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What is SD-WAN?

February 17, 2022 Richard Expert advice

SD-WAN – short for software-defined wide area network – is a cloud-first, intelligent way to build a computer network over a wide geographic location. An SD-WAN uses software to route traffic across the network, enabling companies to connect their systems and employees easily regardless of their location, without as much dependence on physical infrastructure.

This makes SD-WAN a very useful tool for businesses with a partially or fully remote workforce. But do you need an SD-WAN and what benefits can it bring? Read our quick guide.

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Using the cloud to improve your network

Traditional wide area networks (WANs) are dependent on hardware such as routers, which can cause data bottlenecks that lead to delays. WANs are also rigid in their structure and cannot adapt to the changing needs of different applications.

An SD-WAN uses virtual architecture and a variety of carriers to connect users to applications without the limitations of physical infrastructure. It supports applications that are hosted in public or private clouds and on-premises data centres. It also supports software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications such as Dropbox, Salesforce, and Microsoft 365. It routes the software according to the needs of the user to quickly connect you to the applications you rely on.

Making the switch to SD-WAN leads to considerable improvements in your network, with enhanced application performance, an improved end-user experience and better business agility, all while reducing your IT costs.

How does SD-WAN work?

SD-WAN technology removes network traffic management from the underlying physical infrastructure to transform WANs from static, hardware-centric networks to agile, software-defined services.

Traditional WAN deployments rely on hardware dedicated connections to create rigid and complex networks that are not cloud-friendly. All traffic, including that destined for the cloud, is sent from branch offices to a hub or headquarters data centre where advanced security inspection services can be applied. Inevitably, that causes a delay which impairs application performance and the user experience.

SD-WAN, on the other hand, identifies applications and provides intelligent application-aware routing across the WAN. That ensures every application receives the appropriate security policy enforcement and quality of service (QoS). A business-driven SD-WAN also continuously adapts to changes in the network in real-time to deliver optimal application performance.

Why use SD-WAN?

These days, companies are increasingly subscribing to software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that are hosted in the Cloud. This means traditional WAN is no longer good enough to meet their needs, as the process of backhauling traffic destined for the Cloud impairs performance and introduces latency. 

However, as well as improving performance, there are also several other reasons why IT teams are considering software-defined WAN services for their organisation. That includes:

Agility and responsiveness
SD-WAN removes the hardware infrastructure from the network configuration to deliver major improvements in agility and responsiveness. SD-WAN allows you to combine the bandwidth of multiple WAN connections so you can add or remove any type of WAN connection quickly and easily.
More flexibility
SD-WAN offers standardised security and universal network control. That gives you control of your pathways so you can run your business-critical cloud applications regardless of how many remote workers you have or how far apart your offices are. There are also none of the inefficiencies associated with traditional WANs, so you get fast and reliable performance every time.
Efficient and cost-effective use of bandwidth
SD-WAN enables businesses to intelligently aggregate the overall bandwidth via path or application. That allows you to use the best circuit depending on the application type, with changes easy to make via your interface. This bandwidth also comes at a lower cost, as you can choose higher-quality connections for priority traffic and cheaper connections for less important traffic.
Lower costs
Although there is some initial investment when deploying a new end-to-end SD-WAN, over the longer term, you can expect to make considerable savings. According to an International Data Corporation (IDC) survey, a quarter of organisations expect to make SD-WAN cost savings of more than 39%, while two-thirds expect to make savings of 5-19%.
Enhanced security
Many SD-WAN solutions provide a range of integrated security features including URL filtering, encryption, penetration testing and unified threat management. That helps to mitigate the cybersecurity risks associated with cloud infrastructures.
Reduced complexity
SD-WAN eases the IT burden associated with digital transformation initiatives that can add layers of complexity to networks and create over-taxed IT teams. Intelligent traffic routing creates efficient routes to applications and data centre infrastructure to remove complexity and optimise performance.

Basic SD-WAN vs. Business SD-WAN

Not all SD-WANs are created equal. Some basic software-driven networks do not have the intelligence and reliability to deliver superior network performance. To become an asset to the business and enable digital transformation, only a business SD-WAN will do, and here’s why:

Orchestration and automation of functions

Basic SD-WAN solutions do not always provide full end-to-end orchestration of all WAN functions such as security and routing. Business SD-WANs support centralised orchestration, which reduces the likelihood of human errors that can compromise security and performance.

Continuous self-learning

A business SD-WAN automatically adapts in real-time to any changes to deliver optimal application performance under any network conditions. That’s in contrast to a basic network, which only steers traffic according to predefined rules.

Consistent experience

A key benefit of a business SD-WAN is its ability to use multiple forms of WAN transport simultaneously to deliver a consistent quality of experience. A basic network only directs application traffic down a single path. It can change the path if it is underperforming but that can lead to interruption and cause significant delays.

Secure local internet breakout

Most basic software-driven networks provide some application capabilities to direct SaaS and IaaS traffic directly across the internet. However, with cloud applications changing constantly, business SD-WAN continuously adapts to provide automated daily application definition and IP address updates to eliminate interruption and remove user issues.

Advanced features for Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) functions

Server access service edge or SASE (pronounced “sassy”) is an emerging cybersecurity concept that describes the convergence of WAN and security services like Zero Trust, FWaaS and CASB into a single, cloud-delivered service model. Given the constant demand for access to applications from users operating in diverse locations, SASE is the ultimate goal for many organisations. However, this is something that basic SD-WAN cannot deliver. 

Instead, business SD-WAN with advanced networking capabilities is required to fully enable SASE. You can then grant greater security without loss of access and have the freedom to deploy new security innovations from any vendor to address future threats.

Tailoring an SD-WAN for your business

Choosing the right SD-WAN solution is one of the most important business decisions you will make. That’s why we work with you to tailor a solution that’s the perfect fit for the size of your business, the services you provide, the systems you use and how you want to connect with them.

Part of the process is to ensure that you have strong and stable internet connectivity. We also provide 24/7 monitoring to make sure you never miss a beat. Get in touch to find out how converting your systems to an SD-WAN can improve performance and help you scale your business.

February 10, 2022 By Nick
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