Getting the best performance out of a WAN (Wide Area Network) without breaking the bank has been a challenge faced by enterprises pretty much since WAN became a thing. With older WAN solutions like MPLS (Multiprotocol Layer Switching), conserving bandwidth was especially important given the relatively high cost of transmitting data over MPLS. While it was possible to achieve a respectable balance before the usage of mobile devices and cloud computing exploded, in recent years there has been a push towards WAN optimization using SD-WAN to help solve the problems MPLS alone simply cannot in a cost effective manner.
However, earlier generation SD-WAN solutions come with some challenges of their own and understanding how SD-WAN 3.0 can address those challenges can help you get the most out of your WAN.
In this piece, we’ll dive into the benefits and drawbacks of legacy SD-WAN in respect to WAN optimization and then explain how SD-WAN 3.0 is designed to resolve them while still retaining the inherent benefits of SD-WAN when compared to MPLS.
The WAN optimization benefits of legacy SD-WAN
The fundamental benefit of SD-WAN is the decoupling of applications an enterprise uses from the underlying network services (e.g. cable, ASDL, 4G LTE, MPLS, etc.). This adds a level of extensibility other approaches to enterprise WAN, MPLS included, simply cannot match. The ability to leverage the Internet as a transport for public cloud-bound traffic in and of itself is a huge advantage when compared to the old MPLS paradigm that involved inefficiently backhauling traffic through a single location within the enterprise (often a corporate datacenter) prior to routing it on to its destination. In short, SD-WAN enables enterprises to pick the right transport method for the job at hand, and this enables better-optimized performance per dollar invested.
That “per dollar invested” point leads directly to the next benefit of legacy SD-WAN when compared to MPLS: the ability to leverage the public Internet meant bandwidth costs were significantly cheaper than the same amount of bandwidth on expensive MPLS connections. In the modern IT world where so much traffic is bound for the public cloud because of services like G-Suite, Office 365, AWS, One Drive, etc., these advantages add up to some real bottom line benefits created by legacy SD-WAN when compared to MPLS.
The downsides of legacy SD-WAN optimization
While legacy SD-WAN has its advantages, it also comes with some significant challenges that are not easily overcome and can lead to suboptimal WAN performance and additional IT spending.
- An inherent dependence on MPLS
Many applications, such as voice, teleconferencing, and video streaming, depend on low latency and network loss to perform adequately. Since most legacy SD-WAN solutions don’t offer SLA (service level agreement) backed connections, many organizations were stuck with continuing to use MPLS for their latency sensitive apps. This limits the benefits of SD-WAN and cuts into some of the cost savings as well.
- Highly complex and costly to secure
Often, legacy SD-WAN solutions do not offer a full network security stack. This leaves the burden on the customer to deploy security solutions at each location and can lead to a configuration where the backhauling and “trombone routing” enterprises were hoping to leave behind with MPLS, become part of their SD-WAN solution in the name of security.
- Limited support for cloud & mobile
Legacy SD-WAN solutions were built to solve the problem of bringing SD-WAN to physical locations. This makes integration with cloud-based datacenters a complex technical challenge and connecting mobile users more difficult than is ideal. Again, this brings some of the old MPLS problems to SD-WAN users.
The SD-WAN 3.0 advantage
Premium cloud-based SD-WAN, also known as SD-WAN 3.0 or SD-WAN as a Service (SDWaaS), offers enterprises the inherent benefits of SD-WAN while addressing the challenges inherent to legacy SD-WAN. This enables enterprises to achieve the true potential of SD-WAN and fully optimize their WAN connections.
- Multiple points of presence and SLA-backed backbones eliminate MPLS dependence
SD-WAN 3.0 from premium providers offers users a WAN solution that is supported by multiple points of presence (PoPs) across the globe, a backbone that is interconnected by tier-1 Internet Service Providers (ISPs),and backed by an SLA. This means that enterprises can route their latency-sensitive data using SD-WAN 3.0 without the need to overspend on MPLS. Even if there is no ideal route for traffic over the public Internet, the backbone provided by SD-WAN 3.0 is robust and reliable enough to offer enterprise-level performance at a cost significantly lower than MPLS. In the event of a failure at any given PoP, failover to the next closest PoP occurs automatically. All this comes together to provide a high-performance WAN solution with an SLA that enterprises can trust.
- Security is built-in
Securing your data isn’t cheap, but not securing your data is even more costly. This mantra is intuitive and likely used to justify the additional IT expenditures on securing legacy SD-WAN, but with SD-WAN 3.0, security is baked-in to the solution. SD-WAN 3.0 comes with a full network security stack that includes intelligent next-gen firewall, secure web gateway, anti-malware services, and an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS). Not only does this significantly reduce the cost and complexity involved with securing a WAN solution, it optimizes performance by eliminating the need for backhauling.
- Seamless integration of cloud apps & support for mobile users
SD-WAN 3.0 was built from the ground up to connect all enterprise network endpoints. This makes connecting cloud datacenters and mobile users to resources as easy as connecting users at a physical location. Additionally, the cloud-based nature of SD-WAN 3.0 means that this is achievable without sacrificing the aforementioned security and performance benefits. When you consider the huge shift to the cloud in recent years and the ubiquity of mobile devices within an enterprise, this becomes a huge competitive advantage delivered by SD-WAN 3.0.
The takeaway: SD-WAN 3.0 enables enterprises to get the most out of their WAN
SD-WAN as a technology has iterated significantly over the past few years. While legacy SD-WAN offered significant advantages over MPLS, its drawbacks also created real business challenges. SD-WAN 3.0 builds on those benefits and also solves the problems that existed with earlier iterations of SD-WAN. By leveraging a robust, SLA-backed backbone, building security into the solution, and enabling seamless access by mobile users and cloud apps, SD-WAN 3.0 helps SD-WAN reach its full potential and helps enterprises get the most out of their WAN solution.