The Future of...

How AI Will Shape the Future of SD-WAN

As network vendors integrate more AI capabilities, SD-WAN will become smarter, more agile and more efficient

Vaughn Eisler
Eric Olinger
How AI Will Shape the Future of SD-WAN

In recent years, SD-WAN has become a well-established technology in enterprise networking, offering greater flexibility, scalability and cost effectiveness than traditional WANs relying on MPLS connections. As a result, the SD-WAN market has been growing and is expected to continue growing for the next several years. According to Gartner®, “the SD-WAN market is forecast to generate a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.6% in end-user spending from 2022 through 2027.[1]

There are plenty of compelling reasons why the SD-WAN market continues to blossom. Traditional MPLS-based networks can be more costly and time consuming to set up—sometimes requiring months to acquire and configure hardware. Additionally, network architectures have evolved. Many organizations are shifting away from owning and operating their own data centers. Most organizations are moving to distributed multicloud architectures and need high-performance, low-latency connectivity between those locations. We believe that SD-WAN is ultimately a better fit for these distributed digital and multicloud infrastructures.

SD-WAN offers a range of benefits, including bandwidth optimization, expansion of cloud usage, mobility enablement and security. However, planning, designing and implementing SD-WAN comes with its challenges. It requires an IT staff with expertise in defining policies, ensuring security and tuning performance post-deployment. It can involve complicated implementations, cloud connectivity challenges and performance problems if utilized over the internet.

As the SD-WAN market matures, we expect SD-WAN solutions to keep evolving. The introduction of AI into SD-WAN offerings is one such advancement that we expect to further improve SD-WAN performance, security and management.

The SD-WAN of the future: AI-enhanced

Prominent vendors in the enterprise networking space are already beginning to explore the integration of AI and generative AI into their SD-WAN solutions. While this is a cutting-edge idea right now, we believe it is likely to become more of a reality in the next few years as AI-related development takes off. In the 2023 Gartner Magic Quadrant™ for SD-WAN, “Gartner predicts that by 2026, generative AI technology embedded in SD-WAN offerings will be used for 20% of initial network configuration, up from near zero in 2023.”[2]

AI has the potential to offer several capabilities for SD-WAN, including:

  • Easier network configurations: AI has the potential to up the game on identifying traffic patterns on a network, enabling SD-WAN to better optimize its decision-making capabilities.
  • Improved performance: AI could help SD-WAN adapt to changes in user behavior very quickly without the manual effort this would require from teams. Thus, it has the potential to improve network performance.
  • Better predictive network maintenance: Networking teams will likely be able to employ AI to do predictive maintenance since it can identify anomalies with the network and then proactively address them.
  • Enhanced network observability: AI could also provide greater visibility into SD-WAN connections, enabling easier central management of distributed networks.
  • Strengthened security: As AI is integrated into SD-WAN, it also has the potential to deliver better threat detection and proactive mitigation of security issues.

Ultimately, we believe generative AI will make networks smarter, more agile and more efficient, with less hands-on effort by networking teams. We expect generative AI to simplify configuration and management and thus free employees to focus on other value-adding activities.

AI and the future of networking

SD-WAN vendors are already starting to develop these capabilities, integrating AI into their solutions to make better decisions, detect security threats and more. While the integration of AI into networking does raise some concerns for vendors around the security, reliability and trustworthiness of the AI models, leading vendors are eager to explore its potential. To balance these concerns, most SD-WAN vendors are likely to follow a crawl, walk, run strategy to integrating AI into SD-WAN approaches.

While AI-enhanced networking capabilities are in the early stages of development now, we expect AI to be integrated into numerous aspects of networking in the coming years. As SD-WAN evolves, Gartner has also predicted that the market is moving toward single-vendor integrated secure access service edge—or SASE—solutions. This is a logical progression for companies that have implemented SD-WAN. SASE solutions are starting to take advantage of AI algorithms in several ways:

  • To help monitor traffic in real-time, deliver near real-time inference and improve accurate threat prediction and detection at scale
  • To better detect and prevent threats, such as identifying previously unseen malicious traffic patterns, classifying malware, blocking unauthorized access attempts and preventing data breaches in milliseconds
  • To better prioritize incidents, enabling security analysts to focus on higher-priority risks

As networking evolves in the age of AI, we expect AI to act as an intelligent copilot, complimenting the work of network administrators and using data to deliver insights about how to improve network efficiency.

Bring your AI-powered SD-WAN to Equinix

Whether you are new to SD-WAN or looking for opportunities to optimize your SD-WAN as you prepare for your AI future, Equinix offers a range of SD-WAN networking solutions. At Equinix, you have multiple deployment options and can choose the model that fits your needs—whether that is a physical deployment in colocation or a virtual SD-WAN gateway on Equinix Network Edge.

The most innovative network service providers in the market—including the leaders that are exploring the integration of AI into their SD-WAN—are already on Platform Equinix® today. This includes major SD-WAN leaders like Cisco, Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks, Versa and VMware. In addition, we believe that deploying your SD-WAN in a carrier- and cloud-neutral facility will give you access to all the right partners in your business ecosystem.

To learn more about how organizations are implementing SD-WAN on Platform Equinix, check out the customer stories in our SD-WAN at Equinix ebook.

 

[1] Gartner, Magic Quadrant for SD-WAN, By Jonathan ForestNaresh SinghAndrew LernerKaren Brown, September 27, 2023.

[2] Gartner, Magic Quadrant for SD-WAN, By Jonathan ForestNaresh SinghAndrew LernerKaren Brown, September 27, 2023.

Disclaimer:

GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

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Vaughn Eisler Director, Business Development, Security and Storage
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Eric Olinger Global Principal
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