If you’re the kind of business owner that likes to stay on top of the latest IT developments, you might be aware of SD WAN - also known as Software Defined Networking as part of a Wide Area Network.

But beyond the name, it can be hard to know what’s exactly true about this technology - as with any new technology, it’s often difficult to separate the marketing hype from the cold hard facts. That’s why we’re here to clear up these misunderstandings, and explain why - and how - SD WAN can really benefit your company.

Understanding SD WAN

Before we tackle SD WAN, it’s useful to start with knowing how a WAN, or Wide Area Network, works within your business.

In essence, a WAN is a series of multiple devices that are connected over an area of any size. Typically for a business, a WAN functions as a hub that holds the servers, network devices, etc., in the centre of a series of branches, offices, cloud servers, and more.

Each of a business’ locations will usually have its own dedicated LAN, or Local Area Network, that can then function as a WAN when connected to the internet and to the LANs of other locations. This then means that any location within the WAN can access the business’ centrally stored provisions, including systems, software, storage, and security.

What Can SD WAN Really Do?

SD WAN isn’t actually an altogether different type of WAN - it instead functions as an overlay over your existing WAN that provides an extra layer of additional controls.

Each device on your network will be compatible with the software that allows access to these controls, meaning that settings typically only accessible when you’re ‘hands on’ with the device can become available from any location - you can see how this would make any IT professional happy.

But what does it mean for your business more broadly? Let’s go over some of the most common claims about SD WAN and separate the facts from the fiction.

MPLS Is Obsolete If You Have SD WAN

MPLS, also known as Multi-Protocol Label Switching, is a technique used in the highest performance networks for the purpose of data carrying. Lots of businesses that rely on mission critical applications swear by this IT solution, but it definitely isn’t cheap, and many have gotten their hopes up in recent years that SD WAN could replace it.

MPLS functions by ensuring that high priority data is given a more direct path through the network than less important traffic, dynamically rerouting data based on its level of priority and the available bandwidth. This means that, during periods of heavy traffic, the system is always making sure that the most important data is reaching its destination quickly, even if less important applications suffer a little for it.

SD WAN actually provides a similar function, as network traffic can be prioritised via a Class of Service, or CoS, system. But MPLS is actually built into a network’s infrastructure, and doesn’t simply overlay it; this means that MPLS can be used for much more than just minor alterations, and is capable of a lot more than SD WAN.

SD WAN Makes SaaS A Better Experience

If you utilise SaaS, or Software as a Service, applications in your day to day operations over your WAN, you might find SD WAN to be enormously useful, as it can ensure that all of your satellite operations are able to access the same applications, allowing the data the same speed and priority.

If you’re dealing with real-time applications, you need to ensure that they’re all running as well as they can, particularly if end user or customer experience is on the line. The ability to remotely respond to WAN issues that could make or break your business means that you can keep going at the most important times.

Of course, this is all dependent on how often you use SaaS applications, if you do at all. But if you often rely on this type of software, then SD WAN could be invaluable during busy periods.

Bandwidth And Traffic Priority Are Easily Managed With SD WAN

Many SD WAN providers like to brag about their high quality service when compared with more traditional WAN management methods. However, these providers might be exaggerating a little to sell their services.

Although SD WAN can definitely contribute to improving the quality of your service, most of these improvements can usually be made first at a basic hardware level - a good rule of thumb when it comes to new networking solutions is to always ensure you’re working from the best possible foundation before you add extras like SD WAN.

SD WAN Lets You Expand To New Sites Instantly

Lots of businesses have been dreaming of a way they can instantly implement hardware in new locations without the wait times or the need to send IT teams away from the office.

But sadly, this is going to remain a dream for now, as because SD WAN only functions as an overlay from which you can tweak hardware settings, you still need someone to physically get the hardware up and running. However, if you have all of the devices and connections in place, SD WAN can make this process a bit less painful.

Is SD WAN The Right Investment For Your Business?

In short: we can’t answer for you! Every business has unique elements, and even if some of the points listed above are highly pertinent to one company, they might be totally irrelevant to yours. But if some of the benefits piqued your interest, it might be a good idea to go and do more research before you start to commit to the idea, and make sure you know exactly what it can do for your company.

SD WAN has the potential to benefit your business enormously, but this is highly dependent on the current state of your business network. For example, if your network maintenance is already being handled by a more than capable managed service provider, you might not see much of a change when you decide to bring SD WAN into the mix.

On the other hand, if your IT department is sick of running between locations to fix device problems and tweak settings, you might see them take a sigh of relief when you say that you’re thinking of using SD WAN!

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