What does SD WAN mean for businesses?

    If you’ve got an IT network, there’s a chance that SD WAN could revolutionize the way that you control that network – and, therefore, revolutionize the way you handle your IT staff and systems.

    With the prospect of greater control, fewer logistical headaches and a significantly reduced need for being ‘hands-on’ with your devices, SD WAN promises a lot – but there’s sometimes some misunderstanding about exactly what it delivers.

    Here, we’ll explain what SD WAN actually is, what it’s likely to offer your business – and, importantly, we’ll address a few myths that have cropped up about the technology…

    What is SD WAN?

    To understand SD WAN, it’s important to have a solid idea of what a WAN is first. The chances are, your business already has a WAN – even if it’s just a basic network. A Wide Area Network (WAN) is a series of devices connected over a geographical area. So, if you’ve got two or more offices – or even if you’ve got remote workers, you have a WAN.

    In traditional terms, a WAN will span multiple offices and sites – with a central location as a home for storage servers, email servers and other infrastructure. The information held on these central devices is distributed to the end-users who are operating applications on the satellite sites.

    So, how does SD WAN fit into this? Well, it doesn’t ‘fit in’ as such – it sits ‘on top’ of your WAN, providing an additional control system that unifies all of the devices on your network. From your SD WAN log-in, you (or your IT team or service provider) can do a lot of the work that’s traditionally been ‘hands on’ for network engineers.

    What does (and doesn’t) SD WAN offer?

    Since SD WAN is a control system, you’ll realize it doesn’t actually replace anything within your network – it simply offers software-based control.

    The good news is, this software system is likely to be compatible with about 99.99% of all networking devices, so, the controls that can normally only be operated by getting ‘hands on’ with the actual device, then become possible to access remotely.

    This means that your geographical location now becomes irrelevant in terms of network maintenance and configuration – you can quite easily work on a device that’s a thousand miles away – just as if it were in front of you.

    SD WAN will replace costly MPLS systems?

    Since SD WAN allows you to control each of your devices remotely, the onboard software also allows you to control how traffic navigates your network through managed Class of Service features.

    If you’re paying for an expensive MPLS system, this might be music to your ears – and there are plenty of sources who’ll tell you that SD WAN will mean you can cut ties with that MPLS connection.

    In reality, this isn’t going to be the case. MPLS – or ‘Multiprotocol Label Switching’ – is a traffic handling technique that’s used in high performance networks. It works by managing data paths through the network – and routing higher priority traffic through the most efficient channels. MPLS is part of your network structure – and since SD WAN only sits on top and controls the existing systems, it won’t work as a replacement.

    That said, as connections improve, and SD WAN configuration becomes better and better, there’s a chance that such a heavy reliance on MPLS for high volume networks could be reduced – but there’s no cutting ties yet…

    SD WAN will mean you can provision new sites immediately

    Another interesting angle to consider with SD WAN is the possibility that it will let you get remote sites up and running in a fraction of the time it would normally take. Again, this isn’t entirely accurate – although there’s some truth to the idea.

    In reality, the on-site configuration element of establishing your network is just one part of a much larger picture. Certainly, with SD WAN you’ll be able to send pre-configured devices to your location and have them up and running quickly – but, you’re always likely to be waiting for internet circuit installations, no matter how efficiently you’re running your part of the process.

    Although it depends on your circuit provider, currently, you can expect internet circuit delivery to take anywhere between 3-12 weeks – and sadly, no networking infrastructure will speed this process up!

    SD WAN helps with SaaS use

    SD WAN can be beneficial if you’re planning to roll out software-as-a-service applications to your end-users – as you’ve got a central control location that means each additional location accesses the system with the same speed and priority given to the data.

    This is especially important if you’re using real-time applications – including payment gateways, customer relationship management tools, account management software or more complex service-based portals. Having all your end-users (and customers) working at the same speed is vital to making sure you’re providing a seamless service.

    The class of service controls within an SD WAN system will help you manage your mission critical applications in such way that you can make sure, no matter what else is happening with your network, that consistency and uptime is maintained across the board.

    Where can I learn more about SD WAN?

    SD WAN is a complex new area of networking that needs more than a quick overview to fully grasp and appreciate – so, if you’re looking at introducing SD WAN to your IT network, this beginner’s guide will be a useful resource.

    Your business network is likely to be as unique as your business itself – so, your needs are likely to be different to other companies. Whether or not SD WAN is going to be right for you depends on the efficiency with which your network is currently being run.

    If you’ve got a managed service provider onside who employs network monitoring systems as part of your agreement, SD WAN might not, at this stage, offer a great deal more. That said, if you’ve got an IT team that are stretched to their limit, then the control that SD WAN will offer might provide an enormous relief…

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