There's no doubt that SD-WAN provides a cost-effective method for connecting to branch offices and other remote sites. Yet lost in all that saved cash are the many benefits SD-WAN offers above and beyond traditional wide-area networks.
Still on the fence about transitioning to SD-WAN? Here's a look at the technology's key benefits beyond saving money.
Virtually any type of business can utilize SD-WAN technology. Retailers, for instance, are deploying SD-WAN to create the best online and in-store shopping experiences to compete with the likes of Amazon. "For a hotel, SD-WAN means delivering in-room entertainment that makes the traveler feel like she’s in her living room," said Jeff Lewis, vice president of data product management for Comcast Business. "For a fast-food restaurant, it means ordering from a mobile app instead of waiting in line and having an employee deliver the food as soon as you walk in the door."
MPLS networks are often undersized when it comes to the bandwidth customers require, and they don't connect to the cloud in a direct fashion, said Geoff Sinn, SD-WAN practice director at Dimension Data. "This results in poor application performance, degraded response times, and decreased end-user satisfaction—all problems readily resolved by SD-WAN."
As companies increasingly adopt a cloud-first strategy, it’s critical that end users see no negative impact on application performance and response time. "Any degradation in either of these parameters will result in end-user dissatisfaction and resistance to the cloud-first strategy," Sinn explained.
Legacy WANs don't scale well. "As a result, you will run into performance penalties backhauling Internet traffic through the datacenter," said Dan Groscost, networking solutions architect at Computer Design & Integration, a firm that plans, deploys and manages hybrid IT services. "SD-WANs offer secure, direct cloud connectivity and are your best bet for SaaS performance," he added.
With SD-WAN, the transport infrastructure is abstracted. Software-defined policies ensure that business applications receive the quality of experience (QoE) necessary, based on the application service level agreement (SLA). "When a link suffers, mission-critical applications can be dynamically re-routed—in real time—over other links," Groscost observed.
SD-WAN technology uses industrial-grade, standards-based authentication, and encryption, completely securing every detail of control and traffic end-to-end. "[SD-WAN] can also help administrators detect attacks more quickly by providing constant visibility into the amount and types of traffic on a network," said Marc Sollars, CTO of network services firm Teneo. "For data and transport, top SD-WAN solutions use technologies such as IPsec VPN, IKEv2 with a certificate and end-to-end encryption using AES-256," Sollars explained.
SD-WAN also helps organizations deliver IT systems that are easily accessible to employees and partners without being vulnerable to cyberattacks. The technology typically comes with built-in security features, such as firewalls, intrusion prevention, and URL filtering. "It enables businesses to connect workers to key software applications whether they’re in the office, a coffee shop or an airport lounge," Lewis said. "Confidential files can be protected by segmenting and isolating traffic."
Managing a traditional MPLS WAN is costly, time-consuming and requires skilled resources at the edge. "SD-WAN uses automation and a centralized delivery approach to reduce the cost and time associated with day-to-day management activities, eliminating the need for localized resources," Sinn said.
Being able to work around network problems with minimal or no impact on end-user performance while simultaneously being able to optimize application flows reduces IT's management workload. "Emergency network-related support tickets for the IT department are minimized or eliminated," observed Cahit Jay Akin, CEO of Mushroom Networks, a broadband bonding and SD-WAN technology provider.
SD-WAN handles traffic based on priority, quality of service and security requirements in accordance with business needs. Different organizations have different needs and priorities when it comes to their security requirements, Sollars said. "SD-WAN solutions offer a single, multi-tenant management tool for handling application and business policies across all connections, regardless of the underlying communications medium, MPLS, Internet or wireless."
Unlike traditional networking, most SD-WAN vendors package their solutions as virtualized applications managed from the cloud and delivered as-a-service. "This approach automates maintenance and management tasks so that firmware and software updates, for example, can be continuously delivered without human intervention," observed Marcio Saito, CTO of Opengear, a business continuity services provider.
SD-WAN can also immediately detect outages and re-route traffic over an LTE backup with a sub-second reaction time. "Outages can easily disrupt single network links, causing connections to fail at a critical moment," Sollars said. "This unpredictability is highly undesirable, especially for companies that want to move their operations into the cloud."
SD-WAN paves the way for future cloud migrations. One of the biggest challenges in cloud migration has been the reliability and performance of IP connectivity into the cloud, private or public. "By establishing high performance, cost-effective connectivity to the cloud, SD-WAN becomes an enabler for true cloud migration," Akin said. "VOIP/UC services moving to the cloud, such as IP-PBX, or moving various security services to the cloud perimeter, are some of the good examples of this trend and the related dynamics."
For many organizations, a key SD-WAN benefit is that the technology can be rolled out incrementally while continuing to leverage existing investments in MPLS and other types of network infrastructure. "SD-WAN can be introduced into one or more offices without disrupting the existing network, like test-driving a car before buying," Lewis noted.