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6 Advantages to a Software-Defined WAN Implementation

The networking approach offers both financial and operational benefits to organizations.

Increasing amounts of data are being transferred among data centers, cloud environments, branch offices and other remote locations, driven by data analytics, media traffic, storage demand and data backup. This traffic creates the need to optimize the performance of wide area networks (WANs) and the applications that run on them.

As traffic levels steadily rise, network administrators are also seeing an increase in latency-sensitive data transmissions. WAN and application performance optimization solutions, which deliver the scalability and throughput that this traffic demands, have become a necessity.

Optimization uses several techniques to improve performance, including the monitoring and management of bandwidth capacity, network latency, protocols and overall network traffic. Techniques such as deduplication, compression, Secure Sockets Layer and other protocol optimization are used to enhance performance.

Meanwhile, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology is emerging as a networking approach that can deliver multiple performance and cost benefits, including end-to-end network visibility and feedback to improve transmission efficiencies on the fly. This technology also creates a painless pathway from proprietary hardware devices to software-defined WANs that are agile and programmable, enabling organizations to keep pace with IT innovations.

SD-WAN Defined

So how does SD-WAN technology work? It supplies the benefits generally associated with software-defined networking (SDN), but in the context of a wide area network. By automating network deployment and management, both SDN and SD-WAN virtualize resources to supply enhanced performance, accelerated services delivery and improved availability while lowering total cost of ownership.

An SD-WAN operates by measuring essential network traffic metrics, such as latency, packet loss, jitter and availability. Using this data, the SD-WAN is able to respond proactively to real-time network conditions, selecting the optimal path for each data packet. In many instances, SD-WAN adopters can take advantage of proprietary capabilities that suppliers offer with their solutions. Riverbed Technology's SteelHead RiOS, for example, can accelerate SSL traffic across a WAN without requiring faking and spoofing.

An SD-WAN is often integrated into an organization's existing WAN. One advantage of an SD-WAN overlay is that it can support multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) as well as hybrid WANs, delivering improvements no matter what type of network infrastructure is already in place.

SD-WAN adoption is growing rapidly because the technology provides a wide range of important operational and financial benefits, including:

Agility: SD-WAN routers can combine the bandwidth of multiple WAN connections. Organizations using SD-WANs can easily add or remove WAN connections as needed. They can also combine cellular and fixed-line connections. Under an SD-WAN implementation, bandwidth can easily be added or reduced as requirements evolve. The technology also allows the rapid deployment of WAN services to a remote site without the need to dispatch IT personnel to the location.

Cost: Internet links are generally much less expensive than carrier-grade MPLS connections, which are typically encumbered by long provisioning times and expensive contracts. SD-WAN technology also allows organizations to effectively leverage all available network connections to their full capacity without worrying about maintaining idle backup links.

Security: An SD-WAN can improve network security by encrypting WAN traffic as it moves from one location to another, and by segmenting the network so that if a breach occurs, the damage is minimized. SD-WANs can also help IT administrators detect attacks more quickly by providing constant visibility into the amount and types of traffic on a network.

Reliability: MPLS networks typically offer highly reliable packet delivery. Internet uplinks, on the other hand, often fail. To compensate for this fact, many organizations that move entirely to SD-WANs choose to order multiple internet links from different providers to maintain “four nines” (99.99 percent) availability in the case of link failure.

Performance: SD-WAN technology uses the internet to create secure, high-performance connections, eliminating the backhaul penalties imposed by MPLS networks. This allows SD-WANs to deliver business applications cost-effectively while optimizing Software as a Service (SaaS) and other cloud-based services. The technology also improves IT efficiency at branch offices by enabling automation and provides reliable, inexpensive links for IoT projects.

Adoption: Distributed organizations, as well as those moving toward the adoption of IoT technology, should evaluate SD-WAN solutions in terms of ease of use, manageability, ability to integrate with existing MPLS networks and the intelligence to automatically adjust traffic flows to accommodate network conditions.

Dive Deeper

Download the free white paper, "How SD-WAN Can Future-Proof Your Operations," to learn more about the ways WAN and SD-WAN can help meet your organization's network performance goals.

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Chad Baker/Thinkstock
Dec 15 2016