As applications shift toward the cloud and internet connectivity continues to drop in price and improve in reliability, clients have flocked toward hybrid WAN solutions. Historically, IT leaders chose to leverage internet for backup relying on routing protocols for fail-over. In all practicality, these hybrid options are managed as two disparate networks and provide redundancy, but in most cases they don’t facilitate the optimal use of bandwidth and have limited ability to detect brownout situations.

While software defined networking (SDN) in the data center space has seen slow adoption due to the critical needs of the data center, software defined WAN (SD-WAN) is emerging as a legitimate and low-risk solution for businesses looking to increase agility, reduce WAN costs and simplify network operations.

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Some of the key benefits and feature-sets that should be considered when evaluating SD-WAN offerings include:

Application Aware Routing and Bandwidth Aggregation

Traditional routing architectures send traffic to their destination solely based on IP address, ignoring any ramifications to application type, QoS markings, or potential network brownout situations (high packet loss, jitter) which occur even in expensive MPLS networks. With SD-WAN, you simply apply business logic to choose which applications you would like to run over which link based on network conditions and the SD-WAN solution will dynamically move traffic around your diverse connections based on real-time network conditions. It doesn’t matter if you’re running MPLS, VPLS, P2P, Cable, DSL, 4G, or satellite, any transport can be leveraged based on the logic that you define and through abstractions the network will be programmed automatically.

Enhanced Security and Visibility

The addition of internet links at the branch and shift toward cloud (SaaS/IaaS) increases the attack surface, and businesses are left to deal with the administrative burden of managing firewalls at every location or sending all of their traffic back in data centers or aggregation points for security enforcement. Many current SD-WAN solutions can help identify SaaS applications, routing those locally while back-hauling user traffic for deeper levels of inspection. IT leaders should seek SD-WAN offerings that support 256-bit crypto suite B standards and leverage certificates for site-to-site VPN authentication.

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Simplified Management and Zero Touch Provisioning

Today’s networks are stuck in a box-by-box management paradigm, which drastically increases the time to roll out new applications across the WAN. Even the addition of a simple quality of service change can be extremely time-consuming on the command line. SD-WAN solutions should provide a centralized configuration, management and monitoring interface in addition to providing plug-and-play functionality not requiring a CCIE to turn up a new location.

The task of choosing an SD-WAN solution for many companies can be quite dauntingyou have the routing and WAN optimization incumbents that have pivoted into the space, while Gartner is touting that >50% of the SD-WAN revenue share is coming from two pure-play startups and every carrier is beating down your door to sell their solution to remain relevant. With more than 30 players in the space with very different value propositions and functionality, it’s critical that you do your homework before jumping in head-first.

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