If you stick to a traditional Wide Area Network (WAN), you rely on physical routers to connect branches or remote users to apps hosted in data centers.
A network administrator or engineer writes the rules and policies covering the data flows, often manually, for each network router.
The entire process can be prone to errors, time-consuming, and costly.
Plus, conventional WAN’s not designed to handle traffic surges that come with cloud adoption can cause application performance unpredictability, data vulnerability, and management complexity.
Fortunately, a better, more efficient solution exists in Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN.)
This guide covers the nuts and bolts of SD-WAN, its benefits to your business, and how it can modernize and streamline managing your network.
SD-WAN: An overview
SD-WAN is a virtualized service or WAN architecture that connects and extends enterprise networks across large geographical distances.
WAN’s typically use links, including Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), the internet, broadband, wireless, and a Virtual Private Network (VPN), to give users in remote locations secure access to apps, resources, and services.
SD-WAN tracks these WAN connections’ performance and manages traffic to optimize connectivity and maintain high speeds.
SD-WAN also separates the management and control processes from the underlying networking hardware, which makes them available as easy-to-configure and deploy software.
It uses a centralized control function to intelligently and securely direct traffic across the WAN and to trusted Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers.
A centralized control function also allows network administrators to configure the application network permissions, settings, security, and other factors from one interface.
It makes it easy to push the settings across the network at once instead of setting up individual routers at every physical location.
That said, SD-WAN can help increase app performance and provide a high-quality user experience. It can boost business productivity and agility while reducing IT costs.
SD-WAN characteristics and components
Below are the general components and characteristics of SD-WAN’s that make up the technology and allow it to work.
Multi-connection and multi-transport
SD-WAN gateways support hybrid WAN.
It implies that each gateway can have multiple connections with various transports, such as LTE, broadband, MPLS, etc. VPNs are usually set up across WAN connections for security.
As a result, SD-WAN technology can work as an overlay that spans a diverse communication infrastructure.
SD-WAN has a centralized primary means of control that often resides in SaaS apps running on a public cloud.
The control is decoupled from the hardware, improving service delivery and network management.
SD-WAN appliances (including virtual appliances) follow operational rules from the central SD-WAN controller. It can reduce or eliminate managing routers and gateways individually.
SD-WAN supports the Quality of Service (QoS) policy, which determines where dynamic path selection will direct traffic.
SD-WAN also determines the level of priority (QoS) give.
You can implement business intentions as policies through the central management console. The new (and updated) policies get translated into operational rules and downloaded to all the routers and SD-WAN gateways under control.
For instance, a policy may be created to ensure the best performance of a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and interactive web conference.
Interactive web conferences and VoIP packet transmissions are given priority and routed to low-latency paths to achieve this.
Other examples include sending file backups across a broadband internet connection, which helps save costs.
Also, WAN traffic requiring high-level security can be restricted to private connections, such as MPLS, between websites. It should also be required to go through a robust security stack as it enters the enterprise.
SD-WAN technology can chain together with other network services.
WAN optimization (or acceleration) is usually combined with SD-WAN to improve network and app performance.
For example, internet traffic that leaves and enters a branch office might be routed across a VPN to a cloud-based security service to balance performance, cost, and security.
Dynamic path selection
SD-WAN can selectively and automatically route traffic to one WAN link (or another) depending on traffic characteristics and network conditions.
Packets might be steered to a specific link if another link is down or isn’t working to balance traffic throughout all available links.
SD-WAN can also identify packets by the user, app, source or destination, and others and send them through one path or more based on said characteristics.
3 advantages of SD-WAN technology
The benefits of adopting SD-WAN technology can depend on your company’s physical location, application types, security needs, and other factors.
However, some common and significant advantages of the technology can include the following.
1. High availability
Circuits with issues impact the entire delivery chain in a traditional network that uses private circuits.
While you can leverage backup circuits to avoid outages, it’s often time-consuming and costly.
SD-WAN technology can help you avoid this since it allows you to set traffic to route around problem areas automatically, minimizing downtimes.
SD-WAN also lets you configure specific traffic (e.g., live voice or video) to use paths with higher quality connections, including dedicated MPLS circuits.
2. Prevents wasted traffic
Traditional WAN configurations require all traffic from each location to go back to your data center or main office before going to its final destination.
The process can lead to huge amounts of traffic traveling the network all at once, especially with cloud solutions. It can slow down performance and potentially cause issues.
SD-WAN technology doesn’t face this same issue.
For instance, if your remote location requires access to a cloud email, the traffic goes directly from the location to the cloud service without needing to pass through your data center.
The route the traffic takes across the public internet is determined based on your SD-WAN’s settings.
The traffic can also be routed around broken or slow circuits. It increases reliability and speed and ultimately streamlines crucial aspects of your business performance.
3. Improves security
Securely moving from MPLS is crucial.
An SD-WAN network helps you securely move from MPLS (or other private circuits) to an SD-WAN through centralized security management. This way, you won’t need to push out policies and rules to each router distributed across your company.
Centralized security management helps reduce the risks of human error that give end-users elevated, unnecessary permissions and expose your data.
Additionally, SD-WAN technology can encrypt your business-critical data traveling across the internet to the cloud and other destinations, increasing your protection.
Should you invest in SD-WAN technology?
SD-WAN is crucial to enterprise network infrastructures because of its significant benefits—from optimizing network management and performance to improving data security.
If your company operates in multiple locations and if you want to keep your IT infrastructure expenses down while keeping your systems stable, then SD-WAN can be your best bet.