SD-WAN (Software Defined Wide Area Networks) is cutting-edge technology in terms of providing connectivity for enterprises and various other vertical market use cases. However, as with any other cutting-edge technology, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your organization should jump on the bandwagon and replace your legacy routers and firewalls with SD-WAN appliances. However, if any of the specific reasons and scenarios discussed below apply to your organization, you absolutely should adopt SD-WAN and enjoy the benefits.
Let’s first try to describe SD-WAN in layman’s terms. SD-WAN can mean slightly different things depending on who you ask, but at a high level, it refers to the software intelligence that dynamically manages the WAN links on a branch/campus edge. Usually this software lives on off-the-shelf X86 type platforms that are centrally and easily managed. In this model, the value creation is shifted from hardware to software, with the added benefits of using all the advantages that software brings to the table such as easier upgrades, longer shelf-life and lower cost.
There are certainly many reasons that SD-WAN might be a good strategy for your organization, however, we will try to limit them to the top three here. We will present out findings and thoughts based on our surveys, conversations and feedback from our own client base, as well as data collected from industry analysts and thought leaders.
WAN Performance and Uptime:
Roughly two-thirds of US based businesses have less than 50Mbps bandwidth at their branch locations. That is slower than my residential cable service in La Jolla, California excepting for rare situations that will create a performance bottleneck. Improving the WAN performance and uptime is by far the biggest motivation behind SD-WAN adoption. It is fair to say that more than 50% of use cases have WAN performance improvement as their primary motivation. SD-WAN, by intelligently managing the IP flows and mapping them to specialized over-the-top (overlay) IP tunnels, can significantly improve the WAN performance. This translates into direct improvements in end-user experience.
In some cases, SD-WAN technology may even become the pure enabler of a specific application. As an example, for applications that depend on tight SLAs, such as VOIP, video conferencing or chatty applications, the application may only be practically possible if and when SD-WAN is utilized. If you are looking to improve your application performance (which may depend on some combination of throughput, latency, jitter or packet loss), it makes sense to look at SD-WAN during your next WAN upgrade cycle. If the SD-WAN solution includes advanced QoS (Quality of Service) and traffic shaping capabilities combined with overlay VNF tunnels that are application centric, you can expect a return on your investment within months.
Bandwidth cost usually consumes a significant part of IT budgets and even fractional cost savings can make a difference. With SD-WAN, businesses have the ability to combine, mix and match various bandwidth providers to create the optimum value-cost combination. From our client base, we see a mix of cost-effective large bandwidth pipes with more expensive higher SLA services brought together via our SD-WAN solution. This way, bandwidth hungry flows can be directed onto the less expensive public Internet lines. Similarly, mission critical applications can utilize the more expensive, higher performing SLA lines with the added benefit of failing over to other WAN links in case of line failures. As a matter of fact, with specialized VNF overlay tunnels, applications flows can be sent to tunnels that can dynamically steer packets onto the best path at any given time for that specific type of application. This will translate into, say, VOIP calls for the office always traversing the best path that has been optimized for the reliability and quality of VOIP flows, outperforming even the most expensive WAN options without SD-WAN.
There are use cases where a single WAN connection will not accomplish the target goal. This may be because of challenging WAN environments such as cellular, satellite, mobile or portable use cases. As an example, a single 4G LTE or even 5G modem may not be suitable for the use case in a command and control center application, however, an SD-WAN based device that can combine several of those 4G LTE or 5G modems into a fatter and more reliable pipe will do the trick. The specialized use cases come from a very wide range of industries and applications and if you have applications that have challenges based on WAN performance and reliability, then again, SD-WAN is the way to go.
There are other secondary reasons why your organization should upgrade to SD-WAN, such as easier and centralized management of WAN devices, improved WAN security and improved WAN telemetry. You should look for these features when shopping for SD-WAN solution, but perhaps they are not strong enough by themselves to make the SD-WAN upgrade the top priority in your organization. However, if WAN performance and uptime, bandwidth cost or enabling specialized applications are some of the reasons that you decided explore SD-WAN, we highly recommend you move forward and not delay.
Cahit Akin, CEO, Mushroom Networks, Inc.
Mushroom Networks is the provider of SD-WAN (Software Defined WAN) and NFV solutions capable of Broadband Bonding that enables self-healing WAN networks that route around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss.