The enterprise wide-area network (WAN) is the hub of the modern enterprise.

It’s the corporate network that erases borders, oceans, and time zones, connecting employees and remote users- all geographically dispersed. An enterprise WAN links local area networks (LANs) in multiple locations to give users access to corporate applications and data they need to do their jobs. In today’s cloud-based and mobile era, organizations are facing a significant challenge:

Do you continue down the path of maintaining their enterprise WAN or do you adopt software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN)?

Deciding which way to go depends on a lot of factors. For instance, if your company has one primary location and relies on on-prem hardware and software, a traditional enterprise WAN may be ideal. In this case, dedicated routers and WAN optimization controllers may be enough to optimize your enterprise environment. However, for companies supporting a mobile workforce relying on a BYOD model and cloud-based applications, choosing an SD-WAN will deliver much-needed flexibility. For many companies, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s a case of supplementing traditional routers with SD-WAN deployments to reduce the lack of support for legacy infrastructure. Before re-tooling your enterprise WAN, let’s review what you need to know about SD-WAN.

1. How SD-WAN differs from conventional WAN routers – Put simply, SD-WAN applies software-defined networking principles to WANs. SD-WAN is a technology that differs from a traditional hardware-driven approach to networking. Through a software controller, SD-WAN technology can dynamically adjust to changing conditions in the WAN environment based on policies set by the user. It leverages automation and software that allows for real-time traffic routing capabilities to improve application performance and optimize network paths. Network teams can designate which applications and traffic run on over which WAN circuits, based on latency and requirement. This approach gives network teams more granular control over how network traffic is routed for optimal performance, cost, and security.

2. SD-WAN fits the cloud computing model – Our greater acceptance of cloud services is a driving force behind the growing adoption of SD-WAN. That’s because when more applications move to the cloud and become available via the software-as-a-service model, the role of the internet becomes even more critical. Not only that, these cloud-centric workloads can be severely impacted by unreliable connectivity. Organizations that rely on cloud-based access to business-critical applications need to be able to guarantee performance and Quality of Service (QoS) to reap the full benefits of cloud services. Organizations need ways to integrate cloud services into WAN environments to ensure high-levels of workload and application performance and availability. Because the SD-WAN is controlled by centralized software-based controllers, teams can apply policy-based application path selection across multiple WAN connections. The SD-WAN then load balances across multiple links to avoid MPLS backhauling that’s required in a traditional WAN setup. While critical applications like Unified Communications platforms (UC), for instance, may still rely on MPLS links, less-critical everyday data, like email or access to CRM systems, can be sent along other broadband connections, like the public internet or even 4G LTE. Having this level of flexibility is ideal for an organization that consumes a variety of cloud services and is beneficial because it reduces the need, and cost, of having MPLS-only circuits to carry information.

3. More flexibility to use multiple carriers – Because SD-WAN enables organizations to leverage a variety of carriers and links – such as cable and DSL broadband services, Ethernet, 4G LTE, and MPLS – companies have much more freedom when it comes to shopping rates and carriers. With SD-WAN companies can also save on connectivity costs by dropping some MPLS connections for more affordable broadband services. Leveraging secondary links like 4G LTE or satellite for non-critical applications or for business continuity purposes can also deliver peace of mind at a more affordable rate.

4. Improving application performance – SD-WAN is unique in that it makes it possible to bond multiple WAN connections together to create a link that’s stronger than a single connection would be on its own. Not only can this reduce reliance on more expensive links, but it can also improve overall network performance and how applications run on the network. This technology addresses application performance by leveraging pre-programmed policies to ensure that traffic gets routed on the optimal path to deliver the best user experience possible. The ability to shift traffic between connections can ensure application performance levels remain high, keeping users connected and productive.

Wrap up

In today’s bandwidth-hungry world, organizations need to find innovative ways to increase application performance over their WAN infrastructures. SD-WAN technology provides organizations with more flexibility than legacy WAN routers and hardware-based network environments. By injecting a dose of flexibility across their enterprise WAN, SD-WAN can help organizations embrace cloud services and a mobile workforce while cutting network complexity and connectivity costs.