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What is SD-WAN? Why You Should Use It

what is sd-wan interior

SD-WAN is a critical solution for many businesses, but how do you know if it’s the right solution for you? Businesses with a multi-location footprint can benefit from how SD-WAN streamlines network complexities across business locations. And with more businesses opting for cloud-based technology, SD-WAN is a critical foundation to help ensure the technology is optimized.

This guide to SD-WAN includes a thorough SD-WAN explanation, the benefits and advantages of SD-WAN, the difference between SD-WAN vs. MPLS and more.

What Is SD-WAN?

You might be wondering, “What is SD-WAN and what does it stand for?” SD-WAN stands for “software-defined wide area network” and refers to the virtual architecture that allows enterprises to optimize delivery across multiple available connections like MPLS, Fiber, DSL, Cable, 4G/5G, and more. Without it, complex enterprise infrastructure across distributed locations is extremely difficult to maintain, purchase, and manage. Organizations also tend to have higher costs on average when they don’t have SD-WAN infrastructure across their highly available network.

This virtualized network contains three key components: the SD-WAN edge, the controller, and the orchestrator. The SD-WAN edge contains the network endpoints, which might be a branch location, an on-site data center, or a cloud platform like Microsoft Azure. The orchestrator oversees traffic and works to apply the policy and protocol to that specific application. Then, the controller is responsible for the management of the system and operates as the place where policies and security enforcement can be executed.

Deeper Dive

More businesses today are transitioning and modernizing their networks with SD-WAN. Learn why in this whitepaper.

How Does SD-WAN Work? An SD-WAN Explanation

Here is a quick SD-WAN explanation. Traditionally, organizations use rigid, complex, inefficient, and hardwired physical routers. Not only does this create a poor user experience, but as businesses transition to a cloud model and use extensive software-as-a-service (SaaS) programs, it’s no longer effective to connect all of these programs back to a single corporate data center. It’s costly, slow, vulnerable, and not optimized for how today’s users utilize connectivity.

SD-WAN is also meant to support applications hosted in a variety of different manners: on-site data centers, public or private clouds, and SaaS platforms like Salesforce, Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft 365. Taking the “software-driven” part of the SD-WAN name, a centralized control function with multiple internet connections extends the reach of large enterprise networks over long distances, using software to control its connectivity, management, and services between data centers, remote offices, and cloud resources.

These connections will happen in a variety of ways through mediums such as broadband, MPLS, and 5G/4G LTE. An SD-WAN will provide application-aware routing where different applications will receive their appropriate quality of service (QoS) and security enforcement. Unlike traditional WAN, which relies on physical routers for connectivity, this simplifies and streamlines.


If you’ve built a career in IT, you’ve probably heard of multi-protocol label switching (MPLS). This legacy system previously offered benefits like high-quality performance, strong bandwidth, and a better user experience. Unfortunately, it was expensive and lacked encryption, and as the world changed, it failed to provide options for flexibility due to the rigidity of its label system. However, MPLS was applauded at its inception and beginning of adoption, transforming connectivity in its early days.

MPLS connected enterprise networks over the last 20 years. Traffic is routed based on predetermined labels, and organizations use it to connect distributed offices that use data, software, or applications housed in the organization’s main data center. MPLS worked well when on-premise data centers were responsible for the majority of traffic. With the rise of cloud providers, MPLS no longer provides the benefits it once did. Security is in the hands of the user, which leaves sensitive information vulnerable to human error, and maintenance costs are high. MPLS also doesn’t permit control while creating extended deployment times, which makes updates even more difficult and time-consuming.

On the other hand, SD-WAN is built for the age of cloud connectivity. It’s easily scalable and flexible and also less expensive. When choosing between these two systems, MPLS is often thought to be “heading for retirement” as SD-WAN takes over. MPLS usage decreased by 24% from 2019 to 2020, while SD-WAN usage almost tripled, going from 18% to 43%. However, MPLS might find its future home as an adjunct option for enterprises’ legacy apps, where it can work together with SD-WAN.

The Benefits of SD-WAN

SD-WAN offers a variety of unique benefits, making it increasingly popular. Cost optimizations, increased security, agility, and flexibility are just a few of the high-level benefits of SD-WAN. Here are a few more SD-WAN benefits for enterprise organizations.

