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What is SD-WAN? Definition & Solutions

SD-WAN solutions enable digital transformation for organizations by leveraging corporate WAN to a deliver better application experience, reduce costs, and simplify operations at the WAN edge. SD-WAN enables deep application identification, including encrypted traffic and dynamic multi-path steering across hybrid connectivity options—MPLS, LTE 4G/5G, or broadband—ensuring organizations can quickly and easily access business-critical applications.

Why SD-WAN? Business Outcomes

According to IDC, the SD-WAN market will continue to grow more than 30% over the next few years, reaching $5.25 billion in 2023. Organizations in both publich and private sectors are embracing SD-WAN solutions for a number of key benefits, including the following.

Better Application Experience

SD-WAN allows remote sites to connect more easily to networks and/or multiple-clouds with lower latency, better performance, and more reliable connectivity. When users demand more of their applications and infrastructure at unprecedented speed and scale, an appealing user experience can be make-or-break.

Instant ROI Benefits

MPLS and other connectivity technologies aren’t just outdated; they’re also more expensive when the total cost of ownership (TCO) is considered. SD-WAN not only significantly reduces bandwidth costs but can also help reduce capital costs by allowing consolidation of different point networking and security products at the edge while delivering better control and performance.

Efficient Operations

As network infrastructures have evolved, the sprawl of point products used for networking and security increases complexity. SD-WAN uses automation to make connectivity a simpler process across mixed environments, including on-premises, hybrid, and cloud. SD-WAN enables centralized orchestration, zero-touch provisioning, and analytics along with deep integrations of cloud on-ramps to accelerate cloud connectivity.

Enhanced Security Posture

An SD-WAN solution needs to have integrated security. Otherwise, it’s just another connectivity option that unfortunately becomes an attack vector. When properly implemented, secure SD-WAN enables secure direct internet access. It’s critical that an SD-WAN solution can ensure consistent security at all edges, from flexible WAN edges to the cloud edge.

How SD-WAN Works

An SD-WAN solution connects users to any application wherever it resides, whether on-premises or in the cloud. SD-WAN leverages deep application recognition, including in encrypted traffic, and applies dynamic multi-path steering to intelligently determine the best path for ideal performance at a specific application level. It then applies advanced WAN remediation capabilities to overcome blackout and brownout conditions by steering traffic through to the ideal WAN path. Traditional WAN architectures are hub-n-spoke, router-centric where all traffic is routed through MPLS to on-premises data center.

Below are a few characteristics that define how an SD-WAN solution works and has evolved from a WAN infrastructure:

Application Resiliency

With traditional WAN solutions, organizations suffer a less than ideal quality of experience and have a hard time delivering high-performance bandwidth for critical applications. Since legacy WAN architectures are IP-based, they lack in-depth application visibility. SD-WAN solutions, however, can enable deep application visibility. This visibility can also be extended into encrypted traffic, which is critical, as more than 80% of the traffic runs on SSL/TLS. With advanced WAN remediation capabilities, enterprises can achieve application resiliency for business-critical applications, improve employee user experience, and boost productivity with SD-wide area networking. 
SD-WAN can intelligently identify applications and determine the best path they should take to maximize functionality. Moreover, self-healing capabilities automatically route traffic, in real-time, to the next-best available link in the event of an outage of the primary link. Not only does this automated capability reduce complexity, but it also delivers the improved application performance and user experience. Network teams gain the visibility they need about application use across the organization, the overall health of the network, and specific application-level insights. This enables better decisions to meet business outcomes.

Zero-Touch Deployment

SD-WAN, which is based on the same methodology as software-defined networking (SDN), enables faster deployment with zero-touch provisioning capabilities that scale. In addition, a unified management console for both network and security operations simplifies operations at the WAN edge and extends zero-touch provisioning to LAN edge services, as well as wireless and switching.

Multi-Cloud  On-Ramp

Enabling efficient connectivity to the cloud is a core capability of SD-WAN. SD-WAN solutions can be used in public clouds to enable high-performance connectivity between public cloud workloads running on multiple clouds without increasing cost and complexity. Cloud on-ramp is a key SD-WAN capability to enable faster branch–to-cloud connectivity and orchestration. This simplifies deployment and improves agility.

SD-WAN vs. MPLS: Which Is Better?

There are a handful of factors to consider before shifting an organization to an SD-WAN solution from a traditional MPLS environment. Check out the table below to compare each option: