5 Reasons SMBs Should Consider SD-WAN

If your company has multiple office locations, employees at your branch offices probably connect to your corporate apps and data via a lower-bandwidth Internet connection. Chances are also good that you (or your IT staff) are wrestling with multiple Internet service providers, with a myriad of contracts and service terms. Each branch location most likely has network appliances like routers and firewalls. However, no one in the local office has the time or expertise to manage the equipment or the service contracts. Sound familiar?

Having multiple office locations has always been a bit of a headache when it comes to IT. First, there’s the capital investment for the networking equipment that has to be considered. Then someone has to manage and maintain the equipment and ensure that the connection is operational 24/7. For a smaller branch office, it doesn’t make sense to hire an on-site IT expert, but it’s expensive to send someone to the remote location every time there’s an issue or a need to perform routine network maintenance. And should a branch office lose their Internet connection, employees and customers could face hours of downtime while an IT expert travels to the office location.

That’s where SD-WAN (software-defined WAN) can help. SD-WAN uses software to automate network traffic over multiple connection types – private, wireless and broadband. With SD-WAN, SMBs have cost-efficient, secure, cloud-based WAN connectivity that not only supports the bandwidth-intensive, dynamic nature of today’s applications but also reduces the need to spend money on proprietary hardware and expensive network transport. SD-WAN can securely connect a business to a public or private cloud or as in the case of a branch office, to a corporate network. SD-WAN takes traditional physical networking and turns it into a software-based virtual functionality.

SD-WAN is a hot topic in the IT world. Many companies that rely on expensive MPLS connections are now virtualizing their WAN architecture to reap the cost savings, visibility and performance benefits of SD-WAN implementations. Organizations are transitioning from legacy WANs that use expensive private lines and proprietary hardware to next-generation SD-WANs that use almost any type of low-cost Internet connection and can be easily managed from a central location using a standard software application.

If you have branch offices, multiple retail stores or any other configuration of geographically distributed offices, here’s why you need to consider SD-WAN for your business:

1. Lower your networking costs.

With SD-WAN, you can use whatever connectivity transport makes the most economic and business sense for your situation. The reliability and performance of Internet service has increased over the past decade and bandwidth costs are low, especially when compared to private-line WAN links. You can use MPLS, Ethernet, WiFi and any type of Internet bandwidth or any combination of these networking services. Let’s say that your Denver and Seattle offices run an MPLS network, but you want your Topeka, Salt Lake City and Sioux Falls offices to access the cloud and your data center directly using lower-cost Internet connections, without sacrificing security. With SD-WAN, you can do this. You don’t have to invest in MPLS or dedicated point-to-point circuits for each location. SD-WAN allows you to improve and expand your existing network infrastructure without busting your budget.

2. Increase employee productivity and operational efficiency.

We all know that productive employees are the first step to an efficient and profitable organization, so getting them online quickly and keeping them productive is paramount. A side benefit of SD-WAN transport independence is intelligent routing, which means that each branch employee gets the best application performance and a fast, responsive user experience.

Remember those Topeka, Salt Lake City and Sioux Falls office locations? With SD-WAN, network traffic can go straight to your cloud applications and stored corporate data – quickly and securely – without routing through your Denver corporate headquarters first. This means that the employees in your remote locations access their cloud-based software, data and files faster than before. Employees don’t wait on their screens to refresh; Internet apps don’t sit idle. With SD-WAN, employees are more productive and operations more efficient.

3. Keep your business running 24/7 with inherent business continuity.

Another side benefit of SD-WAN networks is the ability to easily maintain a responsive, always-available network with redundancy. If your network goes down, customer orders don’t process, employees can’t work. SD-WAN helps you maintain a network that is always available, 24/7. The network uses automatic routing to direct traffic based on the office location, time of day, service level measurements, system delays or any other performance thresholds that your IT staff define. So if your Toledo Internet connection goes down, no problem. The SD-WAN will reroute Internet traffic and VoIP phone service using the Internet or network connection of one of your other locations automatically, with zero downtime. With SD-WAN, you have the peace of mind of knowing that your business is always operational at a cost that is easily digestible for a small or mid-sized business.

4. Eliminate the IT headache of remote site installation and management.

Let’s say you have a corporate headquarters and a dozen coffee shops in a three-state area. You have IT experts at your corporate headquarters, but no IT staff at each coffee shop. With SD-WAN, that’s not a problem. SD-WANs auto-provision, meaning that they install themselves. Simply send the virtualization appliance to the local coffee-shop manager, and he or she plugs it in. The SD-WAN device is preconfigured to connect the coffee shop to your corporate network. Once connected, your IT staff can manage any of the local coffee-shop networks using a single management application. They can define firewall, security and other networking rules for each location and implement them virtually, all without booking an airplane ticket or a hotel room. It’s that easy.

5. Secure your branch offices without busting your budget.

Historically, organizations needed multiple security appliances for each branch office, an expensive and high-maintenance endeavor. Instead, most companies forced network traffic from branch offices back through the primary network location before allowing traffic to access the Internet, corporate data or cloud applications. By forcing network traffic on this circuitous path, each packet was forced through the security processes in place at the primary network location. However, SD-WAN solutions include firewall capabilities, can encrypt data in transit and provide network security at each remote office location, especially critical for financial institutions and medical offices. The ability to secure data at the branch location also further reduces your WAN complexity.

SD-WAN technology is changing how business leaders think about their networks. SD-WAN networks use software to intelligently route network traffic over a mix of low-cost Internet, MPLS, Ethernet and WiFi connections. The end result is a more dynamic network and a more agile business. With SD-WAN, you’ll have secure, fast connectivity that facilitates the solutions your customers need, helping your employees work smarter and helping you forge closer ties with your partners. And that’s a real necessity in today’s age of digital transformation where your business is only as strong as your connections.

How can an SD-WAN solution from CenturyLink® improve your business' network?