Software-Defined WAN: Cheaper, Faster, More Secure

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology is being adopted at a phenomenal rate. IDC expects that 70 percent of enterprises will implement some form of SD-WAN within the next two years. As a result, the research firm predicts that the SD-WAN market will see a compound annual growth rate of more than 90 percent.

sd wan blog graphicMost network administrators would agree that the WAN has been broken for some time.

The traditional WAN architecture is a hub-and-spoke design that connects branch offices to the centralized data center. It was always expensive and inflexible but it worked reasonably well for legacy client-server applications. For Internet traffic – not so much.

If the data center provides the only connection to the outside world, then Internet traffic to and from branch locations has to be backhauled over the corporate WAN. It was an inefficient setup back when Internet traffic was relatively limited. Now that cloud usage has mushroomed, organizations are facing the need to continually increase WAN bandwidth so application performance doesn’t suffer.

Costly Proposition

That’s a costly proposition when you’re talking about adding multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) links.Yes, MPLS is less expensive and easier to scale than traditional “leased line” circuits but it still costs three or four times as much (or more) than broadband Internet connectivity. So why not connect branch offices directly to the Internet using broadband? Some organizations do but there are risks. The Internet is a “best effort” network that does not provide Quality of Service for voice, video and other interactive applications. Broadband links aren’t secure or as reliable as telco circuits.

SD-WAN makes it possible to combine broadband Internet with MPLS and even LTE you to get the ideal mix of cost, bandwidth, reliability and security. A centralized, software-based controller manages the hybrid WAN makes routing decisions based upon predefined policies. The software abstracts the underlying networks and provides application and network visibility to enable intelligent path selection across multiple WAN links.

Like other “software-defined” technologies, SD-WAN increases agility and streamlines operations, making it possible to optimize the WAN in real time based upon network conditions and application requirements. But a key selling point of SD-WAN is its ability to substantially reduce WAN connectivity costs while improving performance, availability and security.

With SD-WAN, you can route latency-sensitive applications over MPLS and best-effort traffic over broadband. Virtual private networks (VPNs) can be used for security. The software in the SD-WAN controller has the ability to differentiate and segment traffic and make routing decisions on the fly.

SD-WAN also reduces the WAN management burden. Everything is centralized in the controller, eliminating the need for IT staff to travel to branch offices to make configuration changes. And because SD-WAN provides WAN optimization and other services, it may be possible to reduce the number of network appliances deployed at each location.

Things to Consider

There are some issues organizations should consider before making the leap to SD-WAN. What applications should be sent over broadband and how will any performance problems impact operations? Because broadband providers are regional, how do large enterprises go about selecting and provisioning the right mix of services? How do you minimize disruption and risk when migrating to SD-WAN?

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