SD-WAN has been getting a lot of attention in recent years — and for good reason. By 2021, the IDC estimates the SD-WAN market is going to represent a stunning $8 billion. But what is this networking solution exactly? And how can it help your IT team perform better? In this blog, we’ll take a look at what SD-WAN is, how it compares to traditional wide networking options, and the top SD-WAN benefits for IT teams today.
What is SD-WAN?
SD-WAN is a networking solution that enables businesses to get more reliable internet and site-to-site connectivity simply, easily, securely, and with more control.
SD-WAN uses the reach and speed of the internet, off-the-shelf white-box networking devices, and software to deliver the same capabilities as traditional WAN solutions, but in a way that is easier, faster to deploy, and more flexible.
Traditional WANs are typically built on top of networks owned by telecoms, use proprietary hardware, and take considerable time to design, quote, implement, and change. Network connections are most often controlled by the telecom, and only the telecom has complete visibility to what’s going on in the network.
By deploying SD-WAN, businesses, competitive service providers, managed service providers, ISPs, and anyone who relies on networks to deliver data, support customers, and generate revenue realize greater freedom, cost savings, and control over their customer or end-user experience.
Before we go into the SD-WAN benefits, let’s take a look at the traditional wide networking options.
Networking of The Past: The Traditional WAN Model
As described above, the traditional WAN model relied on multiple hardware devices placed across a business’s physical locations connected by circuits leased from one or more network providers to create a network. While highly reliable, the traditional model has a number of challenges, including:
Complicated Infrastructure = No Control
Under the traditional WAN model, businesses are reliant on a complex network of hardware devices connected by circuits they don’t control by a company they can’t control (the telecom). As a result, IT teams face the challenge of understanding the network design, understanding how to control the devices, and negotiating telecom contracts (not to mention telecom support and change processes). This makes IT’s job extremely challenging (particularly during deployments or failures).
Telecom Reliant = Complex, Time-consuming, Difficult, Constrained
As mentioned briefly above, the traditional WAN solution involves working with a telecom or cablecom because they own the fiber. Even if the network is provided by a competitive telecom, the processes are still very much the same. It’s the process that kills. Telecoms are built to be reliable, which doesn’t mean fast, flexible, or efficient. And that’s a problem for IT and for the business. Decisions and changes take too long for a business that runs at the speed of today.
In addition, building networks that span multiple geographies or countries is challenging with telecoms. Costs can increase and support problems multiply when telecoms wholesale from telecoms in other countries. Customers need to build capabilities for understanding and negotiating with telecoms.
Displaced Devices = Lack of Real-Time Predictability
Built on a telecom’s network, IT teams can’t see the network and often can’t see or control the performance of the network termination devices, even at their own branches. This means that IT can’t have real-time insights into the performance of their entire network, end-to-end, and can’t control it! This is extremely frustrating when end-users run into problems and the only solution is to pick up the phone and call the telecom.
Proprietary Hardware = Expensive Operating Costs
Lastly, because traditional WAN networking relies on proprietary devices to perform, businesses spend a share of their profit to purchase these branded boxes, the required feature licensing, and term-based maintenance contracts. Paying for the manufacturer’s brand, their software key licenses, and their extensive investment in software functions you’ll never use just burns. Even worse is paying for support contracts you rarely need.
How SD-WAN Benefits IT Teams
Unlike the traditional WAN model, SD-WAN is software defined (obviously). By virtue of being software defined, it is an abstraction, or a virtual network layer over top of existing internet connections or private circuits.
SD-WAN gives you the ability to connect any branch, anywhere using any combination of circuits (including wireless). IT staff get control and visibility into the performance of the network and changes are made easily through a centralized control plane application. Lower-cost, white-box hardware at the edge and standard servers in the core mean IT can optimize costs and avoid brand-name markup.
By operating through software, SD-WAN benefits IT teams in a number of ways, including:
Centralized Control & Simplicity:
As a virtualized network, like an application, SD-WAN provides IT teams with a central management interface that gives control and visibility over the entire network. Configurations are made once and pushed out across the network. The software takes care of distributing routing and device configurations so that Edge CPE devices don’t need to be physically touched.
A centralized and software-based model also significantly increases an IT team’s ability to protect its data through built-in monitoring, data transmission encryption, and using multiple circuits with packet-based link load balancing at each site. SD-WAN can (or should) also be integrated easily with existing centralized security/firewall offers. Customers may have their own preferences for security and a good SD-WAN solution should cater to each customer’s unique needs. Edge CPE should also be able to function as a universal CPE and host security/firewall instances at each site, if needed.
Better User Experience:
Through a software-based model, the silos of the traditional WAN model are completely eliminated resulting in heightened collaboration for IT teams, regardless of location. This creates faster responsiveness and higher employee (user) satisfaction. New sites get turned up faster and sites that need more bandwidth are able to add it without entering into term contracts or dealing with ROI challenges.
Enormous Cost Savings:
By switching to software networking, IT teams no longer have to allocate significant amounts of their budget on the purchase, maintenance, and replacement of proprietary, branded hardware and expensive support contracts.
Under the WAN model, bandwidth is limited to that available from the telecom or network provider at each site and within each site’s budget. This can often result in compromises where network performance at a site is poor because the costs are too high for that site to bear.
With SD-WAN, using diverse internet-based circuits, IT teams can enjoy the freedom of an intuitive network that is more cost effective, often has higher performance, gives the ability to load balance across circuits for failover, and offers seamless wireless failover without needing any intervention.
As a provider-agnostic networking solution, SD-WAN doesn’t depend on the footprint of a single provider to function. As a result, using public and/or private cloud instances, IT teams can easily create global networks with consistent performance regardless of the physical location, therefore ensuring complete business continuity.
For any IT team around today, SD-WAN is a path to greater freedom, security, cost savings, and control. Contact us today to find out the best SD-WAN solution for your team.