Over the past year, IT managers, CTO’s and CIO’s have begun to get excited about a technology that has, to date, been largely overlooked compared to emerging trends such as cloud computing, big data, virtualization, etc. Indeed, the growing importance of software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) represents a simplified, cost-effective and flexible alternative to traditional hardware WAN solutions for businesses of all sizes. This technology improves the performance of applications, both on-premises and in the cloud, and provides huge security benefits.
What is it?
Very simply a software-defined WAN is an external network which uses software, instead of hardware, to connect networks separated by geographic distances. SD-WAN allows for the creation of a network which acts like a LAN (Local Area Network) but might be spread out over branches all over a country, or even the world. It uses software-defined networking (SDN) concepts to automatically determine the most effective way to route traffic to and from branch offices and data center sites, which can dramatically improve network quality and performance.
For companies that have numerous branches, partners or data centres that need to be connected, connectivity and networking expenses can skyrocket. In the past, the thought was that an MPLS network was the only robust solution to deliver Quality of Service (QoS) to networks and their business-critical applications. However, while it’s true that MPLS is robust, it can be extremely expensive. SD-WAN reduces the reliance on expensive hardware and dedicated lines – whilst maintaining strong network performance. Today, thanks to SD-WAN, businesses can effectively leverage existing broadband connectivity solutions, with minor hardware upgrades and some configuration to largely meet the requirements they may previously have needed MPLS for. SD-WAN further enables the bonding of multiple links (of different mediums) into a single “virtual” connection, improving both performance and uptime, while significantly reducing the cost of connectivity failover solutions.
Improved Provisioning Times
Although businesses enjoy the benefits of modern IT in many regards, the challenges of setting up them take up time, which in turn affects profits. Today, an SD-WAN solution enables enterprises to use less expensive and more quickly deployed broadband circuits, as opposed to purchasing additional lines when scaling-up resources. For instance, this means that a new office or branch can be provisioned almost instantly when utilizing an LTE solution, whilst awaiting the delivery of fibre connectivity. It is estimated that businesses can enjoy a 50%-80% reduction in the time it takes to set up a new branch on a WAN using SD-WAN. SD-WAN further abstracts traffic management and monitoring from network hardware and applies them to individual applications, to significantly improve branch network reliability and efficiency.
Increased Uptime, decreased Support
In the past, making changes to network configurations in branch offices would require manual configurations being created and installed, sometimes physically on-site. For many businesses, this remains the approach. Yet SD-WAN allows for the rapid deployment of changes automatically and without manual intervention, from a central management platform. SD-WAN configurations are often simpler and less brittle than their traditional WAN counterparts, and the availability of zero-touch provisioning (a key benefit of SD-WAN networking) reduces the manual configuration of devices altogether! With SD-WAN, bandwidth can be easily added or reduced as business requirements evolve, providing organisations with the agility they need to cope with increased IT demands.
Given the increasingly sophisticated world of modern cybercrime, ensuring the security of an enterprise network is becoming increasingly difficult. In addition, users are demanding access to applications and data beyond the traditional security perimeter, and there are more endpoints to protect than ever before. While traditional WAN solutions handle security through multiple appliances at each branch office or a centralised solution in the case of MPLS, SD-WAN has inherently built-in security protocols. Importantly, SD-WAN solutions have built-in encryption capabilities, ensuring that only authorized users are able to access and view assets connected to the corporate network.
Looking ahead, SD-WAN technology is emerging as a networking approach that can deliver multiple performance and cost benefits to every business, including high-quality data transfer, increased provisioning and uptime and embedded security features.