Understanding SD WAN

If you keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to new developments in IT networking for your business, you’ve likely heard of SD WAN, or Software Defined Networking as part of a Wide Area Network. But for each piece of useful, correct guidance you find on the topic, there seems to be another that relays completely false information. In this article, lets learn What is SD WAN and its applications in current technology trends.

That’s why we’re here to separate the facts from the fiction, and clarify what SD WAN can really do for your company.

Explaining SD WAN

Let’s begin with the second part of the acronym: a Wide Area Network (or WAN) is basically just a series of connected devices over an area of any size – the internet is a WAN! Usually in a business context a WAN serves as a central hub that can hold the main network infrastructure devices like servers, as well as a series of branches, offices, cloud servers, etc.

Every individual location in the WAN will likely be part of its own LAN (Local Area Network) – once these LANs are connected to the internet and to one another, they form a WAN. The resources located at the central hub can then be shared all over the WAN, so that every location and device has access to the right storage, software, and systems.

What Can SD WAN Really Do?

Although you may assume that SD WAN involves some complex changes to your infrastructure, it actually just provides an overlay, which allows for an extra control system over your WAN accessed through specific software.

This software can be used with every device on your network, replacing the controls that can typically only be accessed by synching every device in person individually. You therefore have much more control over your network devices without the need to be physically close to them via these SD WAN controls.

This is obviously a plus for network technicians looking to reduce their time spent commuting, but what does it mean for you and your business? Let’s go over some of the claims that are frequently made about this technology and see whether they’re based in reality:

It allows for immediate expansion to new sites.

Being able to instantly configure hardware at new sites without needing to even leave the office would be a dream come true for anyone who’s had to go through this painful process in the past.

Unfortunately, though, because SD WAN just functions as an overlay rather than actually replacing the hardware itself, it only configures hardware; this means that if the hardware and connection aren’t already in place, the SD WAN has nothing to overlay. This tech can get new sites up and running, but not without an existing connection, so regrettably, you still have to factor in the irritation of circuit installation times.

It can improve the experience of using SaaS’

Many businesses utilise Software as a Service (or SaaS) applications nowadays – if that includes you then SD WAN could be helpful, providing a central location that ensures all of your satellite operations can access the same application with the same priority and speed given to the data.

If you’re using real-time applications, you need to make sure that they’re always running at their best, particularly if they’re being used by customers or end users. An SD WAN can help you respond to WAN issues without needing anybody on site, preventing downtime at crucial moments. The benefit of this depends on how much you rely on these applications – if they’re important to your daily operations, this could be a huge plus.

‘SD WAN lets you quickly manage traffic priority and bandwidth’

Lots of SD WAN providers like to brag that their systems can provide excellent quality of service when compared to traditional techniques for managing a WAN – but this may just come down to marketing hype.

Some SD WAN related solutions may be able to help with your quality of service, but you’ll probably be able to make similar adjustments without the need for an SD WAN system. The best move would be to ensure that your networking infrastructure is already as efficient as possible – while SD WAN could help you get the most from your structure, but making tweaks for efficiency will usually happen with your hardware itself.

‘SD WAN can be used in place of MPLS’

It’s the hope of many people that SD WAN can one day serve as a replacement for the expensive MPLS systems currently favoured by businesses that use a wide range of applications across their sites. MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) is a technique for carrying data used in the highest performance business networks, and it works by varying the priorities and paths available to certain types of data.

This means that mission-critical traffic can be provided a different priority path along the network, and that less important traffic can be put lower on the priority list. Basically, if an application is necessary for the running of your business, it’ll run quickly, with the system constantly ensuring that it doesn’t suffer from poor performance.

SD WAN actually provides a similar function to this: a managed CoS (Class of Service) system that can also function to prioritise traffic. But these two systems are very different at their core – while MPLS is a part of your infrastructure, SD WAN is only an overlay, meaning that the former can offer much more.

It’ll be a long time before a software based solution can come close to what MPLS can provide, but hopefully over time people will be less reliant on this costly system.

Implementing SD WAN Into Your Business Network

Every business is unique, and so is every business network. While some of the points above might be very relevant to you and your company, you may also have completely different priorities for your network.

This is why doing more research on SD WAN before deciding to implement this system is vital – you can check out this article next – so that you understand what it can and can’t do for you. The usefulness of SD WAN for your business network also highly depends on the way your network is currently being maintained – if you already have an MSP fixing problems and configuring devices without the need for your input, then you probably wouldn’t see too many benefits.

But on the other hand, if your IT team is struggling to keep on top of all the sites you have, you may find that they’re much happier if you put this system in place – just tell them you’re considering it and watch the relief wash over them!

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