Moving from hardware solutions to software solutions isn’t a new concept for technology professionals, but network infrastructure has traditionally been a hardware-focused world even as applications move to the cloud. With the introduction of SD-WAN, or Software-Defined Wide Area Networks, IT professionals find themselves needing to retool their understanding of flexible networks and security. The MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) has been in use for decades and is an extremely reliable — yet pricey — option for connectivity. Today’s SD-WAN provides the modern organization with the flexibility, scalability, security and efficiency needed to stay competitive in a fast-changing world.
The Basics of SD-WAN
At its most basic, you can think of SD-WAN as a way to tie together a variety of disparate networks as it is equally efficient with internal as well as external internet and even cloud-based applications. Instead of a more rigid WAN network, SD-WAN allows you to configure your network quickly from a centralized location, reducing the potential of human error that can bring your network to its knees and productivity to a screeching halt. Since all variables are driven by software that you configure, this structure can be quickly scaled and new remote locations added without requiring an intense investment in time and physical hardware or redesign.
How Do You Manage a Software-Defined Network?
A key value that you gain when you shift to an SD-WAN is the ability to make shifts locally as well as globally from a centralized dashboard. This makes changes swifter, but also helps protect your network by ensuring that universal security standards are applied at all locations equally. Using an SD-WAN configuration gives you the added benefit of consolidated troubleshooting and error reporting so you can quickly identify any trouble spots or network hotspots and shift resources as needed to add speed and efficiency to your network — something that users are sure to appreciate, even if they never realize it is happening.
What Are the Business Benefits of SD-WAN?
Upgrading your network from a more restrictive model to SD-WAN has a variety of benefits for your organization. While some of these gains are realized upfront, others will continue to add value to your organization over time.
- The cost of connectivity using an SD-WAN is less expensive than traditional MPLS, an especially important point when you consider the bandwidth-heavy applications that business users require.
- While there is a high level of expertise required for upfront configuration of a software-defined network, ongoing changes are less intensive and can potentially save you consulting fees in the future.
- Your business users will appreciate that network availability is high because there is no need to take the network down to make configuration changes or upgrades.
- Your technology team is able to define networking rules in the language of business — SLAs, security restraints, apps and users — making the network easier to understand and maintain in the future.
- With Gartner noting that nearly 25% of businesses will utilize SD-WAN in 2019, there is a growing body of knowledge within the IT community that makes it easier to find resources to support your network infrastructure. The SD-WAN market is expected to grow to $1.3 billion by 2020.
- Cloud-based applications continue to emerge in all sectors of business, and it can be challenging to protect these applications without a consolidated hub of security rules. SD-WAN allows everything from SaaS to traditional connections to be covered under the same business rules.
- Branches and remote workers will appreciate having access to the same high quality of connection that they enjoy at the office, instead of having to deal with restrictive security procedures and application latency.
Instead of relying on the hardware to make decisions about connections speed and connections as with MPLS, SD-WAN makes agile decisions about the best way to connect users and the data or applications that they need to access.
What Type of Business Benefits from SD-WAN?
While there are many benefits of SD-WAN, there is one downside that can be a deal-breaker for certain organizations. Software-Defined WAN does provide extremely reliable uptime, but there can be more packet loss than you would see with a hardware-based network. In this case, you may want to consider a hybrid infrastructure that lets you gain the benefits of SD-WAN for the majority of your applications yet maintains any heavy applications that simply cannot abide packet loss on a more traditional MPLS. The majority of organizations are looking for ways to reduce their cost of connectivity and have very heavy use of their internet or intranet connections — making SD-WAN ideal. Businesses that are growing quickly or expanding into new regions are also likely to see gains from making the switch.
Many organizations are seeing that shifting to an SD-WAN model may help them future-proof their business by creating a flexible, scalable and secure model that can grow with their business. From the reduced cost of connections to the high availability environment, it’s clear that the conversation around SD-WAN will not be going away in technology groups around the world.