What is SD-WAN and could it Benefit your Business Network?


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If you keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to developments in IT networking tech, you’ve likely heard the team ‘SD WAN’ – which stands for ‘Software-Defined Wide Area Network’. However, a short and snappy name doesn’t mean that the concept is easy to understand – in fact, you may have had some conflicting reports on what exactly SD WAN can provide for your business.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a quick guide that’ll help you understand what SD-WAN actually is, and what benefits it can (and can’t) provide for your company.

Explaining SD-WAN

Let’s start by breaking down the acronym, starting with the Wide Area Network part. Basically, a WAN is a series of devices connected over a geographical area, whether that’s across your street or around the globe – for example, the internet is a WAN. In terms of your company, a WAN is usually a hub that contains things like servers and other important networking devices, a series of branches, cloud services, offices, etc.

The locations within a WAN typically have a local area network (or LAN), which transforms into a WAN when connected with one another through the internet. The resources that are located centrally are then able to be made accessible across the whole WAN – including storage, software, and central systems.

Busting SD WAN Myths

SD WAN doesn’t actually change anything within your WAN – rather, it places an overlay over the network that gives you an extra control system accessed through a piece of software that is compatible with every single device on your network!

This means that you no longer need someone in person to work on your network devices and that you, therefore, have much more remote control over these devices, no matter where you’re located.

Clearly, this means that IT professionals can spend much less time traveling around to work on networks physically, but can it also benefit your business? Here are a few claims that are frequently made about SD WAN technology – we’re here to tell you whether they’re accurate!

SD WAN allows for quick bandwidth management and traffic prioritizing

Many claims have been made by SD WAN providers about how these systems can provide an incredibly high quality of service, especially when compared to how more traditional systems are managed – but much of this buzz is just marketing hype.

Although SD WAN solutions can help boost your quality of service, many of the alterations they make can also be made through other techniques. It may actually be more beneficial to make sure that your existing networking structure is as efficient as possible, and this should always be the first step instead of adding a whole new system overlay!

While SD WAN can help you to get the most from your current system, creating new possibilities is best achieved by adjusting the hardware itself.

SD WAN will make MPLS systems obsolete

Lots of people interested in tech are hoping that SD-WAN could potentially replace expensive MPLS systems currently used by businesses that need many applications working across their sites. Multi-Protocol Label Switching – MPLS – is a way of carrying data used in the highest performance networks that functions by varying the paths that certain kinds of data are taken through. This means that data from mission-critical applications can be taken down the most efficient possible route, while less significant data can be made less of a priority – essentially, pathways can be dynamically maximized for traffic to keep your network running smoothly.

SD WAN can provide a similar function known as a managed Class of Service (or CoS) system that allows the network to prioritize data traffic. But these systems are actually extremely different; while MPLS is a part of your network infrastructure and can provide much more than just small CoS tweaks, SD WAN can only place an overlay on that infrastructure. Sadly, we might not be able to get rid of our reliance on MPLS just yet – let’s give it a few more years!

SD WAN improves Software as a Service (SaaS) Experiences

If you’re using SaaS applications over your WAN, you might find SD WAN useful because you’ll have a central location that will make sure every satellite operation can access each application with the same priority and speed given to the required data. With real-time applications, you’ve got to make sure that they’re running as efficiently as possible, particularly if they’re being used by customers or end-users.

The ability to keep on top of WAN problems pertaining to SaaS applications without the need for someone to come to your site can reduce downtime at the most vital times. Of course, the benefits of this depend on the different applications that you use and how much you need them in day-to-day business operations.

SD WAN allows businesses to expand to new sites immediately

This would be a dream come true for most businesses; getting new locations up and running can be a nightmare, so being able to start them up remotely is a tempting thought. But unfortunately, it’s only a thought – as WAN only reconfigures the hardware, you still need to get the hardware itself in place so that the overlay has something to work with. If the hardware is there, then this can help you get new sites ready, but without any existing connection, you’ll still need to deal with the pain of circuit installation.

The Benefits of SD-WAN

Every business is unique, and networking needs are no different. Many of the points we’ve discussed could describe your situation perfectly, while others could be completely irrelevant! Here’s a link to another article explaining some of the benefits of SD-WAN, as well as some of its limitations. Of course, the benefits are highly dependent on your current network situation – for instance, if you already employ the services of an MSP (Managed Service Provider) who are constantly maintaining your infrastructure and fixing issues as they arise, you may not need the help of SD-WAN.

On the other hand, if your IT team has been struggling with having to move between sites constantly rather than spending their valuable time on your networks, you might find that they’re much happier once an SD-WAN system has been introduced!

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