Software-defined Wide Area Networks are the next evolution to VPN’s (Virtual Private Networks) now providing highly flexible, automated and resilient data transport for businesses.
A useful analogy to understand SD-WAN is where VPN’s are like manual gearboxes in a car; SD-WAN is an automatic radar-guided cruise-control solution. Both can achieve the same result: connectivity between 2 remote locations, but SD-WAN can automate much of the complexity in tunnel monitoring, redundancy and fail-over configurations.
Full SD-WAN combines all data transport types into a single overlay connection that is intelligently managed to route network traffic through optimal physical network connections (fiber, DOCSIS, MPLS, 4G, etc). For example a branch office can employ commodity local broadband internet, wireless 4G/LTE and commercial connections such as MPLS and merge them into a single robust tunnel.
Certain implementation separate the traffic into exclusive tunnels to reserve private MPLS tunnels for highly-specific workloads like branch connectivity. This implementation is referred to as hybrid SD-WAN. This creates a highly resilient connection with multiple backup fail-over, high-bandwidth and low-latency connectivity options.
Why do businesses need it?
Today a stable connection is more important than ever for businesses, as small outages can lead to losses easily outweighing any potential savings from leasing extra connectivity for backup. With the increasing usage of Video conferencing and valuable conference calls, dropped service has become unacceptable in most environments.
Fast and Easy Deployment
SD-WAN’s flexibility enables service providers and enterprises alike to simplify their new deployments to customers and branch offices.
For service providers this means:
Virtual Customer Premise Equipment (vCPE’s), originally service providers like ISP’s would distribute hardware and its software as a package for customer connectivity. While some might still find this more desirable, most prefer to have one less hardware-locked device to potentially service and likely need a second of as a backup.
It’s now more cost-effective for service providers to distribute their offerings as a virtualized solution ready for computer networking using hardware likely already available on the customer premises.
For business and enterprises this means:
Universal Customer Premise Equipment (uCPE’s), now they can deploy the same hardware across all branches regardless of the service providers across the various regions. Business can easily increase their capabilities through VNF’s (virtualized network functions) on x86/ARM networking hardware.
Vendor Freedom and Flexibility
SD-WAN software can be deployed on x86 network appliances and commodity networking hardware. No more vendor-locking when it comes to hardware, or software for that matter. You are free to choose from any number of vendors that provide varying levels of features and pricing, from free open source solution, to pay-per-feature, to full SaaS SD-WAN providers with excellent support.
Reliable Remote Conferencing
SD-WAN can implement VoIP automatic failover protection, to reroute traffic to a functional connection without dropping a call in the process. While This capability has existed for some time, it has often been slow taking 10’s of seconds for BGP routing to kick in, most of the time ending in the call being dropped anyway…
Now Video and VoIP conferences and calls can be intelligently and automatically managed through a multi-connection SD-WAN fabric, with sub-second failover to avoid dropped calls altogether
Lower Total Cost of Ownership
SD-WAN can reduce total costs of ownership for branch offices and data centers. Managing a branch offices connectivity, backup lines and virtual private networks while keeping efficiency and security is a daunting manual task. SD-WAN once properly deployed uses dynamic multi-path optimization capabilities to intelligently route traffic on-the-fly, providing the best optimization possible with little overhead and no manual configurations. This drastically reduces the skills and time a knowledge worker needs to install, optimize and maintain branch Wide Area Networks.
SD-WAN can securely route critical traffic through private lines and even commodity internet with encrypted tunnels. This optimizes the throughput of the more expensive MPLS lines by reserving their usage to specific traffic workloads, while offloading less critical packets onto commodity broadband WAN connections. SD-WAN provides ease of security through centralization of management and policy.
Better Internet for Employees
SD-WAN can intelligently route/block/throttle low-priority but congesting traffic like web video (youtube, vimeo, etc) through commodity lines while prioritizing VoIP, Skype and other more critical services that require low-latency and/or high-bandwidth. Less loading and hangups in between web navigation and services leads to more efficiency in daily workflows and overall worker throughput in the interconnected age.