What Is SD-WAN? – Benefits and How It Works

Park Place Technologies


Mihaela Dinu - solutions architect
Mihaela Dinu May 30, 2022

Data Center Managers and CIOs are looking to increase remote management capabilities and flexibility as part of an upgraded resilience strategy. The past few years have stress-tested operations around the world, and IT leaders at every level recognize that preparations can never be too durable.

SD-WAN has gained notoriety as an infrastructure choice that helps companies survive and adapt to a fast-changing IT landscape. As organizations shifted remote working arrangements into hyperdrive, that new mode of business was facilitated exceptionally well by SD-WAN architecture.

What Is SD-WAN?

A Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is a virtualized WAN configuration that gives enterprise organizations the ability to use transport services for securely connecting their stakeholders to applications.

what is SD-WAN

SD-WAN aims bring to networking the same agility and flexibility valued in virtualized servers and storage. The potential cost-savings and other advantages have launched a stampede toward SD-WAN. A Field Engineer.com report noted that SD-WAN adoption is growing by 40 percent per year.

What Does SD-WAN Do?

SD-WAN uses a centralized, virtualized control function to direct your network traffic flow across a wide area network, enabling the strategic flow of network data within and between enterprise locations. Traditional WANs have been modified to backhaul data to a central source for organizations that have multiple campuses, but this process requires more resources than necessary.

SD-WAN operates like a hypervisor, using a virtualized control plane to bridge connections between virtualized servers within physical components. Just as there is a necessary coexistence between physical servers and virtual servers, SD-WANs still depend on physical IT infrastructure despite offering several benefits over traditional WAN.

Traditional WAN vs. SD-WAN

Traditional WANs have been modified to backhaul data to a central source for organizations that have multiple campuses, but this process requires more resources than necessary. The WAN workflow was built for conventional routers and networking equipment.

In short, Wide Area Networks were built for single locations, while SD-WAN is purpose built for organizations with multiple locations. This parity can be abstracted to the traditional data center vs. virtualized data center conversation. While physical infrastructure is required, virtualized environments can provide management and optimization benefits to users.

what is SD-WAN architecture

MPLS vs. SD-WAN

Multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) technology lets network admins label and reserve paths (or dedicated circuits) for their highest priority applications. However, MPLS relies on physical links between hardware. Because SD-WAN operates on a virtualized control plane, it is not limited to physical hardware connections, but can leverage them where they exist within your organization.

SD-WAN helps reduce reliance on expensive, private connections (MPLS) between an enterprise’s facilities, driving cost-savings.

SDN vs. SD-WAN

You may wonder what the differences are between a Software-defined Network (SDN) and a Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN). While both network configurations are compatible with x86 hardware and virtualize your organization’s control planes, SD-WAN differs in that it can connect multiple sites.

In short, more global organizations can benefit from the multi-site wide-area network capabilities that SD-WAN provides.

Who Needs SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is especially attractive for companies with:

  • Geographic reach and multiple remote locations needing to connect in ways point-to-point MPLS doesn’t fully enable or where a flexible, multi-carrier solution can save money
  • Rapid expansion plans and an interest in SD-WAN’s ability to serve as a “branch in a box”
  • Branch reliance on IaaS and SaaS solutions, where SD-WAN’s branch-to-the-Internet design will improve performance
  • Limited bandwidth to remote operations and a need for SD-WAN’s smart traffic management capabilities to make the best use of the connectivity available

4 SD-WAN Benefits

A Software-defined WAN will require an investment in configuration and implementation, so how can you justify that use of resources? Are the benefits of an SD-WAN architecture significant enough to warrant a change from your current network configuration?

The following four benefits outline why the transition could be useful for your enterprise.

1. Improved Security

From a security standpoint, SD-WAN is a different beast than traditional WAN. Unfortunately, many IT organizations lack in-house talent with the right combination of networking experience and security skills (which are both required to architect and configure SD-WAN networks). Because SD-WAN increases a network’s attack surface, it is vital that IT organizations have a good answer to the security question.

This is part of the reason SD-WAN boosts performance for Saas and IaaS at branches and helps overcome bandwidth limitations—by eliminating backhauling—but it requires corresponding security measures to lock down the remote sites.

Fortunately, some channel partners will preconfigure SD-WAN, while others are taking the next step in offering SD-WAN managed services tailored to particular market segments.

The centralized control function of a Software-defined Wide Area Network provides the benefit of coordinated and intentional traffic direction within your organization. Disjointed site-by-site networks are less likely to undermine the security efforts enacted by a central team within your organization.

2. Better CX

You may call it customer experience (CX), but in the application space it can also be called quality of experience (QoEx). Because of the way SD-WAN operates, it breaks out application classes that receive the appropriate security and bandwidth treatment respectively.

Total transport outages can also be mitigated with failover routes due to the intelligent management of underlay network utilities by SD-WAN.

This means that latency, packet loss, and outages will have a less noticeable impact on your business.

3. Streamlined Management

SD-WAN can help ease deployment and simplify network management functions, reducing staffing needs for remote office network support. Because there is no traffic backhauling, your different locations can achieve a higher bandwidth efficiency while enforcing security policies from a central source.

what does SD-WAN do

4. Improved Connectivity

SD-WAN has long been considered a promising solution for companies with numerous locations.

If your organization has multiple locations, relies on IaaS, SaaS, and other cloud solutions, or has potential expansion plans, it fits the profile of a business that needs SD-WAN. Such growing multi-site, cloud-reliant enterprises are most likely to realize expected ROI on SD-WAN investments, assuming plans are well executed.

SD-WAN helps improve cloud performance by connecting remote sites directly to cloud services, without backhauling to a central data center.

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Mihaela Dinu - solutions architect

About the Author

Mihaela Dinu,
Mihaela is a multi-skilled solutions architect with strong leadership skills and extensive experience in key account management, planning, designing, and implementing large scale business solutions.