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A Comprehensive Guide on Software-Defined Wide-Area Network (SD-WAN) for Businesses
Software-defined wide-area networks are considered the future for businesses as ecommerce increasingly moves to the cloud.
06:50 28 January 2022
A Comprehensive Guide on Software-Defined Wide-Area Network (SD-WAN) for Businesses
Software-defined wide-area networks are considered the future for businesses as ecommerce increasingly moves to the cloud. But how do they actually benefit businesses?
What is Software-Defined Wide-Area Network (SD-WAN)?
A Software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) is an approach to network management that uses software-defined networking and lower-cost network links to essentially outsource data to the cloud. SD-WAN allows businesses to use encryption to communicate over the internet between multiple locations.
SD-WAN uses commercially available internet access to increase the speed at which businesses can transfer data between locations. It does this by separating applications from network services, tracking the performance of various networks in real-time, and then selecting the most efficient network for optimum data transfer speed.
Because it uses pre-established networks, SD-WAN can also free up storage for other uses.
How does SD-WAN work?
Cloud-based SD-WAN uses a combination of software-defined network (SDN) technology and commercially available internet to replace private networks for businesses. This means that businesses can store data in the cloud, and they also don’t have to invest in private networks.
SD-WAN works as a network of apps connected by encrypted tunnels, with the most efficient network for each app sorted and prioritized by a set of centrally-managed priorities.
As business models shift increasingly towards remote work, with staff working from home and often with multiple offices around the globe, it is a distinct advantage to be able to lower network costs while increasing the speed of data transfers.
Benefits of SD-WAN
Although it might seem like SD-WAN is the perfect solution to increasing business globalization and increasing network traffic, there are both pros and cons to using this system.
The most commonly cited benefit of SD-WAN is that it is very cost-effective. Because it uses public internet and MPLS links as well as cloud storage, using SD-WAN as a data system means that businesses do not have to pay for private networks. Unlike MPLS which requires a service fee paid to the provider, SD-WAN is run in-house using internet services in which businesses have already invested.
Efficient Data Traffic
The “digital shift” of recent years has increased data demand. As people work, play, study, shop, and meet in online spaces, there’s pressure on businesses to keep up with the demand for data. Businesses are using data strategies to refine processes of analyzing and storing data, and finding that it’s more efficient to use cloud storage rather than send data backwards and forwards between a central hub and remote workspaces.
With data stored off-site and less traffic as data does not need to be sent to a central hub before going to its destination, businesses shifting to SD-WAN will need to invest less in data centers.
SD-WAN works by constantly selecting the most efficient way of transferring data. This means that it uses both MPLS links and public internet connections. Using smart routing, the network is able to jump between connections depending on which signal is stronger at the time.
The agility of the network plays into the increasing reliability of SD-WAN.
Because SD-WAN uses multiple networks, it’s more reliable than other systems such as MPLS. Despite the fact that MPLS is often promoted for its reliability, the truth is that the price for that reliability is prohibitive for most enterprises.
SD-WAN is more cost-effective, and just as reliable. Using multiple networks and selecting the most efficient for each app means that the system can switch networks if one has an outage. This avoids the typical problems caused when private circuits have problems that prevent the entire company from working.
SD-WAN can offer secure networking for the whole system without having to send data through a data center before sending it to cloud services. The necessary security features are extended to the network edge, which makes data security much more efficient.
Having an SD-WAN with a large network of points-of-presence (PoPs) in multiple locations allows businesses to have centralized security management and data visibility. Businesses can configure security settings and permissions at one central location, and then extend those settings to all connected locations.
While SD-WAN offers secure networking for companies, there are still cloud security management risks that businesses need to be aware of. Usually, an SD-WAN is more secure than traditional WANs because data only needs to travel directly to the destination rather than backwards and forwards from a central data center.
However, because SD-WAN security is controlled from a central location, it means that if security risks do occur then they occur in all locations simultaneously. This is particularly important in situations where businesses are taking risks with the usability of their network - for example while conducting a production test which might introduce issues to the whole network.
On a related note, the flexibility of SD-WAN can allow issues to go unnoticed. The network simply re-routes data around the problem to avoid it, and businesses might not notice until the problem develops to a critical point. Because of this, SD-WAN requires active monitoring to identify problems as they arise.
Although businesses should take these issues into account, SD-WAN is still a worthwhile investment for companies requiring low-cost, reliable IT networks in multiple locations.
SD-WAN and Collecting Phone Data
For companies that use an internet-based phone system, the reliability, speed, and accessibility of SD-WAN is ideally suited to providing 24/7 reliable phone service. Cloud-based virtual phone systems allow businesses to conduct calls from any device that connects to the internet, from any location.
A business that uses a voip number can integrate their phone system with other tools such as video conferencing, messaging, and file sharing - but this only works with a reliable network. As businesses increasingly move to the cloud, SD-WAN offers a network that businesses can be confident will perform reliably and not expose them to security risks.
The reliability of SD-Wan alongside its speed also makes it ideal for using voice analysis software. When businesses rely so heavily on data to inform decisions and direct analysis, having an easy means of collecting customer data is essential.
Operating voice analysis software in contact centers for customer service is one of the best ways for businesses to collect conversation data from customers. However, conversation analytics is only useful when it is supported by a reliable, fast, secure network. Additionally, voice and conversation analytics is ideally used in all business locations, so having an SD-WAN network is great for extending the data collection to remote sites.
SD-WAN and Automation
While SD-WAN is already popular for its efficiency and reliability, it is increasingly becoming popular for its compatibility with automation. SD-WAN provides network insights on data patterns, which are essential for data analysis.
The flexibility of SD-WAN is also particularly suited to automation. Some automated processes already exist, such as real-time data path selection and error correction. These allow businesses to manage their SD-WAN in-house, without the need to hire external IT help. However, there is potential for more automation in SD-WAN that will allow businesses to operate their networks with even more efficiency.
Artificial intelligence (AI) in combination with SD-WAN can be developed to focus on furthering business intent. By collecting data, AI can use patterns in that data to learn how to resolve problems. This means that in future, automated SD-WAN should be able to not only correct errors as they arise, but also refine those decisions as more data is added to the algorithm.
As part of the shift to cloud-based businesses, automation is important for SD-WAN as it dramatically reduces the design complexity of migrating to the cloud. Automated SD-WAN should soon be able to provide automated orchestration and testing, alongside drag-and-drop network elements. This should make developing additional applications much more time and cost-efficient for businesses.
SD-WAN: Key Points to Note
Software-defined wide-area networks are considered the future of cloud-based enterprises. There are many benefits to adopting an SD-WAN: they are cost-effective, agile, reliable, secure, and offer efficient data traffic.
The fact that an SD-WAN uses multiple types of connections (public internet, MPLS, and private networks) allows it to automatically select the most efficient route for data transfer each time. This agility improves the overall speed of the network, as well as increases reliability since if the network encounters a problem it can reroute data around the issue.
The network is secure because it is controlled from a central hub. This means that network security is pushed out to the network edge and security controls are consistent throughout the whole network. However, businesses using an SD-WAN should also be aware that this centralized security management can be a double-edged sword, as any security breaches will also be pushed out through the whole network.
Exciting new developments in the automation of SD-WAN mean that it is likely to be a fundamental change in the future of networking. Automation will allow businesses to increase efficiency while reducing costs, and still maintaining excellent connectivity at widespread locations.
Grace Lau - Director of Growth Content, Dialpad
Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cold calling app and cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Here is her LinkedIn.