What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is a software-defined approach to WAN, which in layman’s terms means leveraging software (typically on a hardware appliance) to utilize multiple WAN circuits (such as broadband, LTE, or MPLS). Traditional WANs aren’t designed for the additional bandwidth cloud applications require, which can have a serious effect on user experience. SD-WAN is designed to address these traditional WAN shortcomings.

SD-WAN as a concept has been around for years, but until relatively recently, it was known as bandwidth load balancing or bandwidth steering. These approaches can still be valuable and allow you to define which WAN circuits should be used based on factors such as IPs, TCP, UDP, and round-robin connections. SD-WAN relies on a lot of these concepts but lets you take it further than the limited technologies of the past.

What Are the Benefits of SD-WAN Over Traditional WAN?

You may feel that your current setup is adequate for your needs and that while SD-WAN sounds impressive, it also sounds expensive. So is SD-WAN a worthwhile investment? With all new technologies, you need to take a long-term view and weigh the benefits and expenses (including cost and the time and employee work it would require to switch over), so you can determine if making the switch is beneficial for your organization.

Cost Reduction

To start, I would suggest reviewing the cost of your current MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) solution. For many organizations, having enough MPLS circuits to keep all your branch offices connected can be expensive. What if you could remove your MPLS circuits and replace them with a broadband-based solution at a fraction of your current cost? The cost of a traditional broadband connection has fallen significantly over the years. In most situations, it can be substantially cheaper to invest in a couple of broadband connections (and move to SD-WAN) rather than rely on an MPLS configuration. 

Making the switch may also be less onerous than you think. If you have replaced your firewall in the last two or three years, your firewall vendor is likely already using SD-WAN in the latest operating system for your firewall. This means that you probably won’t need to replace your firewall or purchase an add-on appliance to benefit from SD-WAN. For example, newer versions of Fortinet or SonicWall both come with SD-WAN capabilities built-in, so there is no additional cost associated with benefiting from an SD-WAN solution. 

Increase Network Performance

SD-WAN also has benefits beyond cost reduction; it can have a measurable positive impact on the performance of your network. For example, SD-WAN can be used to do things like monitor every single phone call on your network and steer each call towards the best internet connection to make sure that the quality of every phone call remains as high as it possibly can be. 

You can also configure your SD-WAN to monitor the jitter, latency, and packet loss of each internet connection and make real-time decisions on which internet connection to use for each predefined service such as VoIP or an application such as Salesforce or O365

Another benefit of SD-WAN is that if a circuit goes down, a properly configured SD-WAN solution will reroute traffic to unaffected circuits to minimize disruption.

Improved Cybersecurity

If your current firewall uses SD-WAN, your entire network benefits from increased security. Firewalls that rely on SD-WAN allow you to take advantage of an entire suite of security products such as IPS and anti-spyware programs. Many traditional WAN configurations don’t allow companies to monitor branch traffic. SD-WAN means you are never out of the loop, and you no longer need to backhaul all of your traffic back to a data center if you want to investigate something suspicious. All traffic can be analyzed at the branch level, saving both time and effort.

Increased Visibility

SD-WAN also gives you increased visibility into the performance of all your WAN connections, with most (if not all) SD-WAN platforms allowing you to quickly and easily get the information you need to assess the stability and reliability of your WAN circuits. 

Businesses rely on the internet for so much, so companies need to be able to proactively monitor and maintain their WAN circuits so that they can meet your business’s internet needs.

What You Need to Know Before You Switch From WAN to SD-WAN

Traditional WAN infrastructure relies on independent WAN circuits that aren’t typically able to work in concert to provide optimal network performance. For example, a traditional branch setup may have a headquarters, a datacenter, and multiple branch offices that are all connected by MPLS or ELAN (ethernet virtual private LAN). The headquarters and the data center may both require multiple WAN broadband circuits that are independent of one another so they can handle a failover or basic load balancing matter. 

As such, all traffic from the branch offices would need to be backhauled to the data center, and in the event of a data center outage, this traffic would need to be temporarily rerouted to headquarters. This type of configuration is not only inefficient, but it’s also expensive. By replacing this model with broadband connections in an SD-WAN configuration, you could provide better performance and decrease costs while also creating a safety net of redundancies. 

An SD-WAN configuration could see branch offices utilizing their own broadband connections to handle regular internet traffic. This configuration offers the best path optimization for both applications and services that are vital to the daily activities of the business. This model also eliminates the need to maintain an expensive inter-connected solution but provides both high-level security and improves performance. 

SD-WAN also allows for secure connections to be made using broadband to link the headquarters, the data center, and the various branch offices using a VPN while the SD-WAN technology improves path optimization.

Switching from a traditional WAN configuration to an SD-WAN configuration comes with many benefits, including increased performance, improved traffic monitoring, and increased security. 

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