SD-WAN Demystified: Understanding a Disruptive Technology

Top Motivators for SD-WAN Adoption: bandwidth optimization, consistent application security, integration with existing WANs, and, improved automation and self-provisioning

SD-WAN should be looked at as more than just a cost cutting measure.

JR Garcia | Sr. Solutions Architect, Networking | vCORE

SD-WAN is the future. You’ve probably read all the LinkedIn articles, seen the acquisitions, or noticed the 30+ SD WAN startups appear over the last few years.

IDC believes it will be a $8 billion industry by 2021. In the next 5-8 years I personally believe all enterprises will have an SD-WAN network in place. But what exactly is a Software-Defined WAN?

Many IT managers I speak to believe it’s simply using the internet for their WAN connectivity rather than MPLS or Metro Ethernet to save costs. While that is a small component, it isn’t the entire picture.

SD-WAN is the most disruptive technology in the WAN space since MPLS took over Frame Relay as the standard for the enterprise and should be looked at as more than just a cost cutting measure.

But with all the noise out there, it can be difficult for companies to navigate through it and select an appropriate SD-WAN solution. So, for this blog post, I’m going to try and simplify all the messaging out there and clarify what makes a Software-Defined WAN.

There are dozens of SD-WAN vendors selling a solution, each one doing things a little differently with their own strengths and weaknesses. If you take all of them out there, they boil down to doing the same 4 basic things. I consider these table stakes.

  1. Transport agnostic – An SD-WAN network should be able to leverage any kind of underlay transport. Internet, MPLS, Metro Ethernet, 4G LTE … etc.
  2. VPN/Encryption – All traffic should have the option to be encrypted
  3. Single configuration interface – Separation of the control and data plane. Administrators should have 1 interface to configure their entire WAN network. Unlike traditional networking that requires box by box configuration.
  4. Application awareness – This is what puts the SD in SD-WAN. A solution should recognize layer 7 applications and route traffic based that application, rather than traditional IP addressing.

These features will allow for lower costs, a reduction in time to deploy sites, and reduce the effort to manage the entire network.

Every viable SD-WAN provider will do each of these 4 things a little differently, some better than others. How well they implement these features, and what bells and whistles they offer in addition to this basic list, are how they differentiate.

Enterprises will see the most benefit from SD-WAN by validating these features and testing them against their specific requirements. By evaluating SD-WAN as the new standard for WAN networks and not just a cost cutting measure, you’ll improve user experience and make your life easier, all while reducing costs along the way.

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