Software-defined wide area network, or SD-WAN, is a term that many people might not be familiar with—even those that are using one currently. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find people (who don’t already have IT experience) who know that there’s a “traditional” WAN (wide area network) connection method, let alone a software-defined version.
However, SD-WAN architectures have a few benefits that make them desirable for many companies that have large central offices served by many smaller branch offices. What are the benefits of SD-WAN for businesses?
Before we try to explain the top benefits of SD-WAN architectures, let’s take a look at how they work:
How It Works: SD-WAN Architecture Vs Traditional WAN
Wide area networks can be (very loosely) defined as a communication tool connecting users to applications. As noted by Cisco, “The traditional WAN function was connecting users at the branch or campus to applications hosted on servers in the data center…This no longer works in a cloud-centric world.” The reason why this doesn’t work in a cloud-driven technology environment was best explained by Silver Peak:
“Traditional WANs based on conventional routers are not cloud-friendly. They typically require backhauling all traffic – including that destined to the cloud – from branch offices to a hub or headquarters data center where advanced security inspection services can be applied. The delay caused by backhaul impairs application performance resulting in a poor user experience and lost productivity.”
Basically, the back-and-forth on a traditional WAN would create slowdown and system instability—which is not ideal when traffic has to go from the remote location, to headquarters, to the cloud-based app’s server, back to headquarters, and then back to the user. It’s the data operations equivalent of the Old Spice meme.
SD-WAN architectures abstract the process with a virtual overlay to eliminate a lot of the back-and-forth between branch user, headquarters, and app server. So, instead of a multi-step process for every request, users get to access their cloud-based resources almost directly. This minimizes lag, improves performance, and reduces headaches for users.
What Are the Business Benefits of SD-WAN?
So, why would a business want to use SD-WAN vs VPNs (virtual private networks) or traditional WAN architectures?
When comparing SD-WAN vs VPN connections, it’s important to consider the scale of the connections your business needs. VPN connections, as noted by TechTarget, “cannot be prioritized from the provider network perspective, as the header is encrypted and can't be viewed. What's left is a best-effort network that supports traffic at a reasonable performance level.” This is valuable for a small business with low-impact resource demands, and is highly secure.
Meanwhile, an SD-WAN provides, “the capability to sense network conditions and locally prioritize applications,” according to TechTarget. This prioritization helps with network stability and performance for larger organizations while making it easier to connect to cloud services. Additionally, SD-WANs are “connectivity agnostic,” meaning that they can support multiple types of interfaces, which may provide an edge for some users.
Some of the key business benefits of SD-WAN include:
- SD-WAN Costs. When compared to traditional WAN costs, SD-WAN costs can be up to 90% lower—according to data from Silver Peak.
- Increased Security. Compared to standard internet access methods without the virtualized overlay, SD-WAN architectures help to make connecting to cloud services safer.
- Reducing Latency/Lag Issues. By abstracting the connection and removing several back-and-forth steps, SD-WAN architectures can massively reduce latency and lag issues that make connections with cloud-based services frustrating and error-prone.
- Simplified Deployment to Branch Locations. Software-defined architectures reduce the need for physical system components beyond a router that connects to the internet. Beyond reducing costs, this makes it easier to deploy an SD-WAN architecture to branch locations than a traditional WAN.
These business benefits of SD-WAN architectures make them an appealing option for larger companies with lots of branch locations—such as major retailers. However, before you go hunting down SD-WAN vendors, it’s important to have a plan in place for enacting such architectures safely and securely.
If you need help securing your network architecture, reach out to our team for advice! We’ll be happy to assist you.