SD-WAN, Explained

What is SD-WAN and how can it benefit your network?

The traditional means of setting up a business network have remained fairly static over the years — this has been a problem, limiting companies’ options. Businesses hoping to get up to speed with their computing needs have been forced to choose between expensive and difficult to obtain private connections and a loose collection of public internet resources. The emergence of software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) represents new possibilities.

By leveraging multiple connections, whether private, public, or even wireless, SD-WAN represents an affordable and secure way to get the bandwidth your organization needs to run its systems and applications. With a centralized control layer in the cloud, SD-WAN provides a way to build a better business network that matches modern use cases.

If you’re wondering about the best way to expand your network, it pays to learn the basics about SD-WAN: how it works, how it’s different from other types of networking, and what makes it so suitable for meeting organizations’ computing needs today. SD-WAN is largely defined by its ability to deliver the same capabilities companies have long taken from more traditional WAN options, but on a new technological and economic model, one with considerable upside.

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is a wide-area network that is managed in the cloud instead of at the hardware level. Private networks, public broadband internet connections, mobile networks such as 4G, 5G, and satellite connections — all of these can become part of SD-WAN, with bandwidth aggregated through control systems in the cloud.

Traffic over SD-WAN is wrapped in an encrypted VPN tunnel. This ensures that even when using a public internet connection, functionality is as secure as it would be on a traditional private connection employing multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). Combining multiple connections in a technology-agnostic SD-WAN network allows organizations to increase bandwidth to levels that rival those of private connections, without the time-consuming and costly installation.

Every physical brand and digital service operated by a company are managed as part of a centralized SD-WAN network. This means offices, data centers, and critical cloud applications are all overseen through the same cloud-based software. This changes the way controls work — where previously, each site would have its own administrators, it is now possible to handle everything via the same IT personnel.

The key features of SD-WAN are designed to allow businesses to take greater control over their networks. These include the following capabilities:

  • Bandwidth aggregation and hybrid WAN options: One of the most important traits of SD-WAN is its ability to coexist with other business connections, including standard MPLS WAN. Organizations can combine their private network with multiple commercial broadband internet connections, 4G/5G mobile networks, and more.
  • Link aggregation, dynamic path selection and forward error correction: These capabilities ensure that each data packet travels down the ideal path, so performance for mission-critical apps is as stable as it would be on a high-bandwidth private connection.
  • Continuous monitoring and automatic blackout correction: Automated features compensate for changes in the status of any of the individual connections that make up an SD-WAN network. When one internet resource stops responding, others automatically take up the slack, creating an environment with minimal downtime.
  • Link steering and QoS control: Administrators determine which applications have the highest priority, setting quality of service rules at a global or location-specific level. This ensures that the most important apps and services, such as voice and video, perform reliably with less jitter and latency.
  • Centralized network management: The fact that the control layer of SD-WAN resides in the cloud means its control panel is available from anywhere. Through this single view, administrators can drill down and work with the devices or applications running from any of a company’s offices.
  • Analytics capabilities: Because SD-WAN networks centralize the management of multiple connections across many locations, they provide IT teams with the ability to launch enterprise-spanning analysis operations, detecting the causes of issues and optimization opportunities.
  • Security posture: The security of an SD-WAN network is dependent upon the capabilities of the provider. These include firewalls and encryption to ensure traffic is as secure as it would be when passing through a standard MPLS network. Through the centralized control panel, companies can also manage the types of traffic disallowed on the SD-WAN, preventing potentially harmful application use throughout the organization.

The net effect of these features is to create a solid and reliable business network solution that combines aspects of private connections — high bandwidth and data security—with advantages of public internet resources, namely low costs and flexibility regarding deployment. This is in keeping with the general trend of information technology today, with business users leaning toward cloud hosting rather than relying entirely on traditional hosting.

How does traditional WAN compare with SD-WAN?

It’s possible to break the comparison between WAN models down into a few categories. By defining SD-WAN against a model that only uses MPLS networking, you can determine which one fits your enterprise computing strategy most closely:

Location specific vs. centralized: A traditional WAN network is often made up of disparate edge devices and managed via this hardware. The control for each office and data center resides locally. In SD-WAN, this management layer is entirely based on public cloud software and managed from a single location.

The switch to using SaaS applications for critical business functions is a product of recent years, and it’s likely that longstanding enterprise leaders already have data center and office IT layouts in place on a traditional MPLS model. On the other hand, organizations going through rapid expansion could be wondering how to reach this level of tech maturity quickly. One answer may be SD-WAN.

Separate vs. aggregated connections: Managing an MPLS network means working with individual private network connections. Your company can also opt to use the public internet, although reliability will decrease. Using SD-WAN, bandwidth from all sources is aggregated, with data packets sent via dynamic path selection.

MPLS networks consisting of exclusively private internet resources have long been the gold standard for business networks, among companies that can afford them. These systems will not typically go away overnight when an organization begins using SD-WAN. The solutions may be used to complement one another, with the SD-WAN acting as a backup or extra bandwidth to support the MPLS network.

Why are companies using SD-WAN now?

