The Basics: What Is SD WAN & How Is It Used?

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The term SD-WAN itself might come off as somewhat intimidating to people who aren’t familiar with it. However, it’s actually a technology that’s making it much more reasonable for enterprises to manage their networks in today’s world. So, what is SD-WAN, and how is it used?

What Is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is short for software-defined wide-area network. In essence, SD-WAN helps manage enterprise network connections from a variety of sources. That on its own doesn’t do much to inform people as to exactly what SD-WAN does for organizations. To better understand the role of SD-WAN, it’s smart to get a better grasp on some of the challenges that led to the need for this technology.

Things were pretty different in the IT world 10 or 15 years ago. An enterprise’s IT leaders essentially had full control over what machines and applications were going to run on an organization’s various networks. While making these decisions and monitoring those endpoints was a large task, in those days, companies were afforded some level of predictability and control over their networks. Furthermore, there were far fewer types of connectivity and devices to worry about back then.

But the business world is in a constant state of flux. What was once common practice often becomes a thing of the past. And things that were once considered impossible become the status quo. This is where SD-WAN comes into play.

The modern enterprise simply can’t control what devices and endpoints are used to connect to its networks in the way it could in the past. There are a few factors playing a significant role in this shift.

First, it’s important to see how shadow IT and cloud migration have made SD-WAN more of a necessity than a want in today’s business landscape. Shadow IT is some form of technology—likely a device or application—that’s used on an enterprise’s network without explicit approval from the IT department.

Think about how many employees now use their own laptops or mobile devices to access enterprise networks. The IT department hasn’t specifically approved those devices or applications, and thus, they could be creating a network vulnerability. The same concept rings true for cloud migration. There are so many applications available to users, the IT department can’t possibly keep up with approving every single one accessed in a large enterprise.

The rise of Internet-of-Things devices poses another stark challenge for businesses everywhere. While integrating these technologies can pay off in terms of growth, they also open the door for potential vulnerabilities. With so many points to consider, it’s wise for enterprises to consider the benefits of various SD-WAN vendors, and how each will address their network needs. 

How Is SD-WAN Used?

Now that you understand the basics behind SD-WAN, it’s time to get a bit more detailed about how enterprises actually use it. There are the four qualifications that research firm Gartner said are important to defining the use of SD-WAN:

  • It has to be compatible with multiple types of connections. This drills down to one of the main purposes of SD-WAN—allowing enterprises to manage a wide variety of different connections on the same network.
  • Dynamic path selection needs to be available to users. This means it’s possible to direct network traffic in real-time or create protocols to prioritize the most important traffic.
  • It has to be intuitive. One of the big draws of SD-WAN is that it can vastly simplify the complex problem of managing enterprise networks. Using it shouldn’t be more difficult than any kind of consumer-grade product.
  • It has to offer VPN support. Enterprises are having unprecedented numbers of devices connect to their networks, all with different applications and backends. SD-WAN needs to be compatible with the variety of features installed on these devices.

By implementing SD-WAN within an enterprise, it’s possible to have a far greater level of network control than without it. This is why SD-WAN appears to be one of the most critical network technologies in the near future.

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