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A study of IT decision-makers suggests that SD-WAN technology is quickly becoming the new standard for businesses, especially in light of the massive shift to work from home caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

SD-WAN, or software-defined wide-area networking, allows businesses to extend the reach of their internal networks to remote offices or home workers. This can be done in two ways: Privately via a leased line that directly connects one location to another using routers, or publicly by transmitting data over ISP circuits in conjunction with circuit or packet switching.

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The study, performed for software-defined networking company Masergy by Altman Solon, found that 79% of businesses are currently using some form of SD-WAN, and by 2026 that number will rise to 92%. Of those, 58% plan to use a hybrid access model to strike a balance between the benefits and drawbacks of public and private SD-WANs.

Private SD-WANs, the report notes, can be prohibitively expensive, but are more reliable and secure, while public SD-WAN is the opposite: It’s far more affordable, but with a compromise on safety and stability.

Only 17% of IT decision-makers said their organizations currently use fully private SD-WANs, and 16% said they’ll still be fully private in five years. Public numbers are similar, with 16% being completely public now, and 27% planning to be in five years.

Hybrid, on the other hand, currently stands at 67% of the SD-WAN market, but it will cede a few percentage points to fully public access in five years before landing at the 58% number mentioned above. 55% of public access users said they’re willing to move to a hybrid model because application performance is insufficient and savings are outweighed by quality issues. 65% of private access users said they’re willing to go hybrid because of the growth of remote work and the desire to get a better cost benefit.

In short, return on investment is the common ground between both public and private organizations willing to switch to a hybrid model, which would utilize private or public connections based on the needs of a particular employee or remote site.

“This study affirms that IT leaders understand the value of SD-WAN connectivity and are leaning into hybrid access models that strike the right balance between price and performance for a ROI ‘sweet spot’,” said Masergy CTO Terry Traina.

On the other hand, secure access service edge (SASE), an alternative to SD-WAN, is a blind spot for many IT leaders. While 82% of respondents said they were familiar with it, only 32% said they have a deep understanding of what it is and how it can affect their organizations.

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SASE, as opposed to SD-WAN, takes a cloud-native, edge-computing approach to enlarging the office network, and may prove to be the superior choice in the long run, with Gartner predicting that 40% of organizations will use SASE by 2024, as opposed to just 1% using it in 2018.

“The survey confirms what everyone is noticing anecdotally. There’s still a lot of confusion about SASE,” said Traina. SD-WAN’s wide acceptance marks it as a mature technology, but whether or not it’s quickly supplanted by SASE remains to be seen.