SD-WAN 101 – What you need to know

May 4, 2022
Access Tech: SD-WAN has become an emerging network system for growing businesses. Do you need to upgrade your network?

The problem with traditional networks is that it’s every piece of traffic for itself: whether it’s a simple email or a high priority multi-stream video conference, every component is muscling everything else to get to its destination with the same priority.

If that reminds you of rush hour, you’re right: everyone wanting to get home at once, plugging the streets and highways so no one gets home quickly. And as ever more latency-sensitive and bandwidth-heavy applications compete with one another for space, it’s only going to get worse. Lagging video, sluggish internet, money and productivity lost over time.

That’s why SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) is increasingly displacing Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) as the standard for forward-thinking businesses. To oversimplify, MPLS is local and fixed – think one router at every node that requires individual maintenance and adjustment.

By contrast, SD-WAN – leveraging the power of the Cloud – is global, easily adjustable, and infinitely configurable. Think of it: being able to see, control and optimize your entire network allows you to:

  • Prioritize traffic based on your business priorities, ensuring the most important or network-sensitive traffic is handled accordingly
  • Replace local hardware, and in particular, the corporate edge router, which age out quickly and require constant, local maintenance. Some SD-WAN solutions even have WIFI access capabilities, making it an ideal solution for a remote office or retail chain
  • Evaluate network traffic patterns and choose the most efficient and reliable routes across the network in real time  
  • Monitor performance feedback telemetry across an end-to-end SD-WAN deployment and make dynamic-packet or session-level data decisions as to which path network traffic will use
  • Enhance network efficiency by leveraging the most important characteristics of the cloud. Some SD-WAN providers even have direct connections into the most popular cloud-based applications and global data center providers, enabling customers to leverage their networks’ SD-WAN edge deployments.
  • Incorporate a host of security features globally, replacing standalone security appliances, firewalls, VPNs with more advanced security functionality. 

You can see SD-WAN’s architecture and how it operates through the Aruba Network graphic below.

Our president and our chief network engineer developed one of the first SD-WAN networks for a major grocery chain before SD-WAN even had a name, so we know this technology inside and out. After working with hundreds of clients configuring SD-WAN, we can guarantee you successful projects always begin with answers to these questions:

  • Start with a quick brainstorm, backed up by data if you have it: where have you seen the most stress on your network, and how has that manifested? Has your network gone down (if so, when and for how long)? Or is it more a matter of a slow or inefficient network, either constantly or at certain parts of the day? Has that effected productivity, and in what ways? Overall, what frustrates you about your network?
  • Make a list of all the applications running over your network, as well as where they’re located. The more complete the list, the better.
  • Then prioritize that list: which applications are most crucial to your business? Of course, you don’t want any of you applications to go down, but which simply can’t go down?
  • What are your security requirements now? And are there any enhancements to that posture you’ve been considering or would like to explore? SD-WAN may offer additional safeguards.
  • Do you want to, or do you have staff to manage the SD-WAN network yourself? Or would a full turnkey solution make more sense? 

Answering those questions will give you a great sense of how much an SD-WAN solution will help your business, whichever partner you choose to implement it. And better yet, especially if you choose to leverage our considerable experience with SD-WAN, it will help us configure the exact solution for your business, giving you what you need and nothing you don’t.

For further reading, here is Aruba’s “What is SD-WAN?”