Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN)

Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN)

SD-WAN is a virtual WAN architecture that provides multi-branch organizations with the ability to improve efficiency and reduce operating expenses. The areas needing improvement are generally associated with proprietary backhaul connectivity services, poor network performance, and inconsistent security posture and policy management. All of which inhibit low risk adoption of cloud-based applications and other digital transformation initiatives.

Traditional WAN architecture increases latency and slows down network performance to cloud services. This has driven Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions to become increasingly popular as organizations request fast, scalable, and flexible connectivity among different network environments. They also seek to lower the overall total cost of ownership (TCO) while delivering enhanced application performance. But a subpar SD-WAN approach can significantly inhibit an organization’s ability to quickly adapt to changing business demands, especially if it does not offer integrated security.

In a nutshell, SD-WAN is used for security. But what is SD-WAN’s purpose when working towards specific business outcomes?

Better Application Experience
SD-WAN allows remote sites to connect more easily to networks, data centers, and/or multiple-clouds with lower latency, better performance, and more reliable connectivity. When users demand more of their applications and infrastructure at unprecedented agility and scale, an appealing user experience can be make-or-break.

Instant ROI Benefits
MPLS and other connectivity technologies aren’t just outdated; they’re also more expensive when the total cost of ownership (TCO) is considered. SD-WAN not only significantly reduces bandwidth costs but can also help reduce capital costs by allowing consolidation of different point networking and security products at the edge while delivering better control and performance.

Efficient Operations
As network infrastructures have evolved, the sprawl of point products used for networking and security increases complexity. SD-WAN uses automation to make connectivity a simpler process across mixed environments, including on-premises, hybrid, and cloud. SD-WAN enables centralized orchestration, zero-touch provisioning, and analytics along with deep integrations of cloud on-ramps to accelerate cloud connectivity.

Enhanced Security Posture
An SD-WAN solution needs to have integrated security. Otherwise, it’s just another connectivity option that unfortunately becomes an attack vector. When properly implemented, secure SD-WAN enables private, secure and direct internet access. It’s critical that an SD-WAN solution can ensure consistent security at all edges, from flexible WAN edges to the cloud edge.

History and Evolution of SD-WAN

Modern SD networking and SD-WAN technology evolved from earlier networking solutions like point-to-point (PPP) leased lines, frame relay, and MPLS. PPP was the original mode for connecting multiple local area networks (LANs) before frame relay removed the need to buy and manage individual connecting links between various corporate locations. MPLS connection made more improvements by bringing previously separate functions such as voice, video, and data networking onto the same network using Internet Protocol (IP)-based technology.

Fast-forward to the 2000s, and multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) came to popularity. MPLS soon overtook frame relay in popularity because of how it leverages Internet Protocol (IP)-based technology to bring previously separate functions such as voice, video, and data networking onto the same network. MPLS today is the most common technology in use for enterprise WANs, and is still held up for the reduced latency and quality of service (QoS) benefits it provides.

In the 2010s, specifically 2013, SD-WAN was born, and as more technologists examined SD-WAN for its benefits, they came to realize many of the same advantages SD-WAN has over MPLS, similar to how MPLS brought more advantages than frame relay. As a simple explanation, SD networks deliver MPLS-level QoS while being significantly less expensive and significantly easier to scale.

SD-WAN can handle a variety of connections and dynamically move traffic over the best transport available, and can provide both redundancy and much more capacity using lower-cost links. SD-WAN solutions are significantly cheaper than MPLS overall when time-to-installation and time-to-delivery are also considered. The best SD-WAN solutions offer zero-touch provisioning, allowing sites to be brought on quickly and not requiring networking or security experts to be on-site for installation.

SD-WAN vs. MPLS: Which is Better?

Compared to Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), Software-defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) can be less expensive, more secure, and provide higher performance. MPLS can have steep bandwidth costs, while SD-WAN protects your network from vulnerabilities that MPLS cannot. The short answer is that SD-WAN offers better visibility, availability, enhanced performance, and more freedom of action. It’s why the industry has seen interest in SD-WAN rising over the past few years.

There are a few significant differences between SD-WAN and MPLS. To summarize, while MPLS is a dedicated circuit, SD-WAN is virtual overlay and decoupled from physical links. This gives MPLS a slight advantage when preventing packet loss, but you’ll incur more expenses for every megabit transferred. However, the virtualized overlay nature of SD-WAN allows you to leverage connection types like LTE, MPLS, and broadband, providing greater flexibility.

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