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Analysts at Market Research Future say SDN is growing at 39% year-on-year. Is that the kind of growth you're seeing in South Africa?

Jacques Visser, Vox
Jacques Visser, Vox

Jacques Visser, senior manager: wireless, Vox: I would say that it's been slower than we expected, but there's definitely a demand. It's really an enterprise solution, and innovation doesn't usually come from the enterprise sector, it's usually the mid-market that makes these shifts first. That said, recently there's been a lot of new technology in the market, like SD-WAN over LTE, and I think that will drive 'J curve' growth here.

Ermano Quartero, executive head of department: special projects, Vodacom: Our experience has been - and our research concurs - that there's been an explosive growth in the US, and in the last 12 months in Europe, and that the underlying technology that drives SDN is a reliable broadband network. In South Africa, that's been holding us back. Having said that, a lot of people have been testing it and keeping an eye on it, and as soon as the first few companies go, we'll see it take off. I predict that over the next 18 months, there'll be a rapid cannibalisation of the MPLS market in favour of SDN as contracts come up for renewal.

George Prinsloo, regional sales manager: networking, Citrix Systems: I think that's why take-up in Europe has been a bit quicker. Here, we have very strict contract terms, while there, it's a lot more flexible. We also have customers enquiring about SDN, testing it, but they haven't invested in it during the course of their current contracts.

Ermano Quartero, Vodacom
Ermano Quartero, Vodacom

Gareth James, network and security sales specialist, VMware: Up until the end of 2017, more than 80% of the SD-WAN market seemed to be US-based, but in the past year, we've seen EMEA catch up. In the last quarter, it's hit us like a wave. Suddenly, a very significant part of our income is SD-WAN.

Aadil Hassim, enterprise networking lead: Africa, Cisco: What we're seeing is that customers are holding off from ordering more WAN at the edge and waiting for SD-WAN, so we're probably right at the bottom of the hockey stick curve now. The financial services industry (FSI) and large corporates are definitely the early adopters, but they're taking a very risk-averse approach and measuring out all the negatives of SD-WAN rather than adopting it for its positives. We're finding there's a lot of resistance at the bottom, there's a lot of caution.

Riaan Graham, director: sales, Sub-Saharan Africa, Ruckus: In SA, we're probably a bit more conservative. There's a bit of a holding pattern where people want to observe and see what works well.

The security of SD-WAN is definitely driving it, because that's really important for customers today.

Paul Williams, Fortinet

Aadil Hassim, Cisco: That's true - our market doesn't have the funding to take a chance on a technology and revisit that decision in a year's time.

George Prinsloo, Citrix: That's where SD-WAN makes things a bit easier, because it's not a rip-and-replace technology. It can be easily set up on existing infrastructure for testing, and run in parallel.

What's driving adoption?

Paul Williams, country manager, Fortinet: The security of SD-WAN is definitely driving it, because that's really important for customers today. Also, the availability of fibre to the edge, and future 5G networks.

George Prinsloo, Citrix Systems
George Prinsloo, Citrix Systems

Andrew Senior, customer success manager, Nutanix: If you look at what's happening in the application space, with containerisation and microservices, it's becoming increasingly complex. All these microservices talk to each other, so having the visibility SDN offers helps you lock down the applications, and prevents services being exposed.

Gareth James, VMware: There's a push and a pull. On the one hand, there's the costs of connectivity pushing you, and the pull is the need for cloud and connected services at the edge; there's also a shift in the nature of traffic, from predictable traffic that could be deduped to real-time protocols like voice and video. That's where SD-WAN does best.

Aadil Hassim, Cisco: With transport independence, you don't care about the infrastructure in the middle; it's about the user of a device getting to the application. The biggest limiting factor for WAN at the edge was security of devices.

You either have to teach network engineers to programme, or you have to teach networking to application developers.

Caron Perkins, Success Builders International

Ermano Quartero, Vodacom: From a service provider's perspective, the promise of cost reduction isn't true. For us, the SD-WAN devices are more expensive. So what the vendors are doing is putting pressure on underlying network providers - you're telling enterprises that it's cheaper to go SD-WAN, but the devices for us are more expensive. The only way the enterprise can see a saving is to get better broadband pricing, which is good for the market because you're pushing the price of broadband down. Having said that, the end-user price of a broadband circuit is far cheaper than MPLS.

Sudhir Juggermath, head of applications for business, Orange Business Services: That's the value factor, the cost of MPLS over internet connectivity from an appliance.

Gareth James, VMware
Gareth James, VMware

Ermano Quartero, Vodacom: What we've found is that adoption overseas has been outside of the service providers; the massive adoption has been from corporates themselves using multiple providers. Where telcos are involved, there's been very little traction. People are buying directly from vendors; service providers need to wrap more value around it.

Gareth James, VMware: In many ways, Europe has been more mature than the US, where adoption was driven by the likes of AT&T.

Which sectors have been the early adopters?

Gareth James, VMware: SDN was driven mainly by the FSI, and, in South Africa, by public sector and datacentre virtualisation, but with SD-WAN, it's retail and logistics, places where we've not had so much experience. The real growth is being driven by containerisation, though; that's pushing the requirements for SDN into the datacentre, where you need to manage the flow.

Jacques Visser, Vox: There will be demand in the SME market soon too, as they'll want to adopt this.

Aadil Hassim, Cisco
Aadil Hassim, Cisco

Pieter Englebrecht, business unit manager, Aruba: Also, companies with branches in Africa. Three or four hops via MPLS to Nigeria is very expensive, but not with SD-WAN.

Ermano Quatero, Vodacom: There's also the simplicity. Trying to deliver MPLS in rural Nigeria means having to send out a specialist engineer. Now you can just stick a router in a box.

George Prinsloo, Citrix: We have one customer who puts an SD-WAN appliance into a container on a truck for instant deployment in the middle of nowhere.

Is there a difference in perception between SDN and SD-WAN in the market, or are they considered the same thing?

Riaan Graham, Ruckus
Riaan Graham, Ruckus

Caron Perkins, CEO, Success Builders International: That's important because SDN is a multi-horned animal. You have SDN in enterprise infrastructure, you have SDN sitting in the datacentre, it has matured in certain places, but it's immature in others. You'll see it have a major impact in the infrastructure of service providers as we move towards 5G, but in many applications, we're still trying to understand the advantages. But SD-WAN has been the core area where we've been able to leverage the advantages of the technology. There's a clear path forward, whereas migrating an entire corporate network to software-defined infrastructure isn't that simple.

Aadil Hassim, Cisco: We've seen that SDN started out in the datacentre and ISP space, but then moved into SD-WAN, and now we're seeing software-defined access at the campus - enterprise talking to the datacentre, so that it's all integrated.

Jacques Visser, Vox: The problem for ISPs is that we want to offer software-defined services at a large scale, but there's a resistance to change and balancing our need for revenue with the needs of our customers, but you'll see that change in the next few months.

Paul Willliams, Fortinet
Paul Willliams, Fortinet

Ermano Quatero, Vodacom: That's a real challenge. We're cannibalising our own revenues as SD-WAN is around 40% cheaper than MPLS.

Pieter Englebrecht, Aruba: A lot of enterprise customers still want to keep MPLS around for things like disaster recovery, but that's a mindset that will change.

Paul Williams, Fortinet: With SDN, what we've done is built our own network, with completely agnostic tech and five or six products. We can pull everything into software, and now have a big community of developers building API connectors.

Ermano Quartero, Vodacom: That's a big advantage, bundling services. The more you can push to an edge device, the more you can do with it.

Sudhir Juggermath, Orange Business Services: Consultancy is key. MPLS was all about location, while with SD-WAN, it's about understanding a client's priorities.

George Prinsloo, Citrix: It's so important for an SD-WAN vendor to be application-focussed. Otherwise you're just pushing bandwidth.

Are regulations like PoPI slowing down adoption?

Andrew Senior, Nutanix: It's more of a driver, really. Specifically around the security stack.

Andrew Senior, Nutanix
Andrew Senior, Nutanix
Paul Williams, Fortinet: From a regulatory perspective, we're way behind the curve, the licences aren't being delivered fast enough. We can't wait another seven years for 5G; it's prohibiting business.

Aadil Hassim, Cisco: India said, 'let's go straight to 5G', and leapfrogged the missing tech.

Do we have the right skills base for SD-WAN?

Caron Perkins, Success Builders International: Skills is a problem. It's a whole new skillset moving into this space, which goes hand-in-hand with digital transformation. The big change is moving from network skills to scripting and application development. You either have to teach network engineers to programme, or you have to teach networking to application developers.

Aadil Hassium, Cisco: APIs are the new CLI (command-line interface).

How integral is SD-WAN to IoT?

Sudhir Juggermath, Orange Business Services
Sudhir Juggermath, Orange Business Services
Aadil Hassim, Cisco: From an IoT perspective, it's more about machine learning and the system understanding what's connected to it. There's no human way you can keep track of millions of devices connected to a network, the network has to know what's attached. The shift is from SCADA/PLC to IP devices, which means there are many more devices on net. An eye-opener for me was Agri-indaba; they want to bring more sensors into farming. Their biggest problem is connectivity, but once they have that, they already have the IoT plan in place.

Sudhir Jaggermath, Orange Business Services: At the moment, IoT is working on a public network. In the future, we see every enterprise will have its own private network overlaid on top of SD-WAN, all connecting back to the control room, securely.

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