You’ve probably heard about software-defined networks, but are you familiar with software-defined wide area networks? If not, you soon will be.

Simply put, an SD-WAN uses a lower-cost internet connection to link enterprise networks between multiple sites. This approach can be 25 percent less expensive than a dedicated data circuit, while offering more flexibility, visibility and control.

SD-WAN is in a similar situation to where server virtualization was 10 years ago. Back then, hardly anyone had heard of virtual machines. Now, nearly every organization runs VMs in their data centers. SD-WAN is expected to follow a similar path.

The technology is designed for organizations that want to connect multiple sites over long distances. If you need to link offices in Los Angeles, New York and Amsterdam, an SD-WAN makes sense. If all of your sites are clustered in and around Chicago, it probably doesn’t.

Questions to Consider

It’s important to remember, though, that not all SD-WAN vendors are the same. Before you decide which one to go with, you need to answer three basic questions.

1. What Applications Do You Need to Support?

It’s essential for you to know what you want your network to do. Do you need to deliver real-time applications, such as voice and video, or virtual applications? If so, you need a solution that provides policy-based networking. This approach establishes policies that prioritize video and voice packets to ensure that they are delivered correctly. It can also perform load balancing by choosing the optimal routes for data to minimize network congestion.

IT leaders should be aware that not all SD-WAN vendors offer policy-based networking.

2. How Much Bandwidth Do You Require?

How big of a data pipe do you need? If you’re planning to connect data centers on opposite ends of the continent, you’ll want to choose a provider that can handle a lot of bandwidth and can scale as your data needs increase.

Other factors you should consider include circuit optimization and segmentation. For example, some vendors can use segmentation to get a 10Mb physical connection to perform like a 40Mb virtual one. If you don’t need this service, or you already have it in place, you can avoid vendors that offer it, as they typically charge more.

3. What’s Your Budget?

As with many technologies, the services you choose often depend on how much you’re willing to spend. The good news is that even the priciest SD-WANs tend to be less expensive than multiprotocol label-switching (MPLS) services provided by telecoms providers, which also offer a dedicated data link between distant locations.

SD-WAN deployment is more flexible too. Unlike MPLS, which requires a device housed in your data center, SD-WAN equipment can be either on-premises or delivered via the cloud. Both options are equally reliable, so your choice depends on which one you’re more comfortable with.

Going Forward

Once you’ve established the answers to these questions, you should be able to generate a matrix of vendors that meet your requirements. But you should look for those that go above and beyond the minimum, as your needs may change over time.

Also, consider engaging a service consultant who can not only help you figure out your options today, but can peer around the corner to show you what’s on the horizon.

Learn more about how CDW solutions and services can help you improve your networking efficiency.

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