Secure access to reliable, high-bandwidth connections has become an essential part of business today; companies have come to rely on mission-critical applications such as VoIP and video chat to coordinate their day-to-day activities. Furthermore, with common enterprise applications such as Salesforce, Hubspot, and more sold on a Software-as-a-Service model, it’s valuable to have access to a cloud-based solution that can deliver lower-latency connectivity to those apps.

What are the top 5 trends in SD-WAN today?

Growth is a universal goal, and it is another reason why SD-WAN has become so popular. Adding anything to a network — whether that is a new location, a cloud service, or piece of hardware — is simpler and more intuitive with an SD-WAN network, especially one that supports zero-touch provisioning from plug-and-play edge appliances.

The challenges traditionally associated with provisioning a new private network connection, from the scarcity of necessary hardware to the high capital expenditures necessary to get the data center up to speed, are all eliminated when an organization uses SD-WAN. Therefore, when a business is interested in rapid growth, the math becomes simple: Use SD-WAN and get the capabilities now for less, or stay with a traditional MPLS-only model and wait 30 to 120 days.

What are the key advantages of SD-WAN?

While we have broken down the key selling points of our managed SD-WAN solution in detail elsewhere, a quick overview of how SD-WAN capabilities translate into business value can be instructive. In brief, the most compelling sources of SD-WAN value include:

Cost management: There are a few distinct cost advantages to using SD-WAN. In one of the most direct examples, this method reduces capital expenditures associated with adding new resources to your network. Standing up a new enterprise-grade private network connection is costly, with scarce hardware and lengthy installation driving up the expense even further. SD-WAN’s agnostic approach to bandwidth enables you to turn to affordable commercial internet resources without sacrificing capacity or security.

There are also operational expense reductions associated with the technology: Controlling all network resources from a centralized location is a more affordable approach to IT administration. The personnel operating these control panels can use their increased visibility to eliminate inefficiencies and get more performance from network resources.

Ease of control: Controlling the whole network through a single pane of glass isn’t just a boon to cost-efficiency; it’s also a forward-thinking and effective way to operate. Your administrators can set policies that affect an application across every one of your offices, then zoom in and make exceptions where needed, ensuring perfectly tuned performance for the most important applications at each location.

Why is Managed SD-WAN better than a DIY approach?

With access to a deep analytic engine, personnel can detect possible sources of issues, then make minute changes to keep every service at peak performance. This level of oversight also enables better security, with the ability to choose which traffic to block on the network. While some apps receive priority access, others can be shut down altogether, all through a single centralized console.

Quality of service: Your most mission-critical applications can perform better and with greater uptime when you’re using the managed SD-WAN solution from Sangoma. By setting QoS policies targeting VoIP, videoconferencing, and other essential cloud-based tools, you can make sure those solutions get priority, creating a better experience with less latency.

When connections do fail, the SD-WAN solution offers many ways to compensate. Seamless failover via link aggregation is their key feature. Using automatic load balancing, application priority setting, and forward error correction, you can ensure that sessions do not drop when one of the connections making up your meshed architecture goes down.

Increased reach and ease of deployment: Adding new offices or data centers to a business network is a common activity today, and implementing new SaaS applications is an important part of expanding your capabilities. These actions are simple and more cost-effective when you have a managed SD-WAN network instead of a pure MPLS solution. Bringing a new location online takes far less time when there is no need to set up a private connection — this process goes from months to minutes.

When edge appliances support zero-touch provisioning, you don’t go through a complex configuration process for each new resource. Everything your organization needs to build a global network is easily available. Overseen by a combination of our network experts and your personnel, this new configuration will be available to grow alongside your business, regardless of the demands placed on your computing resources in the years ahead.

What do you need to get started with SD-WAN?

Beginning the journey to SD-WAN deployment involves a few key components as you set up new connections and create your network. This will likely take the form of a hybrid WAN, with some locations on SD-WAN and existing locations still on MPLS. Working with your provider of choice, you can assemble the following.

  • Internet connections: Depending on your budget, bandwidth needs, and what is available in your area, you can assemble a variety of public, private, and even mobile networks to form your SD-WAN.
  • Local appliances: Installing new primary and secondary edge devices in your data centers is an important part of creating an SD-WAN network. Higher throughput requirements will demand hardware with more advanced specifications. These components must also support key security features such as enterprise-grade firewalls and encryption to ensure your data remains protected at all times.
  • A design for the network: Creating an SD-WAN project that will provide lasting value takes planning and customization. By working with your networking partner, you can determine the types of circuits that make sense for each of your locations and assemble a cohesive strategy.

It’s important to remember that your first SD-WAN deployment will likely not take the form of a full rip-and-replace of your current infrastructure. SD-WAN and traditional MPLS networks function effectively side by side, and it’s common to begin with SD-WAN circuits acting as affordable options for smaller branch locations.

Over time, as contracts with your conventional network resources expire, your organization can move more capacity to the SD-WAN. In the years to come, as SaaS applications form an ever-larger part of companies’ IT deployments, this strategy could pay off in performance benefits alongside the cost advantages of using broadband internet circuits.

Learning about SD-WAN is the first step in making it work for you. Next, it’s time to work with experts to assess your current infrastructure in detail and make a plan that fits your organization. If you’re interested in investigating further, contact our SD-WAN experts.

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