If you run a mid-sized business with even a couple of remote locations, you should be investigating a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN). Yes, this may sound like a geeky (and potentially boring) discussion, but SD-WAN changes the way you manage your network. It can transform your expensive and complex network into one that is much more cost-effective, secure and simpler to manage.
In this article, we’ll define SD-WAN, discuss the reasons you might want to deploy one, and explain the benefits you’ll reap by doing so.
What Is an SD-WAN?
When your business is geographically distributed, your IT department has probably had to deal with multiple network providers, whether it’s one provider for each location or one provider for half your locations and another one for the other half.
When you approach networking this way, you find that each provider uses its own unique approach to networking services. Each has its own service-level agreement (SLA), so you’ll have to sign a different contract for each provider, with service terms that can vary significantly. Additionally, each location installs its own network appliances like firewalls and routers – physical devices that have to be maintained and serviced by personnel on-site. And if something goes wrong, you have to make sure you have a knowledgeable IT professional physically located at each site to deal with the problem.
All of that changes with SD-WAN, which gives you centralized control over your network. It does this by moving management of these disparate networks from hardware to software. That means you won’t have to install any special hardware to remotely manage all of your connections – you’re just using standard servers, and controlling them from one software dashboard. Suddenly, managing your network becomes infinitely easier and a lot less expensive.
The net result is that you no longer have to send out an expert technician if you want to make changes to applications that are delivered over the WAN to a remote office location. Instead, you can make the necessary changes right from your headquarters, via an easy-to-use dashboard.
What Problems Does an SD-WAN Solve?
An SD-WAN addresses a surprisingly large number of technical challenges that translate directly into business benefits.
Managing Multiple Vendors and Network Types
Today, your business has to manage multiple network vendors – sometimes one for each geographic region you operate in. This can include local cable providers and telcos as well as Ethernet providers.
With a traditional network, delivering a new application to every user across all of your branch offices and remote sites is a complex, time-consuming and error-rich event. Since each remote location can be served by different – or several different – network vendors, each requires its own protocols for accessing the network. In addition, if you want to make changes, you’ll need an IT technician actually on-site to physically configure the network. Different network configurations aren’t always compatible, and managing these vendors can make troubleshooting issues difficult. Not only do these obstacles eat up time and productivity, often IT managers don’t have the complete picture of what is going on across the network.
With an SD-WAN, you can connect to your remote branches using any network provider, no matter what kind of access protocol they use (for example, a cable Internet company). Because SD-WAN is a “software overlay” – a software shell that hides the complexity of the underlying hardware from you – and is specifically designed to manage multi-site networks, you can manage everything on one centralized dashboard.
Managing Physical Network Equipment at Each Site
As you know, your business never stands still – you may add a location, close others or change your operations. Each physical move you make with traditional network technologies means that you have to reinstall the physical network equipment or contract yet another network provider. This process is cumbersome and impedes your business’ agility.
When you deploy SD-WAN, the service provides you with a single network interface device (NID) for each location on your network. This device acts as the gateway into your network for that location and is preconfigured for you by the vendor. Because it is controlled using software from one centralized platform, from one location, you can instantly make any changes – add or close locations, deploy new devices, or upgrade old ones. As a result, your business is immediately more agile.
From that centralized control dashboard, you have complete visibility of your network and can easily manage the formerly time intensive and costly tasks of operating a multisite network such as monitoring multiple contracts, processing invoices and performing legal and procurement paperwork. Simplifying these tasks, therefore, decreases your operational expenses (OpEx).
Securing Your Network
Traditional open Internet broadband networks have very limited visibility into the types of traffic that are transmitted, making it easy for cybercriminals to slip under the radar. Additionally, new threats to your network appear every day. To implement a new security policy across a public network requires your IT person to manually implement the change in every single device at every site and add additional hardware and/or middleware where additional security is required.
SD-WAN allows you to immediately implement security patches and updates, and create new policies for specific applications from a centralized location. The ability to quickly implement these security practices helps to close the window of opportunity for potential hackers.
Once your business operates from more than a few locations, it’s time to consider SD-WAN. Instead of worrying about managing multiple devices across your locations, you’ll have the freedom to easily and quickly control everything from one location. This move will alleviate your network headaches across remote locations, allow you to make real-time adjustments to optimize application flows and give you complete visibility of your network. As a result, you will gain greater agility and control of your business while lowering your OPEX.