SD-WAN: Embracing Change and Proving Its Resilience in Today’s Network Landscape
Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) emerged as a groundbreaking innovation in network management, promising greater efficiency, improved performance, and lower costs. However, with the meteoric rise of cloud computing, edge computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT), there’s a pressing question: Is SD-WAN still relevant?
WAN has undergone a transformative journey. Now, companies can manage cheaper, faster, and better-suited networks that are resilient and tailored for the cloud. In the evolving world of network technology, SD-WAN not only remains relevant but has showcased its adaptability amidst emerging tech trends.
Flashback to the early 2000s when SD-WAN burst onto the scene — the anticipation was palpable. We had forecasted a soaring trajectory for SD-WAN, especially considering the digital acceleration spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, there’s been a tangible uptick in SD-WAN deployments since 2020. However, interestingly, while nearly half of WAN managers have fully embraced SD-WAN, an overwhelming percentage are still somewhere along their adoption journey, waiting to implement their SD-WAN solution fully.¹ This suggests that, contrary to initial expectations, the adoption process is more marathon than sprint.
But a slower pace doesn’t mean it’s less valuable. It just means companies are being careful about how they use it. So, for WAN network engineers, is SD-WAN, with its inherent benefits, still a golden opportunity waiting to be leveraged?
Technologies like Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), AI-driven networking, and 5G are making waves in the industry:
- SASE: Combines WAN capabilities with cloud-native security features.
- AI-driven Networking: Utilizes machine learning algorithms for predictive analysis and automated troubleshooting
- 5G: Promises faster and more reliable wireless connectivity, potentially making some SD-WAN features redundant.
These emerging solutions are pivotal “power-ups” for the SD-WAN architecture during this technological renaissance.
5G promises swift and dependable wireless connectivity. It is not just about speed—it’s about agility. As Ritish Murkerjee, Inseego Senior VP and GM of Enterprise, says:
With large bandwidths now available, the technology has improved with the same frequency, and you can do so much more. Now you have operators who feel comfortable putting a lot of data on the wireless network […] customers now want to have that flexibility of mobility to work from anywhere, to roam anywhere, to use their devices anywhere… Quite frankly, many of those things are only possible on a wireless network.²
With 5G, organizations can achieve ‘day one’ connectivity, swiftly deploying new sites without waiting for traditional wired solutions. As a backup solution, it’s unparalleled, offering reliable failover options that reduce downtime. Furthermore, for remote or challenging locations where wired connections can be inconsistent or non-existent, 5G emerges as a consistent and viable alternative, ensuring uniform connectivity experiences across all sites.
Similarly, the security provisions of SASE act as a robust shield for SD-WAN, reinforcing its defense mechanisms. And with AI-driven networking, SD-WAN’s traffic optimization can be elevated to new heights, automating real-time responses to network conditions.
Rather than perceiving these innovations as competitors on the horizon, it’s more apt to view them as enhancing the SD-WAN architecture, creating a more resilient, efficient, and future-ready networking landscape.
With tech always changing, some forward-thinking companies use a ‘hybrid’ approach. They combine the best of SD-WAN and traditional WAN. This isn’t just a marriage of convenience but a strategic alliance, aiming to extract the strengths of each system, forging a network architecture that’s both resilient and infinitely adaptable.
Why a hybrid blend? The simplest of answers is stability. With a hybrid network, organizations can transition into an SD-WAN network with a hybrid network that keeps one foot firmly in MPLS architecture, ensuring their critical applications remain unshaken. With this strategy, network managers create a tapestry of SD-WAN threads intertwined with 5G and MPLS. A network such as this empowers businesses to be ready for any eventuality. In essence, the hybrid approach isn’t just about hedging bets—it’s about orchestrating a symphony of network possibilities.
Many industry experts believe hybrid approaches could be the future of networking. They provide a safety net for businesses, ensuring they always have a reliable connection. SD-WAN’s flexibility is its main strength, allowing it to synergise with other technologies.
