Mythbusting SD-WAN (Part 1)

A mini series on SD-WAN Myth busting by Jim Fulton, Forcepoint

The networking landscape is changing. Now, more than ever, it’s feasible for enterprises to use Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) software and commodity internet connections to simultaneously improve their business productivity. In this new series, we de-mystify SD-WAN to get to the truth. 

Myth 1: It’s just about saving money

Originally the domain of many ephemeral start-ups, SD-WAN represents a way of thinking about how locations get connected and the resulting security and operations implications. While using SD-WAN is definitely cost effective, it has many other benefits.

MPLS or Multiprotocol Label Switching is used to describe dedicated lines from telecom carriers. MPLS links provide guaranteed quality of service but are often perceived to be expensive and slow. For many years, organisations would contract for such lines to connect each of their remote offices back to their regional headquarters. This was effective when most of the network traffic travelled between centralised databases and proprietary applications running in stores or branches.

As organisations became more distributed — opening new offices, finding a balance between “everybody works in a single building” and “everybody works remotely” — their needs changed. Data started being transmitted between remote locations, not just back to the home office. People began using applications running outside the corporate network, often in the cloud.

These applications became more interactive, enabling users to manipulate greater volumes of data and run their operations more efficiently. But, to make this all work, organisations found themselves facing a dilemma: either spend even more on larger MPLS lines or change the way their wide-area networks are structured.

SD-WAN gained its initial reputation as an alternative to employing a maze of MPLS lines. With SD-WAN, locations could connect directly to the internet using much less expensive, higher-volume technologies, distributing connectivity and allowing for more effective communications.

There’s no disputing that replacing MPLS links with equally fast broadband connections definitely saves money; many organisations fund their whole shift to SD-WAN from these savings. But that’s only part of the picture.

In many cases, MPLS lines aren’t immediately removed. Often, they’re part of multi-year subscription contracts or carry sensitive traffic that would require additional business processes if sent over external links.

Incorporating SD-WAN gives organisations the flexibility to augment their MPLS lines with other types of connections as new sites are deployed or as the capacity of existing sites is increased.

There are many non-cost related reasons to integrate SD-WAN within their MPLS lines:

Business Continuity Multiple links can be used together seamlessly. In the event a networking cable gets torn up outside the building, it won’t take down the site with it.

Fast Cloud Applications Newer, highly interactive cloud applications like Office 365 depend upon users being connected directly to the internet to provide the most productive experience.

Data Isolation As compliance mandates (and audits) become more complex, organisations often find they can substantially reduce their risk by segmenting their networks. This separates sensitive data such as PCI-controlled financial information from other, more general network traffic.

Link Optimisation MPLS and other types of links provide reliable quality of service for applications that need predictable delivery, such as voice-over-IP (VoIP). Offloading less-sensitive traffic to other links enables existing infrastructure to be used more effectively.

Inter-site Connectivity. As organisations become more distributed, network traffic between internal parts of the network increases and becomes more dynamic, going beyond what is feasibly managed through traditional, static approaches.

Adopting SD-WAN can produce phenomenal savings, but it also provides unprecedented agility and flexibility. Integrating SD-WAN into the business technology mix allows organisations to more readily choose the best balance between saving money, boosting productivity, improving resilience, and  accelerating growth.

About the author:

Jim Fulton – Director, Product Marketing, Network Security, Forcepoint

Jim has been creating and evangelizing enterprise connectivity and security solutions for more than 20 years. At Forcepoint, he focuses on how network security can go beyond simply keeping people safe to truly transform their business. Previously, he held marketing and engineering roles at numerous Silicon Valley companies. He holds a degree in computer science from MIT.