Product / Technology

SD-WAN Explained: What it is, what it’s not, how it works

SD-WAN Explained

by Frontier Business, Frontier Business Contributor

Published Nov 19, 2019

What is SD-WAN?
SD-WAN is the acronym for software-defined wide area network, a connectivity solution that uses software-defined networking (SDN) technology to control traffic over a wide area network (WAN). Built on a flexible combination of internet access, existing infrastructure and cloud technologies, SD-WAN connects all of an enterprise’s local area networks (LANs)—such as primary sites, branch offices, warehouses, campus buildings, headquarters and datacenters—from a central location. 

[How well do you know SD-WAN? Test your knowledge against these common misconceptions]

How does SD-WAN work?
SD-WAN ties LANs together but separates the control plane, where the rules are held, from the data planes, which transmit data packets. Doing so centralizes the control plane, giving you the power to manage your entire network and all of your applications remotely, from a single location. 

For example, with one command from a central portal, you can prioritize and optimize bandwidth for a shareholder videoconference over streaming traffic for Netflix—in real time in response to a current situation. (You can also create WAN-wide rules for dynamic or application-aware routing to automatically direct specific types of traffic to the strongest connection based on your operational priorities.)

SD-WAN supports a wide range of transport and internet access types. For example, with SD-WAN as your network overlay, you have flexible options for your network underlay, including:

  • Broadband, like cable and digital subscriber line (DSL)
  • MPLS for enterprises
  • Fiber-optic
  • Wireless
  • Ethernet

 How does SD-WAN compare to traditional WAN?

Traditional WANs like multi-protocol labeling switching (MPLS) consist of connected routers spread across a geographic area. They involve extensive amounts of hardware, making it expensive and complicated to set up and maintain—and slow and cumbersome to optimize and scale. 

For example, an IT expert has to manually program each router at each location with a set of rules, or commands, on how to handle traffic throughout the network. So every time you want to make a change, you’ll have to plan and schedule, dedicating time and resources, which makes it difficult to pivot quickly.

In contrast, SD-WAN builds on the concepts of WAN and SDN to create a cost-effective, scalable connectivity solution. Along with its minimal hardware requirements—and the reduced capital expense and simplified implementation—SD-WAN centralizes network visibility and control, making it easier to optimize performance and defend your data. And with managed SD-WAN, it’s even simpler, with one expert partner helping you monitor and manage your network.

[You may also like this E-Book: Developing Your Business Case for SD-WAN]

Who is SD-WAN really for?
While SD-WAN can offer benefits to organizations of all sizes, as a wide area network it is most beneficial for companies with multiple locations. That said, if your business is challenged by increases in any of the following …

  • Bandwidth demands
  • Budgetary pressures
  • Network complexity
  • Use of VPN and voice and video applications
  • Migration of apps and functions to the cloud
  • Growth and expansion of sites and datacenters
  • Increased remote worker population
  • Concerns about security
  • Number of vendors and reliance on highly skilled IT professionals


… and if your enterprise needs any of these capabilities:

  • Total, current network visibility
  • Centralized control
  • Data, analytics and reporting
  • Agility to support growth
  • Simplified management and monitoring
  • Fast, reliable connections
  • Redundancy and failover
  • Dynamic routing assistance

 …. you would benefit from SD-WAN.

[Learn more about what’s driving demand for SD-WAN with this infographic.]


What are the benefits of SD-WAN?
As a software-based solution, SD-WAN allows you to manage your entire network from a central portal, giving you a “single pane of glass” view into current activity and performance. This makes it easier to manage, deploy and prioritize applications, optimize performance and prevent compromises across the network—a lot easier than with a traditional WAN like MPLS. In fact, it’s so easy, you can make WAN-wide changes without calling in a specialized technician. 

At the heart of it then, SD-WAN gives you total visibility and control. Simple. Those two features form the foundation of SD-WAN’s most compelling benefits over traditional WAN:

Visibility 
SD-WAN provides a full view of your network with current, application-level data and analytics from a single cloud-based portal. With this line of sight into network activity and performance, you can make WAN-wide adjustments to address changing conditions and real-time business priorities.

Control
With SD-WAN, you can deploy and update applications, redirect and prioritize traffic, block users and applications, and protect your data across the network with a single command from a central location, no IT staff required.  

Performance
Especially compared to traditional WAN, SD-WAN ensures positive user experiences. There’s less jitter and latency because your traffic automatically uses the strongest connection. And with managed SD-WAN, performance is even better: 99.95% uptime when paired with Managed SD-WAN Private Network.

Cost efficiency and cost savings
By prioritizing traffic for your most important operations and using dual active links, SD-WAN gives you the most bandwidth for your bandwidth spend. It saves money, too, because you won’t have large capital expenses for hardware or the need to send IT techs to every location every time you make a change. 

Simplicity
With centralized management and a software-defined system, you can deploy, implement, monitor and maintain your entire network from a single portal. No need to send hardware or software or IT techs to each location. And with less equipment and managed SD-WAN, you’ll have fewer vendor relationships to manage. 

Agility
SD-WAN supports any WAN underlay technology, integrating seamlessly with your current and legacy technologies, with connection types and options customized for your infrastructure and requirements. This enables a phased, flexible migration without a large capital spend or downtime. Centralized control of your WAN and applications allows you to deploy quickly and easily, keeping you agile and poised for continued growth.

Security
With SD-WAN, you get the security of end-to-end encryption, Layer 4 Stateful Firewall with TCA notifications and dual active WAN links for automatic failover—without any performance compromises. And you can segment simultaneously-running traffic to ensure specific groups—like customers, employees, vendors or medical professionals—only have access to specific information, protecting your sensitive data. 

[Learn the truth about SD-WAN and security in this Q&A with expert Scott Irwin.]

Affordability
Traditional WANs require upfront and ongoing costs for hardware and IT labor. SD-WAN doesn’t require all that equipment, so the cost-of-entry is minimal. Even better, managed SD-WAN is available as a service with a range of flexible payment options.

Is SD-WAN right for my business?
With the rapid growth of cloud applications, connected devices and bandwidth demands, managing your enterprise WAN can get out of hand. And it simply isn’t cost effective or efficient for you to continue to rely on traditional MPLS networks to handle today’s data and application traffic. But Frontier® can help. Our Managed SD-WAN simplifies the challenge by giving you current, total network visibility and control from a single portal. 

To see how it would work in your environment, request a live demo with a Frontier expert or call 844-408-0829 to speak with a business consultant