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SD-WAN: What it is and why you’ll use it one day

Brandon Butler | June 13, 2017
An SDN for your branch office.

what is sd wan

Much of the technology that makes up SD-WAN is not new, rather it's the packaging of it together that is. Internet vendors offer various aggregation technologies and are happy to sell multiple links to a site, so that itself is not novel. Centrally managing a WAN is not new either. But the combination of those, plus SD-WAN’s ability to dynamically share network bandwidth across connection points is a new packaging of these components together. “It’s the whole being greater than the sum of the parts,” Gabrielson says.


The way WAN used to be

Many enterprises have complex infrastructure at their branch offices consisting of routers, WAN path controllers, WAN optimizers, firewalls and other components. It’s expensive to buy and maintain and complex to manage.

“SD-WAN has basically lobotomized traditional branch routers,” Lerner says. “Most enterprises just need a small subset of functionality. SD-WAN vendors package up the four or five most important features – path selection, low cost – and bundle it together. It’s a smart car compared to an SUV.”

Redmond’s SD-WAN deployment consists of a single VeloCloud box that sits at each branch offices that all network traffic is routed through. SD-WANs are sold as either a software that runs on commodity infrastructure, or as a hardware/software combination, like VeloCloud’s.

sd wan costs

Lerner estimates that an SD-WAN can be up to two and a half times less expensive than a traditional WAN architecture. A 250-branch WAN over three years is estimated to cost $1,285,000 in a traditional WAN architecture, but only $452,500 with an SD-WAN deployment. The ability to use commodity routers is the biggest savings, along with staffing and a small decrease in router maintenance and support.

The market for SD-WAN vendors can be broken into multiple buckets: Incumbent routing and switching vendors who are rolling out SD-WAN products (i.e Cisco, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Huawei and Brocade); WAN optimization specialists who extend their products to include SD-WAN (Silver Peak, Riverbed, Talari Networks); pure-play SD-WAN startups (VeloCloud, CloudGenix, and Cato Networks); and vendors who offer managed SD-WAN products (AT&T, CenturyLink, Spring, Comcast Business, etc.) Some vendors have already been aggressive making mergers and acquisitions. Cisco bought Viptella in April and Riverbed bought Ocedo.

This ease of deployment, central manageability and reduced costs make SD-WAN an attractive option for many businesses. At VMworld 2015 29% of 260 attendees surveyed by Riverbed were exploring SD-WAN while 5% had adopted it. That compares to 77% who were exploring SDN, with 13% who had deployed it. Lerner says leading adopters of SD-WAN have been retailers and financial institutions that have a large number of branch offices.


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