sharing testbed, and incentives for advanced management products.

Greater and more efficient use of precious wireless spectrum has taken a top priority in the U.S. with the release by the White House on Monday of a plan to help the nation optimize spectrum use and management.

The Secretary of Commerce, through the National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA), has developed the National Spectrum Strategy to promote private sector innovation and further the missions of federal departments and agencies, according to the White House.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which handles commercial uses of spectrum and coordinates with other Federal departments and agencies, also collaborated in the effort.

The NTIA claims the Strategy will do the following:

  • Expand access to advanced wireless broadband networks and technologies, whether terrestrial-, airspace-,satellite-, or space-based, for all Americans.
  • Drive technological innovation (including innovative spectrum-sharing technologies).
  • Boost U.S. industrial competitiveness; protect the security of the American people.
  • Foster scientific advancements; promote digital equity and inclusion.
  • Maintain U.S. leadership in global markets for wireless equipment and services, as well as innovative spectrum-sharing technologies.

Focusing on five bands for earlier use?

Extensive study, input, and analysis led the NTIA to "identify the following five spectrum bands meriting in-depth study in the near term." Use of some of these bands is already underway, however. "This approximately 2,790 megahertz of spectrum represents a mix of bands for potential expanded governmental and non-governmental use for an array of advanced, next-generation applications and services:"

Lower 3 GHz (3.1-3.45 GHz): Pursuant to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the Department of Defense (DoD) has studied the possibility of sharing this 350 megahertz of spectrum with the private sector. DoD’s studies helped to determine whether this band should be reallocated for shared Federal and non-Federal use and licensed through auction.

5030-5091 MHz: The FCC, in coordination with NTIA and the Federal Aviation Administration, is expected to take near-term action to facilitate limited deployment of UAS in this band. Thereafter, this 61 megahertz of spectrum will be studied so that the FCC can optimize UAS spectrum access across the band while avoiding harmful interference to other protected in-band and adjacent-band operations.

7125-8400 MHz: This 1,275 megahertz block of spectrum will be studied for wireless broadband use (on a licensed and/or unlicensed basis), though some sub-bands eventually may be studied for other uses. There are, however, a variety of mission-critical Federal operations in this band (including Fixed, Fixed Satellite, Mobile, Mobile Satellite, Space Research, Earth Exploration Satellite, and Meteorological Satellite services) that will make it challenging to repurpose portions of the band while protecting incumbent users from harmful interference.

18.1-18.6 GHz: This 500 megahertz of spectrum will be studied for expanded Federal and non-Feder

al satellite operations, consistent with the U.S. position at the 2023 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), which would add space-to-space allocations to this band (among others). Fixed Satellite Service downlink operations are currently authorized in the band. In addition, non-Federal Fixed Service is authorized in the 18.1- 18.3 GHz segment of the band.

37.0-37.6 GHz: Building on prior collaborative efforts of NTIA, DoD, and the FCC, this 600 megahertz of spectrum will be further studied to implement a co-equal, shared-use framework allowing Federal and non-Federal users to deploy operations in the band.

Also on the to-do list:

DSS Testbed: “The U.S. Government will establish a national testbed for dynamic spectrum sharing. This testbed will be a critical part of the U.S. Government’s effort to advance the technology for spectrum access within 12 to 18 months, in collaboration with industry, with an emphasis on dynamic spectrum sharing. The testbed will serve as a technical demonstration platform, enabling national policymakers to identify and assess spectrum access technologies through experimentation in Federal and non-Federal spectrum segments.”

The “Moonshot:” The NTIA claims the U.S. will, within 12 to 18 months, complete a so-called “moonshot” effort, in collaboration with industry, “to advance research, create investment incentives, and set forth measurable goals for advancing the state of technology for spectrum access, with an emphasis on dynamic forms of spectrum sharing for all users.”

What’s next for the National Spectrum Strategy?

