SD-WAN, short for Software-Defined Wide Area Network is a technology that has been gaining some popularity over the years with the promise of revolutionizing the online world with better connections, faster error corrections and an increased quality of service. While it is more oriented towards large companies with several business offices that need to be interconnected with one another, ISPs can also make use of such technology to deliver their services on a software basis instead of a hardware one, saving money on the necessary infrastructure expenses that can then be spent on the likes of customer support.
But it is still not a perfect service, since one of its weaknesses is that it also enables extensive ISP surveillance, which means that it’s important to have a private VPN as well, even when it comes to business users. However, do not confuse these VPNs with the private networks created by enterprises, which is one of the purposes that SD-WAN is generally used for. These are also known as VPNs, but they mean something different, which we’ll explain below.
What Is SD-WAN?
According to sdxcentral.com “the main goal of SD-WAN technology is to deliver a business-class, secure, and simple cloud-enabled WAN connection with as much open and software-based technology as possible”. In other words, it replaces a network’s hardware infrastructure with virtual machines using such technologies like virtual switches, software routing, and application firewalls.
ISPs can use SD-WAN to instantly deal with any flaw in the network by only triggering new virtual switches, for instance, instead of having to manually fix them. As a result, hours of service maintenance downtime will become only a couple of seconds, while all the money involved in the process will be saved. Those same ISPs can then improve the overall quality of service with faster speeds and more bandwidth, prioritizing any type of traffic. And the best function of SD-WAN is that it packs all of these complex components into a simple and easy to use interface that is managed centrally.
But there is a downside to this, as the more virtual machines are used to build a network, the more likely it is to bring down several other key pieces of the infrastructure along with them should just one of them fail. Likewise, ISP surveillance is greatly increased by the number of virtual switches. Besides having better speeds and more bandwidth, these switches also have built-in monitoring capabilities, so the potential level of surveillance that is possible by the ISP is dictated by the number of switches that are in place. If you’re on an SD-WAN network then the use of a private VPN becomes of great significance to keep control of individual privacy.
SD-WAN vs Enterprise VPN
SD-WAN is usually compared to some other technologies such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and closed corporate VPNs. Note that the concept of a VPN here is not the same as those services that private users rely on to overcome geo-blocks, but rather closed networks that enterprises create for their various offices, instead. MPLS’s biggest selling point is its efficient flow of network traffic by avoiding packet loss between two or more locations, which makes it a valid choice for VoIP services that are commonly known for being much more sensitive to bandwidth issues. But, on the other hand, that same bandwidth has higher costs and MPLS doesn’t feature any data protection, which can leave the network open to vulnerabilities.
In turn, while closed VPNs are much more cost effective, they also mean that enterprises suffer from inconsistent network performances, resulting in slower speeds when accessed during peak times, for instance. Meanwhile the security of an enterprise VPN is the responsibility of their own engineers, which means that its strength is reliant on their ability; if they configure the routers or firewalls poorly, the company might become exposed to attacks from the internet.
SD-WAN, however, is cheaper and easier to maintain and can detect, measure and compensate for latency and packet loss by switching to the best paths among any that are available, not to mention that it doesn’t require any third party hardware or server infrastructure to run. This is why some companies are already seeing it as a replacement for their own enterprise VPN. In the same measure – but possibly thinking some years in advance – ISPs are likely to adopt it, too, which would create a better overall service. Still, the price to pay for a virtually connected future seems to be our privacy, once again, and so VPNs could become more important than ever.
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