IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
In-depth

Our 5-minute guide to SD-WAN

We look at what software-defined wide area networking can offer businesses

man holding digital globe

The rise of the cloud in the enterprise has brought about a sea-change in how IT networks are implemented and managed, laying the foundations for new technologies and systems that help organisations drive down operational costs and improve overall efficiency.

Amongst these new solutions is software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) - a concept designed to alleviate the bugbears of traditional WAN setups. It seems to be working, too - with research firm Gartner even predicting that as many as 30% of businesses will have deployed SD-WAN technology across their branches by the end of 2019.

What is SD-WAN?

Software-defined Wide Area Networking - also referred to by its acronym SD-WAN - is a software-based approach to managing the wide area network, allowing businesses and organisations to connect branches and data centres across large geographic areas. It also helps enable the efficient delivery of applications and tools across the whole business.

Where older wide area networks were based on utilising specialist hardware, software-defined WAN technology shifts network control functionality to the cloud. By separating the software from the WAN hardware, this approach provides organisations with the opportunity to improve performance whilst also lowering the operation costs and operational obstacles associated with older, private WAN setups.

Common SD-WAN use cases

Businesses opt for software-defined WAN solutions for a number of reasons, dependent on the needs of the company. For starters, organisations looking to connect branches and other remote sites to the web will often use an SD-WAN approach as it removes the need for certain IT assets at each location - instead connecting to the data centre via the cloud. As a result, this simplifies connectivity and reduces operational costs and overall complexity. SD-WAN setups also streamline the process of implementing and controlling policies, allowing businesses to manage devices from the central console (as opposed to tending to each device separately).

Similarly, organisations take this route in order to swiftly and easily connect multiple devices (often across multiple locations) to cloud-based applications. Using older methods, connecting these devices securely would be a time-consuming process - whereas this software-defined approach can tackle the task in next to no time at all.

Other key uses include the ability to separately manage each individual network user, providing temporary VPN connections, as well as offering the means by which to implement a hybrid WAN solution that partially shifts WAN traffic to the internet.

Pros and cons of SD-WAN

As with all technologies, software-defined wide area networks have both perks as well as downsides. One of the positives that SD-WAN offers businesses is improved security; centralised control and cloud integration allows for fast and efficient handling of threats across multiple locations - unlike more traditional WAN solutions which require each app and device to be managed individually.

This also makes deploying and maintaining applications across a diverse range of devices far simpler, with organisations able to distribute tech to employees without the need to fine-tune each one individually. Device management can also be automated from the system's central hub.

Additionally, taking the software-defined approach means businesses do not require the expensive routing hardware necessary for traditional WAN systems - which, in turn, can help avoid vendor lock-in.

On the whole, SD-WANs offer organisations improved speed and reliability, better network visibility, greater control over their WAN costs, as well as the ability to upgrade easily as and when the need arises. It's also versatile when it comes to integration with modern connectivity technology - being compatible with Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, LTE, Ethernet, MPLS and more.

For those contemplating making the switch to SD-WAN, there are, of course, a few drawbacks that are worth considering. Firstly, whilst it is easier to connect to the cloud, the nature of the beast means that there is a risk of latency issues, jitter and packet loss from time to time.

The process of integrating legacy systems may also throw up difficulties, whilst businesses that largely rely on traditional phone systems may not stand to gain as much from software-defined WAN. Additionally - as with any service - if a provider is not responsive and efficient in resolving issues, this can also throw up unwanted hurdles and reduce the efficiency of the system.

How to get started with SD-WAN

If your business is looking to make the switch to SD-WAN technology, it's important to first consider a number of important factors. Firstly: how are your employees dispersed? Are they largely centralised in one location? Perhaps the company has multiple offices scattered over a wide geographical area? On top of this, its important analyse how much of the employees' workflow is based in and around the cloud and whether on-site data is the main requirement.

You'll also then need to weigh up the connectivity options that each location possesses - be it Wi-Fi, broadband MPLS etc. - as having two of these capable of meeting the office's data needs will help keep overall cost in check.

Next, you'll need to look into how SD-WAN would be integrated into the business. Can existing WAN hardware be leveraged for software-defined networking? If not, the next step is to consider whether hardware or virtual server software would be necessary at each location.

There are a wealth of SD-WAN providers available - such as Citrix, Cisco, Fortinet and more - and selecting the right one can be the difference in a smooth transition or a problematic one. Take the time to weigh up what each vendor offers, including how they work, communicate and troubleshoot with their clients, as well as the overall cost of service.

Featured Resources

Activation playbook: Deliver data that powers impactful, game-changing campaigns

Bringing together data and technology to drive better business outcomes

Free Download

In unpredictable times, a data strategy is key

Data processes are crucial to guide decisions and drive business growth

Free Download

Achieving resiliency with Everything-as-a-Service (XAAS)

Transforming the enterprise IT landscape

Free Download

What is contextual analytics?

Creating more customer value in HR software applications

Free Download

Recommended

Accelerating security and success for MSPs with automation
Sponsored

Accelerating security and success for MSPs with automation

25 May 2022
Schneider Electric unveils Grid Operations Platform as a Service on Microsoft Azure
cloud computing

Schneider Electric unveils Grid Operations Platform as a Service on Microsoft Azure

24 May 2022
T-Mobile unveils new 5G Advanced Network Solutions
Network & Internet

T-Mobile unveils new 5G Advanced Network Solutions

24 May 2022
Google unveils new Assured Open Source Software service
open source

Google unveils new Assured Open Source Software service

18 May 2022

Most Popular

Open source packages with millions of installs hacked to harvest AWS credentials
hacking

Open source packages with millions of installs hacked to harvest AWS credentials

24 May 2022
Europe's first autonomous petrol station opens in Lisbon
automation

Europe's first autonomous petrol station opens in Lisbon

23 May 2022
Nvidia pauses hiring to help cope with inflation
Careers & training

Nvidia pauses hiring to help cope with inflation

23 May 2022