As many enterprises move to a more mobile workforce and adopt cloud technologies for their applications and workloads, the applications themselves are becoming more demanding with higher minimum requirements. This means that connectivity and the performance of that connectivity is becoming a critical component of any enterprise’s success. How do enterprises improve upon an already strained infrastructure? Utilizing a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) just may be the answer.

SD-WAN is one of the newest buzzwords in the telecommunications industry. Like many buzzwords there are a few different opinions on exactly what SD-WAN entails. Some of the components found in SD-WAN solutions can include WAN acceleration, WAN optimization, application optimization, dupe/dedupe, security, monitoring and alerts, Quality of Service (QoS) and many others. But before you get into features, understand first that there are three general types of SD-WANs to choose from, including premises-based, multiprotocol label-switching (MPLS) and internet-based.

A Means to an End

Premises-based SD-WAN providers will place an appliance onsite that handles the SD-WAN functionality. These SD-WAN options aren’t WAN providers, meaning they don’t control the WAN itself, just the appliances at the endpoints. This means they can’t provide QoS if utilizing the public internet, because the internet doesn’t support QoS across different carriers. Premises-based can be a cost-effective solution for many enterprises that are regional in scope, running applications that aren’t latency sensitive or under a current WAN contract. It adds functionality and performance improvements without a complete rip and replace of the current WAN.

Owner Occupied

MPLS-based SD-WAN providers will place appliances at the customer endpoints, which handle a lot of the SD-WAN functionality. They differ from the other two main types in that they own their own MPLS network. This gives them control of the packets from end to end. This allows for QoS support across the entire network. Because these providers own the network they can also offer a lot of network-based services; often as a virtual addition to the appliances onsite. These services can include firewalls, intrusion detection and intrusion prevention services (IDS-IPS), load balancers and many other options that can replace expensive hardware purchases along with the management and maintenance costs associated with those purchases.

These providers do require the use of their MPLS networks, so an optimal time to look at them is when evaluating an existing contractual agreement that is coming to the end of its term. Many customers will also choose to add an MPLS-based SD-WAN provider as a redundant network to an existing agreement and then gradually change over to the SD-WAN environment when the current environment comes to the end of its term. Most of these providers can offer a gateway to the internet, so there isn’t a need for two separate networks. For enterprises that want a separate internet connection, they can be integrated to the MPLS solution via Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) tunnels to an MPLS gateway.

Going Public

Internet-based SD-WAN providers will also place an appliance at each customer location. These providers will have some further similarities to each of the other two. They utilize public internet connections from any provider the customer chooses so there isn’t a need to rip/replace existing connections. The SD-WAN service can be thought of as an “overlay” network. An enterprise will pay for its internet connections and then pay for a portion of that connection to be SD-WAN through the SD-WAN provider. The appliances onsite will create a tunnel to the SD-WAN provider’s closest point of presence (PoP), keeping traffic on the public internet for a very short time. These providers then have their own WAN backbone linking their different POPs together. This gives them control of the core of the network allowing them to provide services such as QoS, similar to the MPLS SD-WAN providers.

Choose Wisely

Each main category will have multiple providers with different features that they offer and each should be judged on its own merits, not a generalization of a category. Depending on the application needs of the enterprise, performance improvements of between four times and 40 times can be obtained. Deciding on the right solution whether traditional internet, MPLS/virtual private LAN service (VPLS), private line or SD-WAN will affect many areas of an enterprise; meaning the right decision can be a game changer for the company. Determining the right provider for an enterprise will depend on the current WAN design, locations and the applications being run across multiple departments. A consultative partner like CDW can be a huge asset in helping to determine which SD-WAN provider is the right fit for an individual enterprise. CDW has experience with multiple providers within each category of SD-WAN and can help organizations sort through all of the buzz out there surrounding SD-WAN.

If you are looking for more information about which SD-WAN will work best for your environment, talk to a solution architect on our Aggregation, Infrastructure and Managed Services team.

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