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SD-WAN: What is it and why should I care?

John Boline

As businesses grow and expand into multiple locations, the need for networking increases. Internet access and the need for private networks evolved from using old leased lines, then to frame relay, and finally to MPLS. Each new development brought improvements, but the price continued to rise. Industry demanded a better solution with more speed and lower costs, but how could that happen?  It required thinking outside the box, but the new technology actually required a box! I am talking about SD-WAN. So what is SD-WAN? Do I need it? Should I care?

What is SD-WAN?
Software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) is a new approach to supporting branch office connectivity in a simplified and cost-effective manner. It is an emerging technology that offers benefits which are lacking in traditional router-based networks, like frame relay and MPLS. One big advantage over traditional networks is the implementation cost savings. Employing SD-WAN allows users to simplify their network and provides increased agility to make changes when needed.

Benefits and Risks
The benefits of an SD-WAN approach are substantial and significant when compared to traditional WAN architectures. Reduced costs, faster provisioning and network availability are among the chief benefits. When compared with traditional WANs, industry leaders like Gartner anticipate that SD-WANs can save at least 40% through reduced acquisition costs for hardware, software, and support of vendor-provided remote office WAN equipment. This, in turn, leads to reduced enterprise operational expenditures in managing/operating the WAN and carrier savings from implementing hybrid WANs, which vary geographically. Users may also see 50% to 80% improvement in the time it takes enterprises (or relevant third parties) to  provision network changes.

SD-WAN Operating Requirements
A whitepaper from Gartner indicated the following as the four key requirements for a solution to be categorized as SD-WAN:

  1. SD-WAN solutions provide a lightweight replacement for traditional WAN routers and are agnostic to WAN transport (that is, support MPLS, Internet, LTE, etc.).
  2. SD-WAN solutions allow for load sharing of traffic across multiple WAN connections in an efficient and dynamic fashion based on business and/or application policies.
  3. SD-WAN solutions dramatically simplify the complexity associated with management, configuration and orchestration of WANs.
  4. SD-WAN solutions must provide secure VPNs and have the ability to integrate additional network services.

The criteria for SD-WAN preclude any orchestration-only solutions that require separate third-party networking software to perform connectivity functions.

The great thing about SD-WAN is that it is specific to enterprise WANs and applies to branches of all sizes, geographies and vertical markets. This makes it very versatile. SD-WAN provides the greatest benefit for organizations that:

  • Are moving toward a hybrid WAN topology to support public cloud services
  • Seek to reduce traditional business-class carrier services' budget requirements
  • Want to reduce management complexity of their WAN
  • Want to reduce cost of existing WAN remote branch equipment, often during a refresh cycle
  • Have a large number (more than 25) of remote branches
  • Are aggressively deploying video to branch office locations
  • Maintain limited or no IT personnel on-site in remote branches

Breaking Tech Practices
The purpose of this article is to make you aware of the best tech practices to keep you and your enterprise growing and moving data quickly without breaking the bank! You may find that SD-WAN is a good fit for your organization or, at the very least, you might communicate with your data network provider your interest in considering new and innovative solutions to replace traditional networks. If you have questions or comments about this article, contact me.

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