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SD-WAN, buzz word vs reality

SD-WAN Is it all hype?
SD-WAN Is it all hype?

SD-WAN- Whats all the hype?

SD-WAN has fast become the biggest 'buzz-word' in enterprise networking today. Companies of all shapes and sizes are looking toward this next generation WAN technology as the best alternative to legacy networks that will connect offices from UK and global, to resources hosted in the data centres and in the cloud. Attracted by the ability to connect all of these things together in a neat solution, many providers now are adopting SD-WAN, but is it all hype?

So what is it?

SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) allows us to simplify enterprise connectivity, whether that be to join multiple offices around the country (or globe), or to access the cloud or data centres. To those of you who may not be technically minded, SD-WAN works as a very intelligent load-balancer and will choose how to shape your internet traffic through software applications rather than using packets. (Its like using super sophisticated VPN's to get the fastest access to everything that is important for you and your business.)   Fundamentally it is existing technologies of traffic shaping, VPN and controls brought together and given a catchy name.   

Your options

There are two ways of deploying an SD-WAN solution. The first is a managed option.

With managed SD-WAN, the customer will pay a service provider to install and deliver internet connectivity (such as a dedicated leased line), as well as any devices the solution may require to run. (This could be something like a Fortigate or Juniper UTM device).  A managed SD-WAN solution is a 'value-added service' and will likely include service level agreements to cover any down-time, however the managed service is typically deployed using some of the same hardware that would support Internet-based SD-WANs. Typically this puts reliance on the public Internet for access to cloud/SaaS applications, meaning the same caveats around SLA's apply- Application performance and user experience will suffer over greater distances.

The second option is SD-WAN as a service.

With this option, companies mould SD-WAN in much the way they would buy cloud services. As an alternative to building their own SD-WAN using the Internet, (or having a service provider deliver that same technology), next-generation networks combine the security and reliability of a private network with the flexibility, low cost, and quick deployment of the Internet to deliver a superior connectivity solution.

Businesses can rely on a fast and secure private core network without having to build out infrastructure and manage additional hardware at the edge. This makes it more simple to expand branch offices or move locations as they please, without compromising on reliability and application performance.

Enabling this faster connectivity through a global private network layered with WAN optimization ensures every employee around the world has seamless access and gets consistent performance when accessing mission-critical applications anywhere in the world.

So will this replace  MPLS?

No. In fact, SD-WAN can co-operate with MPLS at a fundamental level, it actually allows providers to incorporate MPLS networks to deliver higher quality connectivity.  If you are a multi-sited organisation with global presence, then SD-WAN will work really as an alternative to a full physical connection to your MPLS core which as explained, will otherwise be very costly to deliver.   

Is it right for your business?

Simply put, if you are a business with 20 major locations or more within the UK and a myriad of small branches with numerous types of connections, then yes, you would probably find benefit in SD-WAN. If you want to connect offices globally and need to connect to cloud applications or data centres then SD-WAN can cut the costs of international MPLS networks. Will SD-WAN save you money on the other hand? Probably not. If you don't fit in to any of the above 'boxes', then realistically SD-WAN is more an expensive fad.

What is the best approach?

There is no ‘best’ approach but, being realistic, for most businesses, the best most solid platform for transporting data between sites is MPLS.  Layer on top of this an intelligent layer of UTM (Unified Threat Management – or otherwise known as firewalls with virus scanners and intrusion detection) providing network traffic management based on business applications, and intelligent VPN for remote sites and cloud connectivity and you actually have a Hybrid SD-WAN.

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