If you stay up to date on all of the latest networking developments, then you’ll likely be at least partially aware of SD WAN – or Software-Defined Wide Area Networks. But as is often the case with new tech, it can be tricky to know what it can really do – especially because lots of the information on the topic range from misleading to downright false.
That’s why we’re here to clarify what SD WAN is, what it’s really capable of, and whether it’s the right investment for your business.
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Understanding SD WAN
Before we jump into the full acronym, let’s start by establishing what a Wide Area Network (WAN) is. Basically, a WAN is a series of connected devices over an area of any size – the internet itself is a WAN! From a business point of view, a WAN is typically a central hub that holds the servers and other networking devices, and then a series of branches, cloud servers, offices, etc.
Each one of the locations within the WAN will usually have its own LAN or Local Area Network. Once this is connected to the internet and then connected to other LANs, it becomes a WAN, and the centrally located provisions can be shared across all branches, allowing software, central systems, and storage to be accessible at every site.
What Can SD WAN Really Do?
SD WAN doesn’t actually change any of what we just described – rather than replacing anything inside the WAN; it functions as an overlay from which you can access more controls through a provided piece of software. This software can work with every device on your network and can take the place of settings that are often only accessible by getting ‘hands on’.
This means that you have much greater control over your devices, no matter where you’re physically located. But aside from reducing the commuting time for your IT staff, what else could it do for your company? Let’s go over some of the most common claims about SD WAN solutions and see how many of them truly hold water…
‘SD WAN Lets You Expand To New Sites Instantly’
The prospect of having new locations instantly ready to go without even having to leave the office is a pipe dream of those who have ever had to deal with the pain of setting up new sites in the past – but could SD WAN make this a reality?
Unfortunately, this isn’t quite possible. Because SD WAN doesn’t actually replace hardware, you still need someone physically on-site to make sure that all of the devices and connections are in place – or your SD WAN system will have nothing to overlay. However, if you have an existing connection in place, SD WAN can certainly streamline the process, allowing your staff to finetune everything else remotely.
‘SD WAN Will Do Away With Reliance On MPLS’
Lots of people who’ve heard about SD WAN are hoping that this tech will become a replacement for expensive and complex MPLS systems that underpin many high-performance business networks. For those who don’t know, MPLS (which stands for Multi-Protocol Label Switching) is a technique for data carrying used in networks that experience high traffic loads. It functions by varying the priorities and paths assigned to different data types, allowing for more important data to pass through unhindered while less important data takes the hit.
Basically, if an application is mission-critical, MPLS will make sure it runs to its best potential and will constantly monitor pathways to ensure the most efficient route is always being taken. SD WAN provides a similar service with its CoS (Class of Service) settings, which can also work to prioritize data. But these two systems weren’t created equally, and SD WAN doesn’t provide the same level of micromanagement that MPLS can.
We might one day see a move away from costly MPLS systems, but until then, SD WAN isn’t quite equivalent.
‘SD WAN Lets You Manage Bandwidth And Traffic Priority With Ease’
Many providers of SD WAN solutions like to sing the praises of their systems and how they can provide improved quality of service when compared to more traditional WAN management techniques.
But much of this might not have a basis in reality. While SD WAN solutions can boost your quality of service, these improvements can probably be made at a hardware level first. Ensuring that your current infrastructure is reaching its full potential is always the most important step – while SD WAN can help you make the most of your network, the more significant changes will come on the level of hardware.
‘SD WAN Improves SaaS Experiences’
If you need to roll software as a Service (or SaaS) applications out across your WAN, SD WAN might be useful for you, providing a central location from which you can make sure all of your satellite operations are accessing the same app with the same priority and speed given to the data.
It’s essential that real-time applications are always running at their best, particularly if these applications are being used by customers or end-users. The ability to find and fix network problems pertaining to these SaaS applications without the need for someone on-site can save you from the risks of downtime and keep your business running at the most important times. If your SaaS applications are vital to your business, you could see some serious benefits with SD WAN.
What Could SD WAN Offer Your Business?
As you know, no two businesses are exactly alike. Some of the points listed above might be relevant to your company, while others might be scenarios that you’ve never even considered before.
Before you take the plunge, you need to do some more research into SD WAN, as whether it’s best for you is highly dependent on how your network is already being handled. For example, if you already have an MSP (managed service provider) keeping an eye on issues, fixing them as they arise, and installing and configuring devices for you, then you might not see a huge improvement with an SD WAN solution.
Alternatively, if your IT team is exhausted from traveling between sites to fix issues that could have been solved remotely, you might bring them some much-needed relief by bringing SD WAN into the mix!
Taylor is a freelance SEO copywriter and blogger. His areas of expertise include technology, pop culture, and marketing.