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SD-WAN Explained: 5 Helpful details to know before buying

Jul 07, 2022

Up to 79% of larger enterprises in the U.S. have adopted SD-WAN technology. SD-WAN, which stands for Software-Defined Wide-Area Network, is a technology that’s becoming increasingly important for businesses that rely on online connectivity to run their operations. Why choose SD-WAN? “SD-WAN allows business owners to have insight, control and visibility across all sites without having to visit the sites,” explained Randy Ford, Manager of Business Product Development and Management for Kinetic by Windstream. “It gives them the ability to see what’s on their network so they can make decisions if needed about how to size their networks.

(1) What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is a software-based system that better manages a wide area network (WAN) for businesses. “SD-WAN is a collection of features for a customer that can be grouped into business continuity; network, service and traffic assurance; and business insights and analytics – being able to have greater depth of insight into what is operating on your network,” Ford said. It empowers business owners to see bandwidth utilization at an application level, while routing traffic to the clearest, fastest path. SD-WAN can achieve an 80% increase in bandwidth efficiency and an 85% improvement in overall network throughput.

SD-WAN features

  • A single pane of glass network management tool with analytical capabilities
  • Bandwidth optimization
  • Performance efficiencies that can be customized to fit business policies
  • Security through a virtual private network and encryption of network traffic
  • Scalability across cloud-based applications
  • Expert support

SD-WAN was built to maximize broadband cost structures, delivering reliability and connectivity of private, dedicated networks,” Ford said. Due to pricing, SD-WAN is generally recommended for businesses in midsize and enterprise categories. Considering getting an SD-WAN service for your business? Here’s what to know before you buy.

(2) How does SD-WAN work?

SD-WAN provides an easy-to-use, central interface for a large network. It enables redundant internet connectivity and dynamically chooses paths to handle large volumes of traffic.

In Ford’s words: “SD-WAN says, if this connection is overburdened, go use this other connection. Or if this connection is having performance issues or goes down, go use this other connection. SD-WAN lets you use both connections at the same time. So businesses are then maximizing their whole investment.

(3) SD-WAN builds on the benefits of a virtual private network. A virtual private network (VPN) is established when a protected network connection is layered over public networks, making it hard for people outside your network to track your actions online. SD-WAN utilizes a VPN and equipment on both the business side and the internet service provider side to analyze traffic. “SD-WAN builds on the security of a VPN to optimize traffic that’s being sent,” Ford said. “Because not all network traffic travels cleanly, this is where the SD-WAN service can really come into play.

(4) Most midsize and business enterprises should choose SD-WAN over MPLS.

The difference between Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and SD-WAN comes down primarily to pricing and type of connection. MPLS is an older networking technology that sends traffic across the shortest path according to labels vs. network addresses. “It’s designed to be built over the kinds of connections that generally are expensive and come from a time when broadband wasn’t mainstream,” Ford said. While it allows a business’s different sites to talk over a network, the communication gets expensive. MPLS, delivered on a dedicated circuit, has a service level agreement, but it lacks failover when issues arise,” Ford said. “And that’s where SD-WAN comes in. SD-WAN offers all of the benefits of MPLS but it allows you to use it over a cheaper broadband connection. So you get more bandwidth for less, or you spend less for the same bandwidth while getting the same interconnectivity features.

(5) SD-WAN is critical for any industry where continually transferring information electronically is key to operations.

Healthcare is one industry that can benefit greatly from the operational improvements and cost efficiency that SD-WAN can provide. Why would a healthcare group choose SD-WAN? Ford said, “If you’re in a satellite office and you need to get electronic medical records back to the central medical system but your internet goes down, that would compromise patient care capabilities. The same goes for telehealth communications. “If a doctor doesn’t have a reliable connection in his office, then he can’t provide patient care,” Ford said. “In that kind of situation, it can be life and death. The significance of electronic communications in operations spans so many industries today. Financial groups need to process transactions almost instantaneously. Marketing organizations need to transfer creative online to team members. Video consultants in any field need to be able to maintain quality connections with their clients. The list is endless.

Considering SD-WAN for your business?

Not only can SD-WAN help protect business revenue by maintaining constant network connectivity, but it can help keep business owners in control of their networks through easy oversight.

“It’s a great technology,” Ford said. “It’s an evolution of having easy visibility and control over your internet communication, and it continues to evolve.