A growing number of enterprises are shifting toward a multi-cloud environment with the rise of remote and hybrid work. In fact, 76% of organizations have already adapted to a multi-cloud infrastructure.
These dynamic networks offer companies many reported advantages, such as scalability, agility, and optimized performance. And when it comes to a company’s digital transformation and transition to a multi-cloud environment, Software-Defined Wide-Area Networking (SD-WAN) often emerges as a top consideration.
What is SD-WAN?
Many companies on board with a multi-cloud network have replaced the conventional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) transport protocols with SD-WAN.
SD-WAN refers to a software-based method of managing wide-area telecommunication networks. Essentially, with SD-WAN, you can combine transport services (including MPLS circuitry) through encrypted overlay tunnels to communicate and prioritize enterprise data across internal applications.
There is a good reason for SD-WAN’s widespread appeal. While the MPLS has proven reliable for decades in handling predetermined communication pathways, it lacks the flexibility and agility for managing modern multi-cloud environments with vast and dispersed endpoints.
Unpacking the SD-WAN architecture
SD-WAN networks run on an abstract infrastructure divided into a control and forwarding plane. The control plane functions from a centralized location as a remotely controlled network that eliminates the need for on-premise technicians. At a granular level, SD-WAN features three components that comprise its virtualized infrastructure, removing the reliance on specific hardware.
The SD-WAN Edge refers to the user endpoint within the network. These may include multi-cloud systems, on-premise data centers, and SaaS platforms.
An SD-WAN Controller offers a transparent view of connected networks and facilitates decision-making policies for orchestrators. Essentially, an SD-WAN controller provides centralized management of enterprise data flow and authenticates devices linked to your network.
Your designated SD-WAN Orchestrator manages and systematizes policies and traffic among authorized controllers. The component streamlines intuitive workflows across your enterprise networks (e.g. branch offices). Essentially, orchestrators serve as the definitive bridge between your controller and edge routers. You can upgrade orchestrator functions by providing enhanced analytics and performance SLAs that expedite troubleshooting processes and network fixes.
Top SD-WAN providers
The modern market features an assortment (and an ever-growing number) of SD-WAN vendors, each providing unique features and functionalities. Therefore, you will benefit from researching the leading vendors to access the best solutions in network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) deployments.
Fortinet Secure SD-WAN
With superior security standards, Fortinet offers services that drive high-performance network capabilities. The vendor’s SD-WAN structure helps your organization manage precious enterprise data without compromising speed or function. Also, Fortinet’s SD-WAN services have undergone rigorous testing, with Gartner validating the solution for its high performance, reliable security, and low total cost of ownership (TCO).
Using Fortinet’s SD-WAN technology guarantees several improvements to communication processes with built-in encryption protection and sandboxing features that prevent data loss. Fortinet provides frictionless integration to your branch infrastructure for smooth data management across LANs, optimizing hybrid SD-Branch layouts.
Versa Networks (OS)
Versa Networks’ SD-WAN solution features an integrated platform with premium security capabilities. The technology’s intuitive functions include multi-cloud connectivity, full multi-tenancy and micro-segmentation of businesses, and context-based network and security policies throughout registered networks.
Versa prioritizes optimal network security as one of its core missions. In 2021, Gartner recognized Versa Networks as a visionary in the Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Network Firewalls, emerging as the preferred choice from an in-depth comparison of the top 19 vendors in the communications industry. The SD-WAN offers access to Versa’s Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), enhancing user security through multi-factor authentication, data protection, and SSL decryption.
Aryaka is an innovative service provider that combines SD-WAN technology with a secure web gateway as a one-stop network solution. Specifically, Aryaka’s hybrid approach equips your organization with a zero-trust WAN that significantly reduces business and operational risks. As a result, Aryaka positions itself as a leader among SD-WAN vendors, promoting the fastest service of its kind within the industry.
Gartner has recognized the zero-trust vendor as the customer’s choice for three consecutive years through outstanding KPI standards, including 99.999% SLA performance and uptime and a 65 net promoter score rating five times the industry average. Your business can manage optimal security and communication performance from a single contact point through Aryaka’s SD-WAN layouts.
Understanding the pros of SD-WAN
SD-WANs give enterprise networks a general boost from conventional MPLS systems as they improve connectivity across separate applications and off-site locations.
Business traffic prioritization
SD-WAN helps your organization prioritize critical enterprise data by selecting the most cost-effective and efficient communication path. When you set up the technology’s load-balancing and traffic-steering capabilities, your SD-WAN network can recognize business applications and allocate bandwidth volume according to individual service requirements. Traffic steering lets your team manage multiple parallel connections in business traffic with a responsive system, providing rate-limitless sensitive applications with optimal bandwidth.
An SD-WAN approach applies private and distributed data exchange and control measures, which function seamlessly across diverse project environments. The process optimizes network functionality and cost-effectiveness by securing data from the cloud and immediate networks.
Application performance optimization
SD-WAN’s structured infrastructure drives optimal application performance across enterprise networks. Specifically, the agile transport mode fulfills the latest enterprise compliance mandates and automates traffic steering based on business priorities. Additionally, SD-WAN provides a centralized control center for managing enterprise data across multi-cloud endpoints, connecting with authorized SaaS and IaaS collaborators and vendors without complication.
Diverse transport methods
With SD-WAN networks, users have access to multiple transport channels, including direct broadband connection, 5G, and traditional MPLS circuits. The flexible arrangement improves data availability for undisrupted and optimized communications. You can expect optimal application performance across cloud systems, on-premise servers, and SaaS platforms like Microsoft 365 or Salesforce.
The cons of SD-WAN
While SD-WAN networks seem like a step in the right direction in multi-cloud environments, they currently pose some user considerations as a developing technology.
