Software-defined networking (SDN) has already arrived in the data center, providing the agility and responsiveness data center networks need to meet the demands of cloud computing, says research firm International Data Corp. (IDC).

Now the focus is shifting toward wide area networks (WANs), which can also be optimized to meet the requirements of cloud applications and services, ID says. In its first forecast of the software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) market, the firm estimates that worldwide SD-WAN revenues will exceed $6 billion in 2020, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 90% over the 2015-2020 forecast period.

The emergence of SD-WAN is a relatively recent market development, the firm says, preceded by the existence of hybrid WAN architectures. SD-WANs leverage these hybrid WANs, but also incorporate a centralized, application-based policy controller, analytics for application and network visibility, a software overlay that abstracts underlying networks, and an optional SD-WAN forwarder that together provide intelligent path selection across WAN links.

The benefits of SD-WAN include cost-effective delivery of business applications, meeting the evolving operational needs of branch/remote sites, optimizing software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud-based services, and improving branch-IT efficiency through automation.

"As public and private cloud use continues to grow, WAN performance becomes critical to latency-sensitive and mission-critical workloads and inter-data center business continuity," said Rohit Mehra, vice president, network infrastructure at IDC. "Accordingly, as enterprises plan and implement comprehensive cloud strategies, WAN architectures need to be considered alongside, and in conjunction with, data center infrastructure.”

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