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The rise of the Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN)

Doug Farndale, Vice President, APAC Silver Peak | March 22, 2016
Doug Farndale of Silver Peak highlights the emergence of SD-WAN and how it is expected to disrupt enterprises and communication service providers relying on traditional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS).

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

Talk of the evolution of the Wide Area Network (WAN) has been around for decades now, but it never quite gained the traction it deserved due to the fact that there wasn't a good alternative to the traditional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network. MPLS has provided enterprises with a stable, high-performance and highly-scalable means of more easily interconnecting offices, but it has come at a price. 

Businesses tired of paying the high cost associated with MPLS have looked to the Internet as an alternative, but have hesitated due to concerns about security and performance. But the times have changed.

Over the past few years, we've seen a significant rise in SaaS-based applications and cloud computing traffic. According to IDC, the worldwide SaaS enterprise applications market will increase to a total of US$50.8 billion by 2018, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.6 percent for the five-year period starting from 2013.  The explosion of cloud services and mounting frustration surrounding the high cost and inflexibility of MPLS is forcing a rethink of the enterprise WAN.

Now, many companies are now asking themselves these questions: If a significant portion of enterprise traffic now goes to Internet-based applications, why not connect to those applications over a broadband Internet connection? If I can deploy enterprise grade broadband Internet for my WAN that is cheaper, why should I still be stuck with MPLS?

The WAN Evolution = SD-WAN
Enter the Software-Defined WAN, or SD-WAN. In layman terms, SD-WAN is a WAN transformation that allows companies to use the Internet (in the form of cable, DSL, LTE, etc.) to augment or replace their current WAN connections (often MPLS). It opens the door for faster WAN provisioning and the ability to use multiple WAN paths at the same time.

Why is SD-WAN so disruptive? Apart from enabling customers to rapidly and non-disruptively augment or replace their MPLS networks with any form of Internet connectivity, the overlay technology also provides visibility into all applications, and the capability to centrally-control all WAN traffic. It ensures end-users are satisfied with consistent and enhanced application performance. Last but not least, it can dramatically lower connectivity, equipment and network administration costs by up to 90 percent.

With SD-WAN, customers can "broadband their WAN" at their own pace, either via a complete swap from MPLS to pure Internet-only WAN, using a site-by-site approach, or through a hybrid WAN that uses both MPLS and Internet.

Such appealing use cases may explain why network managers are increasingly challenging the status quo of the traditional MPLS network. For example, memory products leader Kingston Technology and global manufacturer Interroll have already started to broadband their WAN and are now benefitting from a lower cost and more agile WAN for operations in Asia and across the globe. 


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