The four biggest misconceptions about SD-WAN

Issue 6 2022 IT infrastructure

Digital transformation has triggered remarkable shifts in infrastructure and architecture. Enabling innovation, productivity, connectivity and growth, digital transformation is reshaping how organisations interact and engage with markets, employees and customers. It has also triggered a fundamental change in the structure of the network.

Today, networks are key enablers of digital transformation and innovation. Without an agile and scalable network infrastructure that can handle the demands of the digitally-evolved enterprise, the business will not be able to realise its full potential.

Enter SD-WAN (software-defined networking), which offers organisations of all sizes the toolkit they need to modernise their infrastructure and take it to the point where it can handle today’s applications, demands and hybrid workforce expectations.

“The challenge now facing the implementation of SD-WAN is the misconceptions that trail behind it,” says Jeanette Simpson, product manager: SD-WAN at Armata. “These have come about because SD-WAN technologies are an increasingly popular choice for automating network performance management, and its rapid growth has resulted in it being surrounded by hyperbole and misunderstanding.”

SD-WAN Myth 1: It improves Internet performance

This is not true. What SD-WAN actually does is prioritise application traffic and bandwidth, optimising how the traffic is routed and automating the optimal usage of network resources. The platform has immense potential and can measurably improve the manageability of the network, and it provides organisations with tools and customisation options that they could not normally afford.

“The architecture of most current networks is based on a hybrid of broadband circuits that use different combinations of MPLS, virtual private LAN service and optical point-to-point or multi-point connectivity, so you get more bandwidth at your fingertips and everyone will experience better network performance,” says Simpson.

SD-WAN Myth 2: Cost savings

This is true, but it also isn’t. SD-WAN does have a cost-saving element to it, but it isn’t going to fundamentally transform costs for customers – depending on their existing infrastructure, how they use their network and what their objectives are. SD-WAN saves costs when compared with Layer 3 virtual private routed networks like MPLS and uses lower-cost connectivity in the form of broadband Internet connectivity, but these benefits are more aligned with the business case for the improved performance and functionality provided by SD-WAN than budget cuts.

“The platform is centralised and companies can make changes faster. The entire system is a lot less resource-intensive, so these two factors will save money,” says Richard Frost, product head: Cybersecurity at Armata. “It is very likely that an organisation will see a monthly cost reduction, but rather than a heavy slice in costs, it will be more savings in time and resources.”

SD-WAN Myth 3: It is a silver bullet

Everyone in tech knows that there is no silver bullet, there is also no one-size-fits-all. There is, however, a long list of benefits that can fundamentally transform and modernise an organisation’s infrastructure if done properly and with realistic and strategic objectives. The biggest benefit of SD-WAN is how user-friendly it is – the centralised controlling functionality, built around the concepts of plug-and-play and point-and-click services and consumption, provides an easier work environment compared to MPLS.

“SD-WAN will improve performance, installation and manageability of the WAN, but it won’t necessarily save on all costs or completely replace your MPLS, or provide LAN-like performance in a WAN,” says Simpson. “It can improve remote network performance by continuously evaluating throughput capacity, packet loss, latency and other characteristics across two or more WAN links, but the entire network will only be as fast and reliable as the WAN links deployed for it.”

SD-WAN Myth 4: I can build my own SD-WAN

You can. This is absolutely a possibility, but it may risk the business losing hold of the nuanced potential that lies within the SD-WAN architecture. There has to be a deep understanding of the existing network from both the virtual and physical perspectives, and the right resources allocated to manage the process and the implementation. For larger, global organisations, this is a challenge that can be overcome with internal resources, but smaller teams would benefit from a managed SD-WAN service provider as this would ensure every box is ticked and every gap filled.

“SD-WAN is a promising technology that enables the enterprise to deploy WANs faster and with significant cost savings,” concludes Frost. “Most network architects have abandoned WAN optimisation in favour of SD-WAN or have used a combination of the two to achieve their ideal results. Using a trusted service provider, companies can gain immeasurable value from SD-WAN that spans agility, optimised architecture, multipath networks, dynamic meshing, and a solution that complements and collaborates with existing MPLS to handle more data than either could alone.”

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