Published: April 21, 2020


Our Coronavirus Flash Survey March 2020 showed how enterprises are responding to the drastic changes the COVID-19 pandemic is causing. One significant change is the shift to working from home for desk and knowledge workers. For many companies, prior to the pandemic, a work-from-home policy was unthinkable even though the benefits of having one – happier and more productive employees, lower office costs – were clear. Work-from-home directives have forced companies' hands, and some of them are finding that it is going well. While 48.3% of respondents don't expect their company to have any long-term or permanent changes after the pandemic passes – work will return to normal – 37.8% said they expect to see expanded and permanent work-from-home policies (see figure below).

Supporting remote employees, highlighted in Coronavirus will Disrupt your Workforce: Ensure that you have the right Tooling Strategy for Remote Workers, will require special emphasis on connectivity between home offices and the company's resources, whether on-premises or in a cloud service. Network-heavy services are coping with the coronavirus so far and will continue to do so as their customer usage changes, but for employers, ensuring fast, reliable and secure access will require revolutionizing their enterprise security architecture due to the work-from-home explosion.

The 451 Take

Black swan events can be catalysts to teach valuable lessons. The new realities of working from home will have long-lasting effects for some companies as they have been pushed into supporting work-from-home initiatives. Enterprises are struggling to support the rapid increase in remote workers needing secure connectivity, and managed cloud and managed VPN services are benefiting. The lesson is that SD-WAN vendors would be in a unique position to offer efficient and effective remote user support if only they had supported remote user scenarios long ago. SD-WAN vendors that can quickly adapt their product roadmaps to work life after the pandemic subsides will been in a strong position to retain their own customers and grow market share.



When SD-WAN started rising five years ago, the emphasis was on branch office deployments. The two primary benefits of SD-WAN were cost-effectively adding more network capacity at the branch and reducing management overhead and complexity. Companies could augment or replace their entire WAN infrastructure with business broadband, and SD-WAN would ensure reliable connectivity based on the best link. The other benefit of SD-WAN is removing the complexity of multi-WAN topologies. With two or more WAN links, specific routing and networking skills are needed to manage the network. SD-WAN promised to remove the need for complex routing and make managing complex topologies simple.

However, in the singular pursuit of a specific outcome – in this case, making multi-WAN branch networking cost-effective, which is necessary for startup companies and new product initiatives from established vendors to succeed – other related opportunities are missed. In the case of SD-WAN, the remote user wasn't part of the product roadmap, which is understandable since most remote and home users don't have multiple broadband connections, which is SD-WAN's target scenario. However, enterprises want to simplify their remote network management whether it's a remote office or a remote user. The time and energy spent developing and implementing network and security policies in the SD-WAN product could be used for remote users as well and is a natural fit.

This has played out before in other product verticals, but the most fitting example is the IPsec VPN gateways in the mid-1990s. The crop of startups was focused on the LAN-to-LAN model – which is common today, 20+ years later – but the killer application was remote users. Then, a startup came along targeting the remote user use case and walked away with the market while the competitors that focused initially on network VPN scrambled to pivot. There was no black swan event in the late '90s that brought about rapid change, so the market for LAN-to-LAN VPNs slowly evolved.


The lesson learned from the SD-WAN and the IPSec VPN examples isn't for a startup to try to be all things to all customers; that's a path to failure. The lesson is for vendors to look for closely aligned use cases that will broaden the opportunity to find new customers. There is time for SD-WAN vendors to adapt to the new normal – it's not as if the window of opportunity is shutting – but vendors that start adapting their product roadmaps to the growing distributed workforce will be in much better shape in the coming years than those that don't.