No on-site security function
SD-WAN networks lack an on-site security function, so you will need to separately install and manage a security policy to safeguard networks against online threats. An unprotected SD-WAN infrastructure might face considerable risks from data breaches such as the Colonial Pipeline Hack, which resulted in significant data loss and reputational damage.
No Quality of Service (QoS) under certain scenarios
Communication networks that rely on SD-WAN provisions lack a true QoS. Essentially, these networks will not receive the full technical benefits of SD-WAN, including path control, traffic shaping, and forward error correction.
SD-WAN vendors may provide their services and equipment at a higher cost. Also, due to the variability of service standards, some vendors may lack the capability to service software-based networking (SDN).
In the 1990s, MPLS replaced standard internet protocol (IP) routing and began functioning as the primary transport method for enterprise data. While the infrastructure offers scalability, optimized bandwidth utilization, and enhanced security, – by serving as a virtual private network – it requires installing and maintaining physical links. This process has become increasingly complex, costly, and impractical in a progressively multi-cloud landscape.
MPLS is a protocol-independent solution with predetermined paths between routers in the MPLS network; each label comprises four components:
- The label value that determines the direction of the data packet
- The traffic class field
- The bottom of the stack flag
- The time-to-life (TTL) field
Functionalities of the MPLS
The MPLS moves network traffic through predetermined labels instead of conventional addresses, guiding the data through private WANs (wide-area networks).
MPLS functions as layer 2.5 in the OSI seven-layer hierarchy between data links that use LANs and networks that run on internet-wide addressing. This infrastructure attributes a forwarding equivalence class (FEC) to each data packet within a network, which routers can decipher by comparing them against descriptive tables.
The routers update the outermost layer of the data packet as it travels through the FEC pathway and to the next hop, examined and submitted to the next layer. Users of the MPLS method can customize the information for each packet, essentially driving top performance in unified networks.
Private MPLS networks can provide your organization with a consistent and reliable means of managing communications in cloud-based environments.
Pros of MPLS
Your MPLS transport modes remain segregated from the public internet, making the infrastructure invulnerable to prevalent web-based attacks such as distributed denial of service (DDoS). As such, the enhanced security of MPLS offers the optimal performance of real-time data transportation by avoiding potential interceptions and packet loss within the open internet.
Despite the general security of MLPS (with SD-WAN combinations), some decision-makers may seek added protection from automated cloud monitoring across public and private connections.
Cons of MPLS
Most of the downsides to MPLS relate to its physical limitations and high cost compared to SD-WAN alternatives. In its original design, the MPLS catered to organizations communicating through remote branches of enterprise data centers. MPLS would conventionally backhaul data from branch offices for comprehensive security processing and distribution through on-premise hubs. However, many companies now prefer cloud services over MPLS. Additionally, the backhauling process often increases latency and reduces application performance.
Comparing SD-WAN with MPLS
A significant highlight of SD-WAN, as opposed to MPLS, lies in its transport-agnostic overlay structure. Your organization can benefit from the arrangement by applying and modifying policies across your WAN from a centralized location. Alternatively, MPLS functions via predetermined routes through physically installed connections, but its fixed circuits make managing changes across multiple user environments costly and complex.
Although SD-WAN might replace MPLS as the more popular transport choice for some companies, the technologies could co-exist depending on your enterprise arrangements. For instance, some companies may take on a hybrid approach to network management. Specifically, decision-makers would restrict MPLS use to on-premise legacy applications while offloading cloud-based programs to SD-WAN.
Additionally, some organizational leaders have adopted internet-augmented MPLS with SD-WAN. The advanced process increases organizational flexibility by enhancing MPLS with internet broadband links. These links prioritize networking decisions according to specific requirements, such as application type and optimal bandwidth volume.
A summary of SD-WAN vs. MPLS
SD-WAN systems provide your organization with the trusted capabilities of managing multi-cloud environments with greater scalability and reliability. The modern data transport mode presents a more affordable and flexible solution that leverages MPLS, wireless, broadband, and virtual private networks (VPNs) to maintain high speed across remote environments.
On the other hand, MPLS boosts network efficiency through predetermined routes, and it is best suited for enterprise environments that continue to rely on data centers. In both instances, you can significantly improve observability by applying a trusted REST API that exposes all functionalities within your networks without tedious wrapper codes.
REST APIs that feature multiple integrations offer added convenience for managing data across multi-cloud platforms, preferably with automated webhooks that send real-time information between applications.
As the WAN continues to evolve, enterprise leaders must have the freedom and accessibility to navigate between private and public internet infrastructures. Comparing SD-WAN vs. MPLS, you can successfully align your company’s specific requirements with the necessary product sets to achieve the best outcomes.
SD-WAN in the future of network communications
Through SD-WAN, your organization maintains optimized software functions regardless of location, elevating your overall user experience while reducing IT expenses. Combining SD-WAN networks with intelligent monitoring can help you streamline and optimize business continuity in work-from-home and hybrid settings.
Another major factor in SD-WAN adoption is its independence from tedious MPLS circuitry migrations. If your enterprise network currently runs on the public internet, you can choose to retain your service provider by moving or reconfiguring the virtualized elements of your WAN.
Next, SD-WAN capabilities support the core functions of Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) structures, a term Gartner coined in 2019. Advanced SASE setups provide your enterprise with a safe, reliable, and unified cloud-based network.
SASE also helps your organization transport security and access between multiple user endpoints, such as branch offices and mobile applications. The structure operates through a combination of SD-WAN functionalities and cloud-based security solutions. Ultimately, SD-WAN proves integral in supporting your company through future-proofing communications for a cloud-first landscape.