Challenges and Limitations
Like any technology, SD-WAN is not without its challenges:
- Security Concerns: SD-WAN decentralization can expose networks to new security vulnerabilities.
- Complexity in Deployment: Initial setup can be complex, requiring a nuanced understanding of existing network architectures.
- Vendor Lock-In: Proprietary solutions may restrict flexibility, forcing companies to stick with a single vendor for various services.
Diving into SD-WAN’s challenges, deployment complexity stands out. Setting the stage for SD-WAN can be challenging; it requires understanding current network designs. While many network managers report lengthier deployment periods, this is where the expertise of managed service providers (MSPs) shines through. With the implementation of any technology, delays can happen. However, MSPs can help. Teaming up with WAN managers, they can simplify implementations, especially when navigating the challenges of remote setups. Their collaboration eases the transition and improves results despite SD-WAN’s complexities.
The agility of SD-WAN’s overlay structure empowers businesses to easily transition between vendors³, providing a clear edge over traditional WAN setups. This flexibility actively reduces vendor lock-in, though it’s still essential for companies to make well-informed choices from the outset. By doing so, they can sidestep potential disruptions and maintain their freedom from vendor constraints.
Rather than being overshadowed by new technologies, SD-WAN has not only demonstrated an ability to seamlessly integrate with and benefit from them but also shown that its challenges are entirely manageable.
Having discussed the numerous technological challengers and potential limitations of SD-WAN, let’s circle back to our initial question – is it still relevant in this fast-paced digital age?
SD-WAN brings a host of benefits to the table:
- Cost Savings: By reducing the reliance on expensive MPLS connections, SD-WAN can significantly lower operational costs.
- Improved Application Performance: SD-WAN optimizes network traffic flow, enhancing application performance and user experience.
- Simplified Management: Centralized control enables easier management of network configurations and policy updates.
Realizing these benefits continues beyond simply deploying SD-WAN. For network engineers keen on maximizing potential savings, it’s crucial to diversify providers when transitioning away from MPLS. Relying on incumbent providers and simply shifting MPLS to DIA might not cut costs as much as one might hope.⁴ Instead, diversifying the underlay network stands as a smart strategy to unlock the full cost-saving potential of SD-WAN.
It’s also important to note that SD-WAN offers flexibility that traditional WAN solutions cannot. By enabling policy-based routing and providing the analytics to make intelligent routing decisions, SD-WAN creates a dynamic network environment that adapts to the needs of individual applications and varying network conditions. It’s not just about cost savings or better performance in isolation; it’s about creating an agile and responsive networking architecture.
Business Use Cases
In a digital world that never stands still, SD-WAN stands tall, meeting critical business demands head-on:
- Branch Connectivity: Provides robust and secure connections between dispersed geographical locations.
- Multi-Cloud Environments: Facilitates seamless connectivity between different cloud service providers.
- Remote Work Support: Ensures stable and secure access for remote employees.
Wondering how SD-WAN and SASE can be a game-changer for your organization? Consider this real-world example:
A global law firm partnered with Globalgig to implement an SD-WAN and cloud firewall solution, achieving a remarkable 30% savings in network-related costs. The firm experienced enhanced network flexibility, scalability, and significant cost savings. Don’t just take our word for it; read the case study to understand how you can replicate similar success in your enterprise.
SD-WAN remains a powerful tool for network management, but it’s essential to weigh its advantages and limitations carefully. As emerging technologies continue to reshape the networking landscape, businesses should remain agile, ready to adapt to new solutions while leveraging the proven capabilities of SD-WAN.
So, what’s the verdict? Will SD-WAN survive the test of time? SD-WAN could evolve into a broader networking approach or integrate with other upcoming paradigms as it has done with SASE solutions.
One thing is clear— SD-WAN is not a fleeting tech trend. Its adaptability, synergies with emerging technologies, and proven track record make it an enduring solution in the ever-changing network management landscape. As businesses gear up for the next wave of technological advancements, SD-WAN stands as a testament to embracing change and thriving amidst it.