Nationwide Availability

With a “bring your own bandwidth” option, businesses can use their choice of affordable and reliable connectivity.

Network Flexibility

Regardless of the service provider, organizations can enjoy the flexibility to leverage any sort of Internet access, whether that be fiber, 4G, or 5G. This is a key difference compared to MPLS, which does not offer flexibility in networks.

High-Quality Performance

Consistent performance and reliability offer a high-quality user experience, which can increase productivity and efficiency while saving money.

Cloud VPN Security

IPSec VPN connectivity creates dynamic, edge-to-edge communication, which allows data to seamlessly flow between networks while remaining secure.

WAN Optimization

For your wide-area network (WAN) that isn’t tied to a single location, forward error correction (FEC) adds redundancies that help correct transmission errors without resending, which creates lag. This improves circuit performance and also reduces jitter and packet loss.

Secure Connectivity

One of the biggest benefits is increased security. MPLS traffic is encrypted with VPN access, and traffic is protected between locations. Virtual firewalls can be deployed as needed and easily removed.

Application Aware and Smart QoS

One of the biggest differentiators of SD-WAN is that application-aware routing software allows you to facilitate connections based on SLA classes. It uses the information collected to direct traffic flows along the most optimal path, allowing for a higher quality of service.

Flexible Continuity Options

In the case of outages, bidirectional failover allows circuits to back each other up, ensuring minimal loss of service and increased business continuity.

Multi-Circuit Connectivity & Continuity

Again, SD-WAN offers increased security and seamless failover.

5G / 4G LTE Connectivity & Continuity

These options act as primary, secondary, and redundant continuities that eliminate the need for hardwired connectivity.

Inbound Failover

With public IP addresses, inbound internet failover is supported for remote or VPN users and web servers.

What Are the Advantages of SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is uniquely positioned to revolutionize your IT infrastructure. Overall, network security is a huge advantage when it comes to setting up secure regional zones. It also allows operators to build and incorporate security for cloud-based apps. Mission-critical traffic and data can be protected away from less important components, which is especially helpful for industries maintaining sensitive customer data like healthcare or finance.

SD-WAN’s unique advantage boils down to simplicity. A simpler operational environment and increased connectivity remove a lot of manual tasks from network engineers or IT managers. They can focus on other aspects of the business without having to constantly update potentially dozens of systems. Data freedom and movement are also more fluid, allowing enterprises to move to different cloud environments when they need to. Deployment, management, and control are all significantly easier.

Third, SD-WAN reflects this new digital age of cloud, connectivity, and remote distribution. This was further emphasized by the adoption of remote work during COVID-19 with many historically on-site businesses shifting to a hybrid or remote workforce. While many businesses are concerned with cloud security, it hasn’t slowed down adoption whatsoever. As employees push for more flexibility, organizations will need technologies that support this on-the-go mentality while also keeping business and customer data, information, and apps secure. Global connectivity is only increasing; however, it comes with challenges like cybersecurity risks that make new, secure, and flexible solutions like SD-WAN increasingly attractive.

Finally, businesses can save money with SD-WAN. Because SD-WAN helps businesses improve network connectivity and operations, the cost of managing the network reduces significantly.

Why Use SD-WAN From TPx?

TPx customers like Goodwill Industries are proactively solving their IT challenges with a blend of SD-WAN and managed services. For example, Goodwill Industries has 34 stores spread out through the San Francisco region, and TPx Managed and SD-WAN power this distributed infrastructure. With local branches spread out, an SD-WAN infrastructure offers connectivity and a 4G failover that kicks in automatically in the case of an outage, ensuring business continuity and important thrift store sales that allow this non-profit to continue its work. Goodwill Industries also enjoys firewall protection across the entire network instead of manual updates.

With a trusted partner like TPx managing SD-WAN, businesses can enjoy increased continuity, protection, cost savings, and efficiency without getting bogged down by the nitty-gritty of their IT infrastructure. TPx’s Managed Services begins with a detailed network diagram along with planning for future growth and architecture as your business expense. Our team will plan and execute the rollout step by step.

Learn More About Our SD-WAN Solutions

To learn more about SD-WAN and what it can do for your business, get in touch with us below.

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