New to software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN)? Here’s a complete tutorial on SD-WAN.
Introduction to SD-WAN
Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) is leveraged by businesses for network management that offers ease of deployment, central control functionality, and reduced costs. And thanks to many business applications moving to the cloud, it can improve network connectivity between those virtual applications and branch offices. How does it accomplish these tasks for businesses? Let’s start with where SD-WAN gets its roots.
What is WAN?
Wide Area Network (WAN) is a term that describes the method in which data is exchanged between multiple business locations. The WAN’s job is to connect users to their applications from anywhere, on any device, and to wherever those applications are hosted. What separates WAN from other networks is that it has no boundaries for transmitting and receiving data, which means it can connect locations across states, countries, etc.
Examples of WAN connectivity:
- Broadband Internet – such as cable or DSL
- Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) – such as fiber Ethernet
- Wireless – such as fixed wireless or 4G LTE
What is an SDN?
Software-defined (SD) refers to abstracting the control capabilities of underlying hardware into a virtual environment. For example, a software-defined network (SDN) grants control functionality separate from the network’s physical devices, allowing configuration and management from a centralized location. Rather than configuring a network device by device, the configuration is managed in one place and applied to all devices simultaneously.
What is SD-WAN? How Does it Work?
Now that we know the component makeup of SD-WAN, we know that SD-WAN is a tool that uses software to unify and intelligently manage traffic connectivity between remote branches, data centers, and cloud applications. SD-WAN has administrative capabilities over multiple connections (e.g., from LTE to broadband to MPLS) and segments, partitions, and secures traffic across an enterprise’s WAN. Each SD-WAN implementation is managed from a central function control plane that monitors network activity and signals your company and the SD-WAN vendor to any problems when they occur.
SD-WAN Configurations: Active-Active VS Active-Passive
There are two main types of SD-WAN setups.
In the active-active configuration, businesses have at least two (sometimes more) WAN connections online 24/7. Network traffic passes over whichever connection is best for the application in use at any given time. SD-WAN can prioritize traffic instantaneously based on each WAN connection’s real-time quality or state, which nearly guarantees that no data will be lost while using business applications.
In an active-passive configuration, businesses have a single WAN connection online at any given time. If the active (or primary) connection fails, data will failover to the secondary pathway.
Why Do Businesses Use SD-WAN?
SD-WAN benefits businesses of all sizes. While there are some differences in features depending on the SD-WAN vendor, businesses can expect the following benefits with SD-WAN:
- Cost Savings – Businesses can save money in several ways with SD-WAN. First, it can replace or reduce the number of expensive private MPLS connections with more cost-efficient public Internet connections. It also can remove the need for expensive routing hardware since those are now controlled with software. SD-WAN also reduces IT services and management costs. Since administrative control functions are now virtual, there are no physical configuration requirements on-site. Instead, IT can access and manage the control function plane conveniently off-site, reducing the need for on-site IT personnel.
- Bandwidth Elasticity – SD-WAN can intelligently manage multiple network connections to increase bandwidth by removing network congestion and creating better application response time.
- Enhanced Quality of Service (QoS) – SD-WAN steers business-critical traffic and applications through the most reliable, highest-performing connections. The net impact is a reduction in data packet loss and latency issues, which improves user experience and productivity.
- Business Continuity – One of the most valuable benefits of SD-WAN is its ability to deliver network redundancy. As described in the previous section, SD-WAN can direct traffic on multiple connections, whether the configuration is active-active or active-passive. This routing ability means that businesses often can avoid network downtime – with their users remaining online and active – even if there is an outage with one or more connections.
- Improved Data Security – Often, SD-WAN can mitigate security threats by virtualizing a firewall that makes public traffic encrypted. Some other basic security capabilities are inherent with SD-WAN, such as denying or limiting traffic from specific sites.
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