Evaluate trends in your target customer base. The distribution of workers into smaller offices has been steadily growing over the years, and the COVID-19 pandemic causing governments to close offices has accelerated work-from-home scenarios. For example, WAN optimization vendors like Riverbed and Silver Peak made small appliances or even client software for remote offices because of a demand in a subset of the customers that had an increasing number of extremely small one-to-two-person offices and home-based teleworkers. A lasting outcome of the pandemic, noted in our research, is that a significant number of employers will expand their work-from-home policies once the pandemic passes. That will lead to a reduction in demand for branch offices, including SD-WAN, while increasing the demand for remote connectivity. SD-WAN vendors would do well to broaden their product offerings to include remote users or risk losing those customers to competitors with remote client support like Cato Networks, Nuage Networks in partnership with Asavie, Pulse Secure, Riverbed, Palo Alto, or any of the several VPN services.

Provide or enable cloud services. Pandemics like the coronavirus are black swan events, but service providers offering managed VPN connectivity were able to quickly ramp up capacity to meet demand. Cato Networks, for example, claims its mobile and remote user usage has more than doubled since January, and that it was able to meet demand by bringing on new capacity quickly. Other providers are claiming similar growth. Granted, the demand will likely fall back to pre-pandemic levels as people head back to offices, and the remaining users can be absorbed into existing remote connectivity strategies, but the ability to meet demand and capture new business is the definition of agile. A vendor providing a cloud service itself, or enabling and assisting its channel to build out managed and cloud services, will be in an equally good position for future growth and can capitalize on black swan events.

Partner with middle-mile providers. While the internet is fast and reliable, it may not be as fast or reliable as enterprise business requirements demand. Providing a faster, manageable alternative to best-effort internet gives customers an alternative for remote users. Middle-mile providers use their own networks or overlay existing interconnections to form backbones that are easy for enterprises to turn up and manage on their own. Integration with SD-WAN appliances takes the form of identifying the nearest or best-performing point of presence, and directing traffic to it before going to its destination. Being able to bring up SD-WAN peers in the provider network allows a fully managed on-ramp to cloud-hosted services.

Creating licensing for demand. Cloud adoption has many lessons, including the power of consumption-based licensing. While some products work well on fixed or perpetual licensing, a far greater number of IT products are better suited for consumption-based licensing, which allows customers to consume resources when and where they need them. ADC vendors like A10 Networks, Citrix, F5 and Kemp Technologies have used consumption-based licensing to remove the common hurdles for customers to effectively managed their capacity and respond as demand changes on-premises or in the cloud. SD-WAN is no different in this regard as demand can change quickly, but if customers can't respond to demand changes, it hurts their business. Cleary defined, simple consumption models along with cost monitoring and cost controls can encourage more usage rather than less and result in happier customers.

The Threat of Doing Nothing

SD-WAN vendors that do nothing with their product roadmaps and continue to ignore the remote user use case will be vulnerable to replacement by vendors and managed service providers that provide branch and remote user networking in an easy-to-manage and scalable manner. SD-WAN functions like multi-WAN support, intelligent path control, adaptive quality of service, application-driven policies, and fast failover and failback are becoming integrated components of routing and security platforms and services. There is an ever-growing number of vendors that can credibly claim SD-WAN functions, but latecomers may not have the field experience in delivering the operational efficiency and ease of use, part of which makes SD-WAN desirable. Maintaining the competitive advantage will be critical for SD-WAN vendors to survive.
Mike Fratto
Senior Analyst, Applied Infrastructure and DevOps

Mike Fratto is a senior analyst on 451 Research’s Applied Infrastructure and DevOps team covering enterprise networking. He has extensive experience reviewing and writing about enterprise remote access, security and network infrastructure products, as well as consulting with enterprise IT, equipment and software vendors, and service providers.

Liam Rogers
Associate Analyst

As an Associate Analyst in 451 Research’s Applied Infrastructure & DevOps Channel, Liam Rogers covers technology and business-model innovation across the enterprise storage landscape. His coverage includes hyperconverged infrastructure, software-defined storage and persistent storage for containers.

Keith Dawson
Principal Analyst

Keith Dawson is a principal analyst in 451 Research's Customer Experience & Commerce practice, primarily covering marketing technology. Keith has been covering the intersection of communications and enterprise software for 25 years, mainly looking at how to influence and optimize the customer experience.

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