Defining SD-WAN and Hybrid WAN

The concepts that make up Software-defined Wide-Area-Networking, or SD-WAN, are anything but new. They include encryption technologies, subscription-based pricing, network overlays, and path controls, which have been used in the enterprise for some time now. However, SD-WAN is particularly unique because it takes these technologies and bundles them together for businesses looking for a lean branch office setup and centralized management. SD-WAN uses software and cloud-based technologies to simplify the delivery of WAN services. SD-WAN technologies are gaining popularity because they are a lightweight replacement for traditional WAN routers that are agnostic to WAN transport, meaning they enable hybrid WAN, which is typically a mix of MPLS and internet links.

Compared to traditional, router-based WANs, SD-WAN offers tremendous cost-saving potential because businesses don’t have to rely exclusively on private links. It also provides increased agility, simplified network management, and improved application performance. App performance is improved because SD-WAN supports load sharing of traffic across multiple WAN connections efficiently and dynamically, based on pre-set policies that take into consideration business and application requirements. Let’s look at the primary characteristics of SD-WAN technologies and why they are essential for enterprises today.

  1. Simplified configuration and orchestration for centralized management – SD-WAN solutions dramatically simplify the complexity associated with managing, configuring, and orchestrating WANs. SD-WAN technologies offer centrally managed WAN edge devices to be placed in branch offices to establish connections with other branch edge devices used across the physical WAN. These logical connections create secure paths across multiple WAN connections and carriers, such as hybrid internet and MPLS architectures. These capabilities give distributed enterprises more automated and centralized control over WAN links, which is significant because distributed enterprises rarely have the resources available to send network engineers to a branch office to manage, users, tune performance or perform system updates. Instead, users have centralized management through a cloud-based control panel. Many compare the level of expertise required to configure the branch network with SD-WAN to setting up a basic home wireless network.
  2. More robust and agile networks to support IoT and more – SD-WAN technologies continue to advance with significant improvements in security, routing, and centralized management. Also, because SD-WAN technologies can automatically identify, prioritize and route traffic over the most appropriate WAN link, SD-WAN makes networks more agile and better suited for managing business apps, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and broader branch network functionality. Enterprises with remote IoT deployments can support connections to thousands of ‘things’ with integration between branches,’ Wi-Fi controllers and SD-WAN. WAN can then be used to collect and send IoT insights back to the data center for processing and analysis. Built-in support for 4G LTE and 5G networks in SD-WAN will make the technology more useful, even as a primary WAN option.
  3. Hybrid WAN and SD-WAN – what’s the difference? SD-WAN gives users centralized and software-defined management of various WAN links with the ability to monitor and prioritize WAN traffic to determine the best links for each case. These capabilities also allow for the use of hybrid WAN, which uses a combination of connections, such as MPLS, broadband, fiber 4G/5G LTE, and Wi-Fi. With WAN diversity, enterprises can use private links via MPLS for mission-critical applications for higher reliability, predictability, and security, and use internet links for a lower cost/per bit price.

With software-based control through virtualization and a cloud-based management console, SD-WAN technologies greatly simplify branch network operations. As a result, IT and business managers can more easily deploy internet-based connectivity allowing for higher bandwidth at a much low cost, with more consistent and reliable application performance. Leading organizations are turning to SD-WAN to make hybrid WAN easier to deploy and operate, with the ability to send the right traffic over optimal WAN links at a given point in time.


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