Editor’s Note: This blog post is sponsored by Citrix. The ideas and analysis are entirely the authors own.

The days of homogeneous branch offices connected to a one-size-fits-all wide-area network (WAN) are over. Enterprises are redefining their branches, and this transformation requires a new approach to the WAN. EMA believes that software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions such as Citrix NetScaler SD-WAN can support this transition.

Enterprises connect a diverse universe of remote sites to their WANs today. Not all of them are all cookie-cutter offices with employees sitting at desks, using Ethernet-connected phones and PCs. EMA’s research on next-generation WANs identified the four most strategically impactful types of remote sites that companies are connecting. Research and development (R&D) sites topped the list (30% of respondents). The old-fashioned branch office came in second (29%), followed by “external sites owned by partners, customers, or suppliers” (26%) and “logistics sites such as warehouses and distribution centers” (22%).

Each of these sites has a unique set of applications and specific requirements for infrastructure and connectivity. For instance, an R&D site generates large files and data sets that require storage replication to a remote site. A logistics site has supply-chain applications that need multiple wireless technologies (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee). And an external site needs access to the enterprise’s internal network, but as most of the users will be external to the organization, this requires very specific network and application access policies and controls.

IoT and the Cloud Are Driving Change

EMA research has identified many other drivers of change in branch offices and remote sites. First and foremost, the cloud is changing how enterprises architect their networks. The days of backhauling cloud-bound traffic through a data center are over. Fifty-five percent (55%) of enterprises now connect their remote sites directly to public cloud services. In almost all cases, this shift to the cloud requires internet connectivity for business-critical applications.

Internet of Things (IoT) device growth is also a major factor in the redefined branch. Among enterprises that are seeing an increasing number of endpoints in their remote sites, 59% say IoT is a leading driver of that growth. These IoT devices drive new branch local-area network (LAN) requirements and new WAN requirements. IoT traffic requires more bandwidth, new security controls, new quality-of-service polices, and much more.

These changes raise concerns about application performance and network security. How can you guarantee that IoT and cloud applications have access to high-performing networks? And how can you secure these devices and applications? Thirty-three percent (33%) of enterprises have told EMA that security risk is a top inhibitor of allowing direct access to the cloud from remote sites.

The Redefined Branch Needs Hybrid Connectivity

According to recent EMA research, the three biggest consumers of WAN bandwidth are big data applications, storage replication, and secure enterprise web applications. This list of bandwidth hogs points to the complexity of connectivity requirements. Our research shows that enterprises prefer to forward big data and storage traffic over MPLS, but they strongly prefer to forward secure web applications over the internet. Branch offices will need a mix of connectivity to support this application traffic, and that is just what they plan to deliver.

Among enterprises that are adding internet connectivity to their WAN, 74% reported that they are replacing MPLS with the internet for primary WAN connectivity at remote sites. However, on average these transitions will only affect 45% of the remote sites in the enterprise. So most WAN architectures will continue to have a mix of MPLS and internet connectivity.

Given this complex stew of applications and network types, network infrastructure professionals are facing a huge challenge. The enterprise needs high-performing applications regardless of where users are and how they connect to the network.

SD-WAN Is All About Application Performance

SD-WAN addresses many of the issues discussed above. It supports hybrid WAN connectivity, and it facilitates direct cloud access from remote sites. It also provides the centralized network management and visibility capabilities that can help network infrastructure teams assure application performance. In fact, improved application performance is the number one business driver for SD-WAN adoption, reported by 42% of all early adopters.

The centralized visibility and control that SD-WAN offers also addresses security concerns. In fact, 33% of SD-WAN adopters said improved network security was a top business driver for their use of the technology.

Any enterprise that is redefining the branch should evaluate Citrix NetScaler SD-WAN and other SD-WAN solutions to determine how they can address evolving branch WAN requirements. SD-WAN solutions can reduce the chaos associated with remote site diversity and application heterogeneity. They will support the migration of applications to the cloud. And they will give network teams the tools they need to improve WAN application performance and security.

Branch Office Redefined Webcast: You can learn more on this topic by attending a free webcast featuring me and Citrix on May 23. North Americans click here to register. Readers in the EMEA region click here to register. .