The Ultimate Guide to Software-Defined WAN: Everything You Need to Know

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Organizations adopting cloud applications experience an explosion in traffic that overwhelms WAN architectures designed for a different era. This traffic causes user application performance problems, network management complexity, and security vulnerability.

An SD-WAN combines multiple networking hardware platforms and connectivity options into one centralized network that can prioritize traffic and set security policies. Learn more about the benefits and challenges of an SD-WAN.


If you want to help your customers improve performance, visibility, and security, an SD-WAN solution could be just what you need. This technology can connect users to the cloud, keep data safe from cyber-attacks and prevent bottlenecks in performance. It can also be configured on the fly to respond to changing traffic patterns, making it an excellent choice for businesses with a lot of cloud-based activity.

The traditional WAN design was designed in an era when connectivity to physical locations was the primary concern. This approach has become obsolete, with high mobility and cloud infrastructure being the norm today. To support these needs, companies require stable, high-performance WAN that’s affordable and easy to manage.

With a Software-Defined WAN, customers can leverage existing Internet connections to build secure links between branch offices and the data center. This eliminates the need for costly MPLS routers at each branch office and reduces management costs through centralized control. It also improves network reliability and performance, providing a seamless on-ramp to the cloud while optimizing application performance.

Additionally, SD-WAN solutions can be integrated with premium network services like firewalls, virtual private networks (VPN), security, and WAN optimization, reducing the cost of hardware and labor. This provides greater visibility and simplifies management, ensuring that the best network connection is used for each application.


While traditional WAN networks depend on proprietary hardware and connectivity options, SD-WANs are designed to work with standard IT networking equipment. As a result, the software that determines how traffic flows across the network can be programmatically configured and scaled on demand. This provides businesses with a more flexible, efficient, and scalable solution to meet the needs of an increasingly remote workforce and mobile applications.

As adopting cloud-based software and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) applications has exploded, organizations need help with SaaS application performance issues and costly WAN management expenses. These challenges have led to frustrated employees and poor customer experiences.

Achieving a high-quality user experience requires more than fast connectivity, which is why an SD-WAN is valuable to any network architecture. SD-WANs can route traffic around congestion, reducing jitter and dropped data packets commonly associated with traditional WAN routers. Additionally, they can support diverse connectivity options that eliminate dependency on costly MPLS circuits, including business broadband Internet, Wi-Fi, and even LTE or 5G connections.

Adding an SD-WAN also gives administrators visibility into the performance of their network. With seventy percent of application outages stemming from network issues, this ability to see into the network can be invaluable for IT teams in identifying problems and working toward resolutions.


Unlike traditional WANs, which rely on a hop-by-hop architecture, SD-WAN uses centrally managed tools to manage traffic. This enables you to easily change policies across the network, which improves performance, security, and application prioritization. You can also scale up or down WAN connections based on actual demand, so you’re not paying for excess capacity that won’t be used.

SD-WAN solutions can provide secure access to the Internet for your remote workers. This helps ensure that only your company can see the data you send over the web, preventing cyberattacks from intercepting it. Some WAN products even allow you to prioritize data that flows through the SD-WAN so it can get to your cloud applications quickly.

A single, easy-to-deploy SD-WAN appliance can serve all your branch offices and headquarters. The devices use software to handle networking functions and security, eliminating the need for routers or switches. The network edge sends connection requests to the SD-WAN controller to check policy; then, they’re routed to their destination based on the rules you configure. This reduces management complexity and provides agility, allowing you to deploy new sites within hours. You can also use SD-WAN to support application optimization, meaning apps sensitive to latency or packet loss will run smoothly even over the Internet.


Many SD-WAN providers include built-in security features in their offerings. This reduces complexity and management overhead, making deploying and supporting multi-site WAN deployments easier without sacrificing network quality.

SD-WAN solutions include an integrated centralized controller, virtual overlay and link abstraction, and a policy engine. The centralized controller enforces security and routing policies, performs software updates, and provides reporting and alerts. The virtual overlay and link abstraction layer connects geographically separated sites, such as branch offices and data centers. This layer is responsible for establishing links using MPLS, broadband internet, or LTE, reducing hardware and capital expenses by avoiding on-site appliances at each site.

The WAN optimization and acceleration layer optimizes application performance over any transport method by applying quality of service procedures to network traffic. This ensures that mission-critical applications are prioritized, which improves user experience and business productivity. Additionally, this layer can help detect and correct issues that may impact application performance.

Lastly, the SD-WAN policy engine manages many network functions, such as firewalling, routing, and IPSec encryption. This helps enterprises reduce bandwidth demand by directing only the most critical traffic to the most reliable route. It can also automatically adjust the traffic priority to match changing WAN capacity requirements, minimizing congestion. This eliminates costly overages and speeds up the time to detect and respond to WAN issues.