Why SD-WAN needs to be de-hyped

Why SD-WAN needs to be de-hyped

02 March 2020 | Neil Briscoe

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Neil Briscoe

Blog Author | CRO, Cloud Gateway

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Over the past couple of years, we have witnessed a surge in interest in SD-WAN and its capabilities.

Networking is advancing and growing more sophisticated at such a rapid pace and IT professionals are constantly seeking the best ‘new way’ to ensure that their business remains efficient and effective. However, with this ‘hype’ comes the danger of being misled by marketing and as a result, investing in something that won’t have any true benefit at all. 

As we IT professionals become more aware of the options available to us, we need to be able to make a decision that’s best for the business, rather than what we’re told is right without any knowledge of your requirements. SD-WAN has been subject to so much hype and misuse, it’s easy to fall into the trap into thinking that it’s a brand new solution when in fact, it’s been around for years.

By understanding exactly what true SD-WAN is and where it fits, outside of marketing hype, will provide more clarity on whether it’s fit for purpose for the UK market.

SD-WAN - the hype

Traditionally, a Wide-Area-Network (WAN) connected users at a central location whether that’s an international brand or a campus to applications hosted on servers in a data centre. The ‘upgraded’ software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN), means that you can manage the network from one central place and make changes to the network through the software. 

SD-WAN was designed to cut costs and improve operational efficiency, and in some cases, it absolutely does that. As geographic boundaries are entirely erased, it can provide greater visibility, enhanced scalability and performance can be improved. The ‘new and improved’ network can allow customers to upgrade easily without any changes to the infrastructure, mix and match network links without any bandwidth penalties and very importantly provide greater security across the whole ecosystem with end-to-end encryption.  

SD-WAN - the reality 

If we actually look under the hood of SD-WAN, the picture is a little different. 

In line with developments of today, there was always going to be a natural progression of networking to create more visibility and make more use of all the data that enterprises have available on hand. Technology vendors have benefited from this, cruising on this wave and positioning their brand new solution and attaching a huge price tag to it, when in reality, it is various common network technologies wrapped together and rebranded with a beautiful graphical user interface (GUI) slapped on the front.  Admittedly, very beautiful GUIs!

Some of these common components are of PfR (Performance Routing), NBAR (Network-Based Application Recognition) for application awareness, traditional Layer 3/4 Firewall, IP-SLA, object tracking and some per packet/session load-balancing for good measure. The new software-defined solution has automated these network technologies to help companies on the WAN be more cost-effective and efficient. As it’s based on the internet, many people are driven to buying SD-WAN technology and completely ditching their MPLS entirely, which again, is hugely short-sighted and telling of the internet craze; another marketing hype ruining critical business decisions.  

To further illustrate the point that SD-WAN isn’t being marketed to the right audience is that the UK infrastructure isn’t fully prepared for it. When compared to the United States, the UK is in quite a dismal position when it comes to rolling out 5G and in some cases, even 4G; 9% of the UK still doesn’t have access to 4G network. For example, if a company wanted to provide a real-time voice service, relying on SD-WAN could cause a few complications by running solely on the internet, especially as consumers become more impatient every minute and have an absolute zero tolerance when it comes to lag, loss and jitter.

So, even if SD-WAN was the right solution for your business, it wouldn’t be able to run effectively on the infrastructure that is currently present in the UK. Consequently, jumping from MPLS completely would be quite a reckless decision. It’s important that enterprises have the full picture when it comes to deciding whether SD-WAN is the right move or not, and don’t fall for the marketing hype blindsiding decision makers.