You may have heard of SDWAN as it's a common term being thrown around by IT professionals, but IT remains a field that is dominated by acronym usage and you may not know exactly what SDWAN is or does, which is okay; this blog is here to explain it.

SDWAN (software defined wide area network) enables a user to virtualise key network components such as routers, changing the way people think about connecting sites together against other WAN technologies available. It opens the door to a number of different use cases, that conventional MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) networks struggle to keep up with.

It allows companies to re-evaluate their connectivity and is more cost-effective and easier to implement than MPLS connectivity. SDWAN opens the door to internet connectivity through a range of platforms, including ADSL/DSL, 4G, FTTC and FTTP, and I would like to highlight 4G as a particularly important platform as it allows a network engineer to provision a site in minutes whereas, conventionally, ordering a cable for a site can take weeks or even months to implement. 4G also gives the user freedom of connectivity and choice of vendor.

Traditionally, bonding connections can be a headache for a network engineer, but SDWAN makes the process less painful by allowing the engineer to bond different types of connections. For example, combining an MPLS and DIA (direct internet access) circuit is simplified as SDWAN is able to handle this, and as it is mainly GUI driven, there is less requirement to skill up the user than, say, teaching them how to configure an IPsec VPN.

SDWAN is basically and auto-generated VPN tunnel using software, offering the same strong encryption, features and use cases as an IPsec VPN, but without the configuration headaches. It works by separating the network and application layers and putting them into "overlays" giving you network control of the application layers, which has never been present in MPLS before.

Flexibility is a strong selling point of SDWAN. If, for example, you have a scenario where voice quality drops in a VoIP call, SDWAN allows the user to prioritise their network traffic to the call and monitor the situation. This principle can be applied to any application on the network, and generally is automatically classified by the SDWAN equipment, but, providing the user knows the ports of the devices they can manually prioritise traffic in the network; giving a high degree of customisability and control. The same principles apply to traffic restriction within the network.

In my opinion, everyone should be looking towards implementing SDWAN in one way or another, I feel this is the tip of the iceberg for what the future of networking holds. SDWAN is a step towards automation, an idea every company dreams of, and it won't be long before full automation becomes commonplace and network engineers can sit back and watch their WAN networks tick over nicely.

Overall, the SDWAN brings the flexibility, function and ease-of-use that network engineers have been dreaming of for years. By all means, don't start ripping out your current MPLS network, but at least take SDWAN for a test drive and you might be pleasantly surprised.

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