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What is SD-WAN and why do you need it?


Demand for flexible, scalable technology is on the rise. The SD-WAN market (Software-defined Wide Area Network) is a virtual WAN architecture which allows enterprises to leverage a host of transportation services to connect applications and users.

The SD-WAN held a market value of around $2.11 billion during 2020, and is currently growing at an incredible rate of around 27.8%. Experts believe by 2028, the SD-WAN environment will be worth around $14.95 billion.

So, what exactly is SD-WAN, and why is it so valuable to businesses in today’s ever-evolving landscape? Today, we’re going to explore the realities of SD-WAN solutions and how they work.

What is SD-WAN? An Introduction

An SD-WAN, or Software-defined Wide Area Network, is a virtual WAN architecture providing enterprises with more flexibility in how they maintain connections between applications and people.

Enterprises have been reliant on WAN technology to connect their branch offers and ensure uninterrupted connectivity for several years. Unfortunately, in the past, keeping people connected meant investing heavily in WAN technology, and managing excessive maintenance costs.

SD-WAN changed the landscape, allowing companies to pay only for the functionality they need, so brands can scale at a pace convenient to them.

Using a centralized control function, SD-WAN solutions can securely direct traffic across the wide area network to trusted providers of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and SaaS (Software as a service).

The main problem with old-fashioned WAN technology is it was never officially created for the cloud. The old-fashioned WAN required backhauling various forms of traffic, including traffic destined for the cloud, typically from branch offices to a headquarters or hub data center.

Generally, the delay caused by the backhauling process would impair application performance, resulting in problems with user experience and lost productivity.

Unlike the traditional router-centric WAN architecture, the SD-WAN model was created from the ground-up to support applications hosted in on-premises data centers, public or private clouds, and SaaS solutions like Dropbox, Salesforce, Workday, and Microsoft 365.

Gartner defines SD-WAN as a “replacement” for traditional WAN routers which provides dynamic, policy-based, application path selection across a range of connections.

What SD-WAN Isn’t

Notably, there’s still a little confusion about what SD-WAN is and isn’t in the technology landscape. For instance, SD-WAN evolved from MPLS technology, but the two solutions aren’t exactly the same. MPLS used to be the standard for powering private connectivity options for businesses, and it’s still in use among some companies today.

SD-WAN is a kind of software abstraction of the MPLS environment which can apply to a wider range of scenarios. SD-WAN brings secure, private connectivity to the business which can remain agnostic to all kinds of providers and links. Additionally, while MPLS handled issues with potential failures using backup links, SD-WAN handles these failures with real-time traffic steering based on a central policy.

How Does SD-WAN Work?

SD-WAN emerged as a replacement for the standard WAN environment as companies began to rely more heavily on digital technology and innovation. The traditional WAN wasn’t actually designed to connect multi-national enterprises. Instead, it connected users at a branch or campus to applications hosted in a specific data centre.

SD-WAN takes a different approach, allowing cloud-first enterprises to deliver superior application “quality of experience” for users. Via the careful identification of applications, SD-WAN can deliver intelligent, application-aware routing opportunities across the Wide Area Network.

With SD-WAN, each class of applications receives the correct quality of service, and security policy enforcement opportunities, all in accordance with the appropriate business needs. Secure local internet breakout of IaaS or SaaS application traffic from the branch provides the highest possible levels of cloud performance, while protecting the enterprise from attacks.

SD-WAN builds on the cloud-based future, where companies are rapidly moving into a more flexible environment, subscribing to SaaS to keep costs low. While users in the business environment traditional connected back to the corporate data center environment for accessing business applications, they can now access the same applications in the cloud, with better scalability.

For most companies, traditional WAN is simply no longer suitable. Backhauling all the traffic from branch offices and headquarters introduces latency and holds companies back from reaching their full potential. SD-WAN provides WAN simplification, reduced costs, bandwidth efficiency, and a seamless way to transition into the cloud with significant upgrades in application performance.

As most companies know, better application performance usually leads to improved business productivity, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and stronger profitability.

Why Do Businesses Need SD-WAN?

A basic explanation of how SD-WAN works may be enough to convince you your company needs this technology. In today’s modern world, the traditional WAN architecture is extremely restricted and not suitable for a rapidly-changing landscape. Since the pandemic in particular, companies have been forced to find a way to adapt more rapidly to the needs of consumers.

As soon as companies begin to access cloud-based applications in the form of IaaS and SaaS, its WAN architecture experiences a rapid increase in traffic accessing applications distributed worldwide. These changes have multiple IT implications, and employee productivity may even be compromised by applications struggling to perform.

The changing technology landscape has multiple implications for the modern IT environment, as employee productivity begins to slide when applications can’t work properly, and WAN expenses can rise with the inefficient use of backup and dedicated circuits.

IT fights a complicated battle of connecting multiple kinds of users with various devices to multiple cloud environments. With SD-WAN, IT can access everything from improved threat protection to the simplification of WAN networks. Benefits of switching to SD-WAN include:

  • Better application experiences: High availability levels with a consistent and predictable quality of service means employees can access more efficient and reliable applications. Companies can set up various hybrid-active links for different network scenarios, and dynamically route application traffic with application-aware routing. This helps to strengthen the efficiency of the entire workforce.
  • Cost effectiveness: Traditional WAN networks would rely mostly on expensive hardware – often seen as a necessary part of running a business. However, with cloud-enabled connectivity, SD-WAN can deliver powerful, enterprise-grade services, without the same CAPEX investment. With more service providers now offering varied packages of offerings, businesses can choose the functionality they need and scale according to their needs.
  • Improved security: With application-aware policies enabling end-to-end segmentation, real-time access control, and in-built measures for threat protection, boosting security is easy. Companies can secure traffic across the broadband internet environment and into the cloud, and distribute security to the branch, as well as various remote endpoints. Companies can even access specific security solutions, like end-to-end encryption.
  • Better cloud connectivity: The cloud is valuable because it makes technology easy to deploy, manage, and scale according to your distinct needs. Seamless extension of the WAN to multiple cloud environments gives companies more of the freedom they need to evolve. Companies can access real-time optimized performance for the critical apps they rely on every day. What’s more, SD-WAN ensures optimized workflows for platforms like Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud.
  • Improved management: SD-WAN offers companies a single, centralized environment for cloud-delivered innovation. Companies get template-based zero-touch provisioning for all locations, including the campus, branch, and cloud. There’s also access to detailed reporting of application performance, so companies can easily track what’s happening behind the scenes in their technology ecosystem.
  • Centralised control: Complete, centralised control is crucial to modern companies trying to stay ahead of compliance requirements. Network managers in an SD-WAN environment maintain complete control over their entire SD-WAN network and its various components, which allows them to monitor the network in full, optimize network usage, and ensure the central implementation of security and operational policies.

Should Your Business Have SD-WAN?

Increasingly, applications and software are becoming more crucial, central solutions in the operations of everyday businesses. The needs of these next-generation applications rely on the flexibility and innovation of the cloud and SD-WAN’s fast hybrid networks.

SD-WAN technology provides secure access and critical rapid connectivity in a range of remote locations. Whether you need to link your headquarters to data centres around the world or reach out to remote branches, SD-WAN has updated and enhanced the network landscape with simple and secure connectivity options.