The availability of additional spectrum could lead to new and advanced services for enterprises, government agencies, and other users – sooner than all parties had reason to expect. However, this would require a high level of coordination, collaboration, and commitment – likely last seen with the original moonshot.

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Are the latest NTN developments, led by the FCC and LEO bird owners, milestones on the road to broadened use of satellite services by Enterprise IT?

Communications services that leverage Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites promise to expand communications and network services for enterprises far beyond high-speed Internet access.

The emergence of these planned satellite services could be aided in part by the FCC’s recent streamlining of the application process and provide enterprise network planners with new options for optimization.

A year ago, the focus was on how much time it would take big-name players such as Iridium, SpaceX, OneWeb, AST, Viasat, Amazon (Project Kuiper), and others to launch enough LEOs into space to build constellations of birds to be considered viable for enterprise IT. Delays have slowed some players, such as Amazon, which recently launched its first two LEOs for its internet service into space recently. But by comparison, Musk's SpaceX has launched thousands and is offering services internationally.

What is NTN?

NTN stands for Non-Terrestrial Networks, and in this context, it specifically refers to a specification released by the 3GPP in early 2022 as part of Release 17.

NTNs are defined as wireless communication systems that operate above the Earth's surface, involving satellites at LEO, medium-Earth orbit (MEO), and geostationary orbit (GEO).

What can they enable?

Beyond voice and text, there are two other offering areas to expect, according to TechlteWorld.

Edge Computing: NTN can support 5G mobile edge applications by providing distributed computing and content delivery capabilities in diverse geographic locations.

Low-Power IoT: NTN is good for low-power IoT devices and applications, making it suitable for remote sensor deployments and environmental monitoring.

What is 5G in NTN?

Advances in standards, such as those from 3GPP, are creating opportunities to integrate NTN into an interoperable, standardized wireless experience spanning the globe, according to 5G Americas. Emerging LEO satellite services technology is advancing wireless networking for users.

The promise of 5G NTN partnerships

T-Mobile/SpaceX and Verizon/Amazon strategic partnerships support via LEO satellites connectivity and messaging for users beyond the reach of wireless networks. Iridium teamed with wireless infrastructure creator Qualcomm.

Satellite communications providers have forged ahead, prepping more than internet services, including packages that let individuals work from remote locations and when mobile.

Services delivered via LEOs have gained ground in the internet services market, helping in the defense sector, maritime communications, and agriculture.

The FCC acts to fuel satellite service evolution

At an open meeting last month, the FCC revealed changes to the satellite application process designed to fuel advancement in the space sector by simplifying and shortening the protracted procedures.

The FCC moves are needed to address the increasing volume of pending applications, with roughly 56,000 currently in the queue, which the chair said is double the backlog it had years ago.

The move is meant to drive innovation, according to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. “It is a new era, so we eliminate old rules that no longer meet the moment and establish clear timeframes for placing space and earth station applications on public notice. This makes our process easier to understand for existing players and new entrants alike.”

Another plus for the sector’s advancement comes from the recently created FCC Space Bureau, which provides FAQs and workshops to give more applicants information to help them file.

Two critical questions for Enterprise IT are:

What is the timing for satellite-to-cellphone services? SpaceX-owned Starlink claimed its satellite-to-cellphone (NTN) service will launch in 2024. The Musk-owned company said in mid-October it will first offer SMS, followed by voice and data services, and IoT connectivity in 2025.

Will the latest developments accelerate the availability of satellite services? What remains to be seen is how quickly the LEO satellite's opportunity can expand and gain broad acceptance from businesses, financiers, regulators, and countries around the globe. However, the recent streamlining of the application process by the FCC, combined with progress by Amazon's Kuiper undertaking, could speed up the service delivery process.

The road ahead for NTN and LEO-driven satellite services

Corporate network planners should expect the NTN service sector to deliver an array of new networking offerings beginning next year and into 2025. This period would place this satellite to cellular sector options into the realm of additions to enterprise network expansion and enhancement. Look for use cases in additional vertical industries, as many businesses are looking to expand their use of satellite-driven services.

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