This is a question we get all the time from business owners, so I’m going to put it in the simplest terms possible. SD-WAN is an emerging dynamic architecture that is manageable, cost-effective, and adaptable, making it ideal for the high-bandwidth nature of today’s applications.  There!  Got it?  …Not really? Well, maybe it’s best for me to explain what SD-WANs do well and what they don’t do so well.

What SD-WANs Do Well?

  • Quick Setup: Once of the most touted advantages of SD-WANs is the ability to provision circuits quickly. In order to set up an SD-WAN overlay, each site needs a fast internet connection to handle all local traffic and not much else. This can cut provisioning time significantly depending on the availability of internet connections at any particular site.
  • Intelligent Traffic Control: Not too far behind quick setup is the ability to manage multiple applications over the SD-WAN.  How?  SD-WAN products use a single controller located outside the network to determine the best path between two connected end points.  The fact that path decisions are being made in a centralized way means that traffic flows can be adjusted based on near real-time measurements of network conditions.
  • Provider Independence: One of the issues with setting up a large provider-based virtual network is working within the provider’s geographic area. SD-WANs provide the ability to use the best available local service no matter who the provider is. Having the ability to rely on nothing more than plain global internet connectivity means that SD-WAN users can switch local providers at any location without having to switch providers globally.

What SD-WANs Don’t Do So Well?

  • Dependence on a Single Vendor: As it stands right now, deploying an SD-WAN moves the customer outside the world of open standards and into the world of proprietary solutions that work only within a unified system. The software that connects all the sites is controlled and managed by a single vendor.  When the vendor rolls out a new software version, it’s possible for it to contain a defect that could significantly degrade network performance.  In this situation, there is little you can do about it.
  • Dependence on Internet Connectivity: In my opinion, possibly the weakest link in any SD-WAN is the one that is out of any vendors control – Internet connectivity.  It’s important to remember that SD-WANs are only overlays and can’t create bandwidth.  Even if multiple internet links from different providers are provisioned over multiple locations, they could all be impacted by a single event. For example, a local internet connection can be exposed to a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack which would significantly reduce the available bandwidth on all paths in which the SD-WAN is building its overlay.
  • Network Management: Even though the ability to choose any local provider for internet connectivity at each site is an advantage of SD-WAN, at the same time, using multiple vendors can make it difficult to manage. Instead of having a single contract through a provider, which can be used as leverage in the event of connectivity problems, the IT team must now spend time identifying the local provider, using traditional escalation procedures just try and get to a high level contact that can actually troubleshoot the problem.

Let’s face it, the need for reliable, robust, managed WAN bandwidth will continue to increase as demand outpaces the cost of more bandwidth.  In my own research, I’ve found that all SD-WAN products share significant similarities in capabilities and features and where they differentiate is in their deployment models and licensing plans. I also found that there are many SD-WAN vendors that are less than 4 years-old and that most of the activity has taken place in the last few years. That being said, there aren’t many IT leaders who are ready to rip out their reliable and secure IP-MPLS WAN solutions just yet.  However, they are having the conversations of how they could take advantage of some benefits a SD-WAN offers…and they should be.

If you’d like to learn more about Software-Defined WAN and your options with P2CM, contact us at (703) 939-8240 or!