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SD-WANs Part 1: History, Changing Network Needs, and Advanced Business Solutions

What is an SD-WAN? We often get asked this question, as businesses have been told about the great benefits of implementing one: better network performance, potential cost savings, and higher availability of your most important applications, networks, and services.

But saying YES to an SD-WAN without knowing what it’s all about is a mistake. This is Part One of our series in which we will cover SD-WANs in detail to determine if it is a good fit for your business, and the best configuration if you do decide to go ahead with an SD-WAN.

SD-WAN: What is that acronym?

SD-WAN stands for Software Defined Wide Area Network. Which probably won’t mean much unless you have some idea of networking in the first place, so let’s get to the WAN part of the equation first.

What is a WAN? Wide Area Network for business

A Wide Area Network, in the context of a business, is a network that connects all your resources (servers, desktops, etc.), even over distance – perhaps you have multiple sites for your business. It means all your business information is available over a wide area (connected via networks).

Typical WAN implementations

To facilitate WANs, some large companies may have had privately built or dedicated leased lines from an ISP for these networks, often cable, for high-speed, private access. This is a high-cost, but private option, if the right privacy policies, procedures, protocols, and technologies are in place.

In place of dedicated privately owned or leased lines, there are other options, too, to connect business networks privately.

Wide Area Networks for business can be linked up via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A company-dedicated VPN allows access from multiple locations to your business networks and resources. A traditional VPN setup usually does not have dedicated network lines, which may degrade network quality, as it traverses the greater internet like regular traffic.

A hybrid solution is when company-dedicated VPNs rely on MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) which makes it faster to route traffic across a business network. It does this by specifying which private network points to route the data over the internet, rather than letting the data plot its own course over the internet. However this protocol is simply one way to speed up reliable traffic delivery. Privacy needs to be built into these networks, too.

SD-WAN: For growing and changing networks

While MPLS VPNs for business sound all well and good, they have been a costly option – private MPLS network points need to be paid for.

With faster, more stable regular internet increasing around the world, plus dedicated, fast cloud service provider networks, network engineers and management realised that using the wider internet + cloud options + MPLS would be a good solution to reduce costs.

That’s where SD-WAN comes in; Software Defined Wide Area Networks, that can mix and match networking technologies to deliver the best network quality and speed when needed, and utilize other networks when not needed.

For example: a Software Defined Wide Area Network can use secure MPLS networking when needed for an important business video conference, but route traffic where employees are visiting the Daily Mail website through the regular internet.

SD-WANs are configured to provide the right network speeds and availability dependant on what’s important within your business.

The Most Basic SD WAN: Aggregated On-Premise Networks in a mobile for work

Traditional business premises, when looking at internet options, tend to gravitate towards a high-speed plan and networking technology (such as cable) with plenty of data allowance with a top tier provider, such as Telstra. From the outside, this seems like a fairly good option. But is it?

What happens if the provider experiences outages? What happens if someone accidentally digs up the cable, cutting your connection, what happens if high network load slows your internet speed during critical times, like an important video conference with an international office?

SD-WANs that are aggregated on-premise networks look to solve this particular problem by combining multiple different network technologies/plans/ISPs at the foot of the premises, whether it’s done across multiple physical sites or not.

Software can route through a particular network based on business application, importance, and reliability of the network in the event of an outage.

On-premise SD-WAN can be a good option if you host most of your services on-site (or on a site-by-site basis), with most daily traffic occurring on-site. For small business owners, or those with one or two sites, this could be an option to improve network capabilities.

However, as many businesses move towards cloud-based services and architectures, inbound and outbound traffic increases, so this option is fast becoming an outdated technology.

There’s more…

This is just the first part of A1 Technologies series on SD-WANs. In the next chronicle, you’ll learn more about modern SD-WAN configurations and how they work to facilitate growing network needs across a changing business technology landscape. By the end, we hope to guide you towards the ideal SD-WAN configuration for your business – or whether you can make do with a different networking solution. Stay tuned.

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