What Is SD-WAN?
Simply put, SD-WAN — or software-defined wide area network — is a technology that continuously sorts and optimizes complex network traffic, allowing businesses to deploy bandwidth-hungry communications solutions. With SD-WAN, your communications traffic is placed in proper order, ensuring real-time, two-way traffic and other high-priority data gets the treatment it deserves.
Vonage’s SD-WAN solutions — SmartWAN and Smart-WAN+ — are designed to meet the communications network quality of service (QoS) needs of modern businesses. SmartWAN provides a powerful yet simple solution for supporting cloud-based communication and integrated collaboration applications. SmartWAN+ takes this a step further, adding professional managed services that enable the rapid deployment and centralized control that help ease the management burden.
What Are the Business Benefits of SD-WAN?
Organizations are increasingly embracing digital transformation to keep pace with emerging market trends, fluctuating customer demands, and increased competition. But traditional network architectures weren’t built to handle the workloads and complexities of most digital transformation initiatives. More troubling is that business-critical services are also often distributed across multiple clouds, which can compromise network performance further, especially at branch locations.
No wonder then that savvy network operations teams are turning to software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). SD-WAN benefits businesses by reducing overhead costs and increasing network performance. SD-WAN solutions cut out expensive routing and cut down on hardware costs while offering your business the flexibility to access multi-cloud services. Businesses are adopting SD-WAN to reduce overhead and support new applications and services resulting from digital transformation. This innovative technology not only simplifies the management and operation of a WAN but also delivers a number of real-world business benefits. Here are eight of them.
1. Multiple Offices
Does your company have branch offices? Then you should definitely check out SD-WAN technologies like SmartWAN+. The technology's ability to bundle internet connections is powerful for managing communications for multiple offices.
2. Optimized Bandwidth
Because SD-WAN technology sorts and shapes the traffic that comes over a company's network, it can significantly optimize the bandwidth its critical solutions use. This access to prime bandwidth over the Internet becomes critical in terms of guaranteeing quality of experience (QoE).
As businesses deploy more and more cloud-based applications, the amount of data traveling over a WAN grows exponentially, and operating costs follow right along. SD-WAN can cut these costs by leveraging low-cost local internet access, offering direct cloud access, and cutting the amount of traffic over a WAN.
4. Reduced Complexity
Digital transformation can add complexity to a network, which can hurt network performance and over-burden IT teams (e.g., you need personnel on-hand at remote sites to manage the local infrastructure). SD-WAN eases the IT burden by simplifying WAN infrastructure, using broadband to off-load non-critical business apps, automating monitoring efforts, and managing traffic through a centralized controller.
By dynamically routing traffic over multiple network paths, SD-WANs offer greater agility and flexibility, allowing organizations to respond quickly to changing network conditions.
6. Improved Performance
Not all network traffic is created equal. SD-WAN can be configured to prioritize business-critical traffic and real-time services like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and then steer it over the most efficient route. By facilitating critical applications through reliable, high-performance connections, IT teams can help reduce issues like packet loss and latency — and boost employee productivity and morale.
When you throw in the simplicity of dealing with a single provider for a number of your most important services, it’s easy to see why Vonage’s SmartWAN solutions are increasing their presence in businesses around the U.S.
7. Cloud-Based Advantages
Businesses are increasingly adopting cloud services. Luckily, SD-WAN enables direct cloud access at the remote branch, thereby eliminating the need to route all cloud and branch office traffic through the data center. As a result, workers can directly access cloud applications regardless of their location without burdening the core network with additional traffic to manage and secure. At the same time, SD-WAN improves cloud application performance by prioritizing business-critical applications and enabling branches to directly communicate to the internet.
Digital transformation is a double-edged sword. While it can improve customer satisfaction and extend market reach, it can also expose an organization to significant security risks. To counter that, many SD-WAN solutions offer built-in security. However, the basic firewall and VPN functions provided by most SD-WAN solutions are often not enough, forcing IT teams to try and add security factors after the fact. A better option is to look for SD-WAN solutions that provide a wide range of integrated security features that can help prevent data loss, downtime, regulatory violations, and legal liabilities.
How Is SD-WAN Different From WAN?
You can think of SD-WAN as an evolution of the traditional WAN, providing advanced services and decreasing costs while at the same time setting the stage for more advanced capabilities in the future.
Let’s take a look at some of the basic differences between WAN and SD-WAN.
Reduced network cost
Conventional WANs are usually an expensive mix of private and public data lines
Application prioritization options that let users send important data over the best network link
Offers reliability and predictability with prioritization of critical traffic like voice and video
Uses encryption and VPN for secure end-to-end network connections
Traditional WAN's MPLS connection is normally very secure
Easy to update and scale
Changes to traditional WANs need to be done manually
SD-WAN solutions have in-built virus detection, IPsec, firewall management, and encrypted network traffic for data security
Using traditional WANs on MPLS can offer great QoS
Can detect outages in milliseconds
As users and applications have moved beyond the enterprise, the traditional resilience perimeter has dissolved
Offers clear network visibility, allowing users to check the status of the different devices connected to the network, and can operate them from a centralized location
Traditional WANs miss out on the ability to monitor the performance of their network
What Are Some Disadvantages of SD-WAN?
