If you find yourself unhappy with your current, costly MPLS connection(s), you may be thinking about switching to SD-WAN, the latest and greatest in network connectivity. Here’s what you need to know before you take the leap.

What is SD-WAN?

Software Defined Wide Area Network, commonly known as SD-WAN, is a more sophisticated way of directing traffic across a network. In our collective rear view mirror are the days of ATM, Frame Relay, Point to Point T1s, and other leased lines. With its cloud-first structure, SD-WAN is changing how we manage and access information across our enterprises–including branch locations, physical data centers, and cloud services.

How does SD-WAN work?

MPLS connectivity has been the go-to technology for 20 years, providing important features like QoS and dynamic routing within networks. MPLS is carrier-based and provides IP-based connectivity over private connection between customers, locations, and data centers. But as business needs have evolved, pure MPLS networks have not been able to keep up. 

Enter: SD-WAN. SD-WAN leverages software to provide next-level public and private network connectivity by controlling wide area network connections with defined policies. It also uses analytics to make calculated routing decisions based on real-time information gathered through the software. That means SD-WAN can easily route traffic through the most efficient, cost-effective paths. A few of the public and private network connections SD-WAN can use include 4G, LTE, cable, DSL, satellite, dedicated internet over fiber, and MPLS.

How do you know if SD-WAN is right for you?

How do you know if SD-WAN is right for you? 

Making the move to SD-WAN has its challenges, from ensuring compatibility with legacy networks to managing delays during the transition. Consider the following factors to determine if switching to SD-WAN is right for you:

Determine your company’s WAN infrastructure. Many organizations depend on a dual MPLS connection to provide reliability and redundancy. SD-WAN can provide reliability and redundancy without the cost of providing dual MPLS connections.

Understand how your company uses cloud communication. Does your company host on-prem applications or have you moved infrastructure to the cloud? SD-WAN can provide benefits in both situations. Understanding your company’s needs will help you determine which SD-WAN deployment is good for you. 

Analyze network resources. Limited network resources can sometimes result in a too-small team managing a large infrastructure. If your network engineers are spread too thin, they may not be able to effectively manage the WAN infrastructure. SD-WAN does the thinking for you, so your engineers aren’t bogged down actively watching and driving traffic.

Take stock of your network’s performance. Is it slow or unresponsive during peak periods? Are you using your secondary internet connection to its full potential? Just like a traffic controller, SD-WAN software actively drives internet traffic through the most optimal path.

Understand network costs. How much is being spent on current public and private circuits? How much is lost due to productivity impacts caused by network access problems? You can leverage SD-WAN to cut costs, so you aren’t paying for more circuits than you need.

Think about your company’s security needs. What compliance must be followed to stay secure and safe? SD-WAN can provide encrypted WAN infrastructure.

The three types of SD-WAN deployments

With the rapid growth of cloud services, the term SD-WAN has sometimes been used interchangeably with other cloud offerings. When it comes to SD-WAN, there are three main types.

An on-premises (on-prem) managed device allows you to manage your internet circuits and accomplish dual WAN. The majority of these devices are good for redundancy and full use of your internet circuits. Another benefit is that they give you a central management pane for your wide area network. There is generally little-to-no cost for on-prem management devices. They allow you to purchase two circuits, resulting in a cost savings for your internet circuit.  

The cloud-only approach is designed to enhance cloud application performance. It is less focused on the individual network performance and mainly hits on the connection to cloud applications. When working with cloud-only SD-WAN, all edge devices no longer communicate with each other, they only communicate with the cloud.

SD-WAN orchestration-centered devices most accurately achieve true SD-WAN connectivity. Orchestration allows the network to move away from MPLS by introducing VPN Services with TCP optimization and compression. That way, you can provide real-time analytics to optimize bandwidth and use the most desired path for routing traffic. When going with an orchestration-centered approach, you take the best of cloud-only and on-prem and merge it into one solution that gives you visibility, site-to-site communication, and cloud performance benefits.

SD-WAN could simplify network management and support.

SD-WAN as a Service could simplify network management and support. 

SD-WAN can make your network more efficient, but if it’s not implemented properly, you may as well not deploy it. If you’re like a lot of companies, you don’t have the in-house expertise to set it up right or provide proper support after the transition. That’s why it could be a good idea to purchase your SD-WAN as a Service. Depending on the vendor, SD-WAN as a Service comes with different offerings, like cloud integration, secure SD-WAN, on-prem equipment, and more, tailored to your specific needs. 

Of course, you could still manage your SD-WAN in-house, taking more of a DIY approach to your company’s needs. Obviously, this requires more up-front and ongoing training, but a knowledgeable staff can be an invaluable resource worth the investment. 

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