SD-WAN – Is it Worth Your Time and Effort?

There’s plenty of information in the world about how SD-WAN systems can benefit huge multi-national businesses – but there’s less written about what SD-WAN could mean to smaller, less sprawling companies.

If you currently use a WAN and you’re working with a reasonable number of cloud-based applications or processes, then SD-WAN could be on your radar. The question is, how can you present the benefits and justify the kind of spend involved?

Let’s take a look at some of the networking and business improvements you can expect from the technology – and give you (and other less IT-savvy decision-makers) all the information you need to decide whether SD-WAN could work for you? 

Delivering Better Performance Over Twin Circuits

If you’re a business that has a primary circuit and a backup circuit as part of your network, now’s a good time to start paying attention to SD-WAN. 

Generally, your two circuits will be run in a kind of fail-safe mode. If you have a problem with one, the other one is there to take over. Trouble is, you’re paying for two circuits and getting the performance of one. 

Of course, employing your second circuit with a traditional WAN infrastructure doesn’t really work – it’s either in use, or it’s part of your backup plan – you can’t have both. If you are using a second circuit and your back up plan is to simply switch to one, you’ve got the obvious bandwidth issues to deal with if there is a problem – not to mention the issues you’ll have segregating your users and data across two independent circuits.

This is where SD-WAN makes life much easier – allowing you to use both circuits actively – while retaining the idea that two is better than one should you ever have a problem that takes one out of the equation. 

How Does it Work?

So, there’s no smart way of configuring two circuits with MPLS or an ethernet WAN – so what does SD-WAN do differently? Well, it essentially just considers each circuit as part of an overall amount of bandwidth it has to work with. Where the data is sent is somewhat irrelevant, as it’s always taking a dynamic, intelligently moving path towards its destination.

No active or passive connections are required – and if one of your circuits does run into issues, then your system will adapt and route the data as intelligently as possible through the bandwidth that remains. Effectively, SD-WAN turns a fail-safe into an intelligent fail-safe.

Improving Application Performance for your End Users

Assuming you have two available circuits, SD-WAN allows for data from your applications to be handled uniquely – from application to application. These circuits could be wired ethernet circuits – but they could equally be fiber, broadband, or 4/5G connections. 

This is great news if you’ve got mission-critical applications that you consider high priority. You probably don’t need to tell quite how much downtime could potentially cost you – so keeping your most important apps running is a crucial part of keeping your business afloat.

So, how does it work?

Well, by using your SD-WAN system to pick out an application (or group of applications) that are critical to your business, you effectively create a set of rules that tell the system what to do with the corresponding data. As long as there’s bandwidth available, these applications could be set to be the priority – then again, you may decide that a particular application or group of applications always uses a certain circuit or path, leaving less important applications to work with the remaining bandwidth. 

How is this Different From Traditional WAN Routing?

Now, you could be forgiven for thinking this is essentially just the same as what happens when a traditional WAN set up is configured to route data flexibly – but it is significantly different.

In a traditional WAN, re-routing will only occur if the initial route is completely lost. So, if you’ve got a route that’s underperforming or dropping data due to congestion – no big deal. The road has to be completely closed for flexible routing options to redirect you – but with SD-WAN, you’re dealing with a more intelligent service. Sure, if the route is lost then so is the bandwidth – but SD-WAN will consider slow data to be an obstruction too. So, whenever the speed drops, SD-WAN is there to dynamically route data to keep speeds up.

Making Sure your Important Application Run Smoothly Over Internet Connections

Class of service settings is nothing new – but how CoS works on a traditional WAN router compared to how it works with an SD-WAN system are very different – and as such, the resulting impact on your applications is very different too.

Let’s for a second consider that you’ve got two users making a video call between two of your sites. Although the router handling the call can prioritize the data using its own class of service settings – it doesn’t necessarily know what another device is going to do. So, a large file transfer across the network coming from a third site could cause problems – despite CoS settings apparently being in use.

With an SD-WAN system, every device on the network can be considered. So, if the video call is in progress and another user tries to perform an action that would result in severely reduced bandwidth for that call, the SD-WAN system’s ‘business intent overlays’ will recognize that the file transfer falls outside of the business priorities, and it will prevent the transfer. The user attempting the transfer will get a notification explaining what’s happened too – so they can pick back up when the call is done.

Is SD-WAN Worth it for Your Business?

Although this article puts a finer point on some benefits from an SD-WAN system, the list is far from being exhaustive. Whether or not SD-WAN is going to be the right solution for your business depends on a host of variables – but if you feel like you’re getting towards the limit of what a traditional WAN can offer now, and you’re working with a lot of cloud-based applications, it could be a smart step to take.

I am a full-time professional blogger from India. I like reading various tech magazines and several other blogs on the internet.

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