SD-WAN offers a ton of business benefits. But as with any network, there are potential weaknesses you need to consider (although these weaknesses can often be avoided with the right provider). Let’s look at a few of them.
Reliability: Because they rely on the internet, SD-WANs can be less reliable than traditional WANs, facing congestion, packet loss, and other performance issues.
Complexity: SD-WANs can be complex to implement and configure, as they require specialized skills and expertise in software-defined networking.
Adoption Issues: As SD-WAN grows in popularity, finding skilled staff to help implement and manage it may be difficult — unless you’re using a full-service provider like Vonage.
High Upfront Costs: One of the main drawbacks of SD-WAN is that it can be expensive to implement. This is because businesses need to buy equipment from a vendor and pay for a service provider to manage it for them. Traditionally, you would scrap your existing edge routers and replace them with those from the SD-WAN vendor you've selected. Budgetary concerns may force you to do it yourself.
Security: SD-WANs can be less secure than traditional WANs, as they rely on the public internet to transport traffic. And because the technology uses a mesh network topology, which means that each device can act as a repeater for the other devices, this puts businesses at risk for data leakage, denial of Service (DOS) attacks, and more. However, there are solutions. With SD-WAN, users can have end-to-end encryption over a VPN connection. What’s more, users can implement and integrate additional security layers like firewalls for unified threat management.
Technical Issues: With SD-WAN, businesses often need to invest in equipment and pay for a service provider to manage it for them. This can lead to technical issues if the business doesn’t have the expertise to properly manage the network.
VBC’s Smart-WAN and Smart-WAN+ solutions mitigate or eliminate many of these disadvantages. For example, Smart-WAN can minimize disruption by creating fail-safes over multiple customer-provided internet connections, as well as provide Increased security and privacy using a hybrid network solution. And our fully managed Smart-WAN+ solution provisions circuits through trusted partnerships with ISPs, cable, and wireless providers, and it enables monitoring and management of circuit performance and troubleshooting of issues.
How Do You Know if SD-WAN Is Right for Your Business?
The SD-WAN market is growing, at least partially driven by a transformation in how today's companies are organized. As a result, there are several factors to weigh as you consider SD-WAN solutions.
For example, do you have, or plan to open, satellite offices across the U.S. and even globally? For organizations that manage multiple locations, SD-WAN makes the IT team’s life easier. SD-WAN delivers software-defined application routing to the WAN, enabling the network to connect a company’s many locations securely and with the option to improve resiliency through multiple transport options. Without a network that performs, productivity suffers — employees struggle to collaborate and users complain of sluggish applications.
Another factor is security concerns. Sensitive data is being transmitted over longer distances, increasing the chance of it being intercepted or compromised by a hacker. SD-WAN can offer security and segmentation through centralized policies to help combat the threat of malicious intrusions into the network. Many SD-WAN providers also offer features that monitor and protect data in transit and between router paths.
Handling management and upgrades have been a challenge with legacy WAN solutions. For example, to add a new application to the network, a technician would need to create virtual routing segments, implement new access control lists, apply quality of service policies, and more. Scaling these moves to meet the demands of modern distributed businesses is a huge challenge. Not with SD-WAN — and if you’re working with a provider that offers it as a service, often upgrades or deployments can be done with zero touch or effort on the part of the customer.
If you’re like many companies, chances are you have an overburdened IT staff which lacks the resources needed to truly optimize and protect your network. Even worse, many legacy approaches to managing a WAN require levels of expertise that can be hard to find and keep on staff. SD-WAN is the answer. It provides centralized management, application performance optimization, and network resiliency that allow organizations to get the most out of WAN. In fact, many management tools are built right into the solution.
To sum up, it isn’t that SD-WAN can do more than other WAN solutions. It’s the ease and efficiency that you gain from SD-WAN that will be a game-changer for how you manage your WAN.
Meeting Customer Expectations
Summing up, customers and employees expect reliable communication and collaboration capabilities, regardless of their location. Options like video conferencing can eat up time and bandwidth, challenging networks to provide sufficient throughput. And building private-line solutions can simply cost too much.
Check out how SmartWAN and SmartWAN+ solutions from Vonage are designed to overcome these challenges and meet the communications network QoS needs of modern businesses.
Still have questions about SD-WAN?
The advantages of SD-WAN, when compared to WAN, include lower operating costs, improved performance, optimized bandwidth, and the ability to better manage communications for multiple locations. Disadvantages can include complex implementation and configuration, high upfront costs, a reliance on internet connectivity, and security challenges.
VBC SmartWAN provides a powerful yet simple solution for supporting cloud-based communication and integrated collaboration applications. Our solution ensures reliable, cost-effective, and secure support for Vonage Business Communications’ Desktop, Mobile, and integrated apps.
VBC SmartWAN+ from Vonage provides the same benefits as SmartWAN, plus professional managed services that enable the rapid deployment of network connectivity to your offices and centralized control that helps ease the management burden.
The best SD-WAN solution will depend on the IT resources and expertise of your organization. If you have an overburdened IT staff, then SmartWAN+ is the better solution. Vonage can be the extension of your IT department by ordering, provisioning, and implementing both circuits and SD-WAN solutions.