Top 3 Misconceptions About SD-WAN

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There’s little question that software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs) have taken off, as companies look for increased network resiliency and control. But there’s still significant confusion about SD-WAN, including some benefits that are more myth than reality.

In this post, we’ll explore three common misconceptions that surround SD-WAN, starting with what is probably the most important one.

Misconception #1: SD-WAN will replace services such as MPLS

SD-WAN doesn’t necessary replace any existing network service, be it MPLS, broadband Internet, or anything else. In fact, it requires some kind of network service to work at all.

“Without a network connected to it, SD-WAN is just software or a box,” says Michael Lawson, General Manager for SD-WAN Solution Architecture for CenturyLink, which sells SD-WAN services. What SD-WAN can do is help you get improved reliability and performance out of your existing network services, he notes. In some cases, you may need to add services in order to do that, such as to get a backup path to a given site.

For example, maybe you already use MPLS service for branch offices. If you employ SD-WAN and add a relatively inexpensive Internet connection, now you’ve got two paths to each branch, adding redundancy. What’s more, with SD-WAN you can create policies that determine which sorts of traffic go over each connection, ensuring your most important applications always get the best treatment.

Misconception #2: SD-WAN saves money

While you may find some areas where you can replace MPLS with a less costly service, there’s no guarantee that operational costs will be reduced with SD-WAN, especially if you add additional connections to some or all sites.

“We don’t see spend immediately go down with SD-WAN. Rather, it stays the same or maybe increases,” because companies add services, Lawson says. “But it does provide more efficient bandwidth utilization and is a more efficient way to grow your network.” 

Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research, agrees. “If the business ditches its MPLS and replaces it with broadband, then the transport costs will certainly drop. In most of the implementations I have seen, though, the company keeps the MPLS and buys broadband to augment that network, which results in a net higher cost,” he writes in Network World.

One note: You may see reduced capital costs, however, since SD-WAN doesn’t require routers or switches; it’s delivered via an appliance or even as a virtual service.

Misconception #3: I can build my own SD-WAN

Finally, there’s the idea that any company can roll out SD-WAN services on its own. Buy the software and some appliances, and you’re good to go.

While this is certainly possible, it’s a whole lot more complex than that. You need to grapple first with vendor evaluations, which can be fraught with risk given the large number of providers. You also need a deep understanding of what your existing network looks like, from both a physical and virtual perspective, notes Lawson.

“What gets missed is the control and management planes,” he says. “Where are controllers located?  Where is the single pane of glass? What resources do you have to build and manage it?  It’s not just sending routers to end points and having a new solution that works.”

Larger, global organizations with significant IT resources may be able to meet the challenge. Those with smaller teams or that lack an existing network operations center may be wiser to go with a managed SD-WAN service provider.

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