Top 10 barriers to SD-WAN success

May 18, 2021

According to MarketsandMarkets, the global SD-WAN market size is expected to grow from USD 1.9 billion in 2020 to USD 8.4 billion by 2025 (1). Changing the way global networks are architected, SD-WAN enables increased visibility and control of applications across the network while delivering a better user experience, improved operational efficiencies, enhanced security, and much more.

While the benefits of SD-WAN have been well documented, implementing SD-WAN successfully is no easy feat. Many networks, infrastructure, and security teams lack the required people resources, skills, and knowledge of SD-WAN technology needed to be able to design, deploy and operate a successful SD-WAN environment.

As a result, we’ve seen time and time again many organizations failing to realize the full potential of SD-WAN due to a number of common barriers in the deployment process. But thankfully, there is hope. With the right process, technology choice, and SD-WAN partner that knows where the common pitfalls lie, organizations can get deployment right, the first time.

Top 10 barriers to SD-WAN adoption

Utilizing our years of SD-WAN experience, below we’ve outlined the top 10 common barriers to SD-WAN success that organizations face. These typically fall under one of three key categories: people, processes, and technology fit.

Barrier 1: Lack of internal experience or headcount

While the majority of IT teams understand that they need available people resources and skills to roll out an SD-WAN project successfully, many organizations often struggle with having the internal capacity. SD-WAN is a major transformation project and even if organizations have the internal expertise, they simply don’t have enough available people resource to carry out all the necessary research, planning and deployment activities required to make it a success.

While hiring new talent is an option, it can be expensive and time-consuming. What’s more, it can also be difficult to hire good talent due to shortages in the job market. In fact, according to IDG Research, almost half of IT decision-makers (46%) said that the skills gap was one of their top barriers to SD-WAN adoption.

Barrier 2: Risks associated with critical network technology

Designing and deploying a solution internally without experience can be risky. It involves working with live networks, after all, and many teams aren’t used to focusing on business processes and application and user priorities. That said, most of the companies we speak to say that they get the most training from hands-on work.

With this in mind, it’s clear that finding the right support is critical. However, on the service provider side, many providers don’t have the expertise, experience, or resources either. Many providers actually subcontract out SD-WAN work, because frankly, it isn’t at the core of what they do.

Barrier 3: Demotivated employees 

Internal teams often thrive on learning new technologies and rely on that knowledge to excel in their careers. Without this professional development and exposure to new technology, they could become demotivated.

Internal teams should be given the opportunity to learn and gain hands-on experience with design and deployment, but in a way that minimizes risk and unnecessary workload.

Barrier 4: Unproven processes

According to CIO, more than 50% of IT projects go over time and budget because of failures in process. This is often due to inexperience and the fact that teams commonly become so focused on delivering projects on time and on budget that they lose focus on aligning project outcomes with business goals, making sure they derive true business value.

Barrier 5: Poor alignment of vision and business goals

Although many networking, infrastructure, and security teams have ambitions to redesign their WAN infrastructure, disparate teams often struggle to align a collective vision for SD-WAN with business objectives and technical requirements.

Building a SASE architecture to support SD-WAN security, for instance, requires networking and security teams to work very closely together.

However, a lack of in-house SD-WAN experience, over-stretched teams, and poor communications often result in the missed opportunity to fully explore options as a team. And this often leads to tension between teams.

The consequences are a lack of stakeholder alignment, misunderstandings, and isolated decision-making. This ultimately leads to project back-tracking, overruns, and unrealized business benefits.

Barrier 6: Expectation of ‘plug and play’ processes

Many IT teams expect a plug-and-play process for design, deployment, and ongoing management. Skipping the design process, they expect solutions to work ‘out-of-the-box’ and provide them with the tools to proactively and effectively manage their infrastructure. But design and deployment need to be scoped out fully before roll out to ensure minimum disruption to the business.

Barrier 7: Wrong technology fit

Very often, organizations buy technology that is not fit for purpose. This could be for a whole host of reasons, such as failure to approach SD-WAN adoption with business outcomes in mind, persuasion by a salesperson, a large telco ‘giving away’ their preferred SD-WAN technology for free, or because it was positioned as ‘cheap and easy’. However, purchasing the wrong technology ultimately costs organizations in terms of extra time and money.

Barrier 8: Technology lock-in via long contracts

Then there’s technology lock-in, often a tactic of carriers or large service providers. They care less about what solution a business buys and more about locking them into a contract. Think of a cell phone contract.

Barrier 9: Vendor-influenced standardization 

Many decisions are made based on vendor-influenced standardization on technology or platform. This could be because an organization already has large framework agreements in place with a specific vendor, or are used to being a customer of a specific brand, so prefer to buy everything on the same platform. However, taking this approach doesn’t lend itself to the flexibility or agility needed. It can merely lock a business into a specific vendor contract.

Barrier 10: Inflexibility and inability to pivot in future

Organizations must remember that they’re only making decisions for today based on what they need for the next sprint. Given the rapid pace of technology change, there’ll be new, better technology versions available 6 months to a year from now, so businesses need the flexibility to pivot.

Without a comprehensive deployment plan, organizations could risk having a solution that doesn’t work well or worst still, doesn’t work at all. When evaluating or moving to SD-WAN, it’s crucial to fully understand how to avoid these common barriers to SD-WAN success. Working with a reputable SD-WAN partner with experience and expertise is often the best option.

SD-WAN has been part of Teneo’s expertise since 2011, long before the term ‘SD-WAN’ was used. Providing a holistic SD-WAN solution, we cover all project aspects, from inception and design to migration and post-implementation support.

At Teneo, we help organizations to find the best technologies, design the best architectures, leverage compatible ecosystems, and deliver managed and co-managed SD-WAN services.

For more information, visit

Find out how we helped Argenta, a global animal health contract and research manufacturing company improve network performance with Teneo’s Co-managed SD-WAN.

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