We have seen a huge surge in a new software-defined wide-area-network strategy (SD-WAN) in the last few years with many large scale corporations shouting at the rooftops at how the new strategy is going to make networking and communication across large areas more efficient and secure. Of course, when you put it that way, it would be stupid to not jump on the bandwagon and spend big money to adopt it. 

However, it seems that this marketing hype is causing many professionals to be led to making decisions that aren’t right for their business. As technology develops, more options are becoming available – which is absolutely fantastic – but the risk of marketing hype clouding decisions is becoming bigger and causing more IT professionals to make the wrong decision. 

By demystifying the hype around SD-WAN, it will be clearer to everyone whether it’s required or not. 

Narrative

As we become more reliant on the internet for large scale migration to the cloud, traditional WANs have fallen out of favour with its limitations to enterprise, branch and data centre. 

An SD-WAN uses a centralised control function and software, typically MPLS and other internet services, to guide traffic across the WAN to increase performance and enhance business productivity. This means that decision-makers and business leaders can have better visibility across their network and understand exactly what is going on in real-time as well as manage an international network at speed.

Furthermore, it allows customers to upgrade and enhance without any changes to the infrastructure, mix and match network links without a single bandwidth penalty, as well as provide greater security across the board.

On the face of it, SD-WAN sounds extremely desirable and it’s quite clear why businesses would want to spend money on such a service. However, not everything is as it seems and by opening the bonnet, we can reveal the truth about SD-WAN. 

Reality 

There was always going to be a natural progression of networking and how it would help enterprises across industries as we all learn to understand how to make better use of the data available. Yet, many technology vendors have taken advantage of this wave and bundled together existing technologies into a sparkling new package called SD-WAN with a great graphical user interface (GUI). 

These technologies comprise of PfR (Performance Routing), NBAR (Network-Based Application Recognition) for application awareness, traditional 3/4 Firewall, IP-SLA, object tracking and per-packet/session load-balancing for good measure. The SD-WAN solution has automated these technologies which makes it more efficient and cost-effective. This does sound desirable but what isn’t desirable is the fact that companies are completely ditching their existing infrastructures like MPLS in favour of SD-WAN which removes all of their back-up support systems and as the internet becomes more fragile, this could cause catastrophic consequences. 

Furthermore, many vendors pushing SD-WAN are based in the US and, as such, the technology has been built to be effective on advanced infrastructure. The current situation in the United Kingdom simply won’t keep up with the speed required to make sure that it works effectively; 9% of the country still hasn’t got access to the 4G network. This causes issues in providing real-time services, such as voice services, because of the need for it to be instantaneous and for that to run solely on the internet as it continues to stretch far beyond its means, could cause consequences for businesses and their operations.

Build or buy? 

To try and combat the hefty price tag of outsourcing their SD-WAN, many companies might decide to build it themselves. This does provide IT professionals with the power to make it completely bespoke and ensure that it totally suits the business needs rather than having to answer to an outsourced provider. However, it must be noted that businesses doing this can put a huge strain on an IT department. The department will have to learn, plan, design and implement and from there, maintain it to the highest quality standard. This means that it is essential to have a consistent team that can troubleshoot the network across the whole enterprise which can be a vast challenge. Of course, companies can’t guarantee that they are going to have a consistent IT team and will be constantly up-skilling new members to maintain a smooth operation. Consequently, vendors are charging extortionate amounts of money to remove this responsibility from businesses. 

It goes back to the most important point, understand what you need and then decide from there. 

On initial inspection, SD-WAN does seem to provide huge benefits for companies but once we understand its true form, we can see that it isn’t all it’s hyped up to be. SD-WAN isn’t fully developed and still raises some security and efficacy concerns. For companies that have fallen for the marketing hype and are ditching their MPLS and adopting an SD-WAN-only strategy, they need to be prepared for the worst.