Are you ready to jump on board the Software-Defined WAN Bandwagon?
One might say that the term SD-WAN has been over-hyped, but its benefits are real and the technology is ready for prime time. As far as fads go, things like the latest dance craze or low carb diet virally burst into our collective societal consciousness and quickly fade like a shooting star, while technology stays with us and keeps evolving. Would we consider downgrading jet engines to propellers? Or going back to rotary dial phones? Of course not, and we should think of our network technology in the same way. SD-WAN is a natural evolution of the network that enables advanced services and lowers costs today while setting the stage for advanced capabilities tomorrow.
SD-WAN stands for software-defined wide area network. It is a new approach to managing wide area networks. A WAN is a connection between multiple local area networks (LAN) separated by large geographic distances. WANs are generally used to connect remote branch offices or campuses to a centralized enterprise network, to data centers, and to each other to access applications, share data and perform business functions.
Traditional WANs are often an expensive mix of public and private data lines that use fixed circuits and technologies like 4G, LTE and MPLS in conjunction with proprietary hardware to build a virtual private network (VPN). When companies expand their networks to new locations and/or over longer distances, data may traverse multiple carriers. This can result in network congestion, data packet loss, dropped calls and possibly even service outages. Further, as WAN configuration is distributed, each individual router and server must be updated locally every time there is a change in policy or provisioning – a labor and time consuming process. Now add an expanding list of data-intensive applications requiring low latency such as video conferencing, virtual reality (VR), VoIP and high definition video streaming made possible by 5G technology and you know it's only a matter of time before your WAN starts negatively impacting your users' experience. And that's no fad.
SD-WAN represents a fundamental shift in the way wide area networks are implemented. It simplifies the management and operation of a WAN by separating the physical network hardware from its control mechanisms. It allows companies to free themselves from proprietary hardware and leasing expensive fixed point-to-point DSL or T-1 data lines. Instead, data is routed securely to branch sites using low cost, globally available broadband Internet and cloud services, optimizing traffic flows while dramatically reducing expenses.
As the name implies, SD-WAN is a software-based technology. It does not replace the WAN; it is more of an overlay to existing network topology. SD-WAN adds a layer of intelligence to otherwise dumb pipes to improve the user experience and alleviate the constant configuration complexities for customers. Besides cost savings, perhaps the most compelling argument for SD-WAN is centralized control. SD-WAN technology sets and maintains data traffic policy and operational rules for the entire network from a single portal – critical to large enterprises with global networks. It eliminates the need for individual router and gateway provisioning. Rather, policy changes are deployed to all network assets automatically while intelligently monitoring performance and traffic loads for maximum agility. Other advantages of SD-WAN technology include:
- Network Visibility – administrators can easily see the status of all appliances connected to the network, and design, deploy and manage new equipment from a central location for improved quality of service.
- Access to cloud services – get closer to user traffic for lower latency and intelligently store recently accessed information for faster retrieval.
- Virtualization of applications – allow users to access applications from devices not loaded with licensed software.
- Advanced security and threat detection – encrypted network traffic, firewall management, IPsec and virus detection are built in to most SD-WAN solutions for data security through the cloud when not using MPLS.
- Scalable – grow as your network grows.
- Resilience – reduce downtime with technology that detects outages and fails over to working circuits in milliseconds.
- Orchestration – the ability to coordinate multiple pieces of hardware and software to complete a larger task.
- Optimization – dynamically grow or shrink network bandwidth as needed and direct low priority traffic to Internet links as a substitute for leased lines.
To answer the question, SD-WAN is a technology that's here to stay. Expect adoption to accelerate as companies embrace its enhanced reliability and security while lowering their costs for remote intra-network communications.
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