Which Way To SD-WAN?
The Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) market is exciting. Unfortunately, it’s confusing, too. This confusion is due in part to the sweeping promises of some SD-WAN vendors to solve all possible network ills with a Swiss Army Knife approach, leading to complex products and a bewildering array of options. The confusion is also due to terminology. Just as the phrase “Unified Communications” took on a lot of different (and sometimes conflicting) meanings early in that market’s evolution, so “SD-WAN” has come to mean different things to different people today.
Unrealistic promises and vague terminology make product comparisons difficult. As a result, many IT managers are having a hard time deciding which SD-WAN solution is the right one for their organization.
What does SD-WAN really mean? And how, given all these different definitions and products, should an organization go about selecting the SD-WAN solution that meets its particular needs?
Let’s start with the basics. Here’s a pared-down, no-frills definition of SD-WAN:
SD-WAN is formally defined as the application of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) ideas to WAN connections, which are used to connect enterprise networks – including branch offices and data centers – over large geographic distances.
InSpeed Networks is the only provider of SD-WAN solutions that were designed from the ground-up to address the needs of interactive applications. InSpeed’s solutions use unique proprietary technology that combine voice prioritization, with dynamic congestion management, to guarantee optimum performance for voice traffic, and improve overall throughput for data traffic, even over a single link.
Although the SD-WAN market is crowded with many players, including big name network equipment providers and new innovative start-ups, all SD-WAN solutions today include the following features:
- A central controller that establishes network-wide policies and determines roles for each network device under management.
- Commodity vanilla hardware runs the networking function.
Industry analyst firm Gartner suggests that, in addition to providing these basic features, SD-WAN solutions should also provide the following:
- Support for multiple types of network connections (MPLS, cable, DSL, LTE)
- Support for VPNs
- Dynamic load-sharing of traffic over multiple connections
- A simple management interface and support for zero-touch provisioning
Why provide networking features in software in the first place? In part, to benefit from the flexibility and scalability of cloud computing. When network controls are implemented in software, they can be deployed wherever makes the most sense—in virtual machines on premises, in a dedicated data center, or even in a public cloud—and they can scale dynamically to meet performance and usage requirements that fluctuate in real time. Simply put: Software-defined networking solutions can match or exceed the performance of earlier solutions while delivering the cost savings for which cloud computing is famous.
Bold Promises, Mixed Results
SD-WAN sounds great in theory, but in practice many SD-WAN solutions on the market today have not delivered on their promises. Complex provisioning and maintenance, incompatibility with existing network elements, and the inability to adjust automatically to changing network conditions, have led to iffy cost savings and questionable improvements in service quality.
What many SMBs and enterprises need is a solution that moves beyond SD-WAN to provide:
- A comprehensive service, not a toolkit that requires sophisticated IT staff to implement
- A solution targeted at essential enterprise needs such as Unified Communications, high quality voice or smooth videoconferencing—applications that employees and customers depend on, but which are poorly served by most SD-WAN solutions. Beyond replicating basic network routing features in software, the optimal SD-WAN solution will shape WAN traffic in real time to minimize network latency problems that lead to “robot voice” on VoIP calls and frozen frames/distorted audio in videoconferencing sessions.
- A self-driving service that requires no on-going administration—an essential capability for supporting branch offices that have little or no IT staff.
- Traffic optimization over a single WAN link, eliminating the expense and overhead of provisioning, managing, and paying for redundant links.
Selecting an SD-WAN Solution
When evaluating SD-WAN solutions, it’s important to consider the following issues:
Controlling your network
- Is there a single point of administration and centralized control?
- Do you have the manpower to administer yet another networking technology, or would you prefer one that is autonomous?
Traditional MPLS WAN vs Commodity Internet Plus SD-WAN
- What is your current monthly cost for your network connectivity?
- Would scaling up your current WAN technology be affordable? Are you sure that scaling would fix your QoS issues with interactive applications?
- Are you looking to save money, increase throughput and ensure high quality voice calls?
Public Internet WAN
- Does your current Internet connectivity provider offer optimized redundancy for your needs (active-active or active-passive)?
- Would an overlay SD-WAN solution with your existing WAN provider solve critical QoS problems for interactive communications and meet your organization’s SD-WAN needs?
Requirements for Business Continuity
- Has you measured the business costs of interruptions to IP telephony and videoconferencing services?
- To achieve business goals, customer satisfaction goals, and SLAs, does your organization require virtually no Internet connectivity downtime?
- How much investment and IT labor could be saved if an SD-WAN solution could provide Business Continuity without requiring an additional network connection?
- Does the SD-WAN solution automatically shape traffic to guarantee QoS regardless of fluctuating network conditions?
- Does the SD-WAN solution being considered provide sufficient security for business communications? Are interoffice communications protected with encryption?
Beyond SD-WAN: The InSpeed IQS Solution
InSpeed Quality Service (IQS) is an SD-WAN solution that moves beyond typical SD-WAN features and implementations.
IQS is specifically focused on the needs of customers with interactive applications such as voice and videoconferencing. Unlike other SD-WAN offerings, InSpeed’s solution is designed from the ground up to address the specific needs of interactive applications like voice. Unique in the SD-WAN market, IQS guarantees that the connection will be low-latency, ensuring high quality voice calls and videoconference sessions.
Like other SD-WAN offerings, IQS provides an alternative to expensive dedicated circuits that have traditionally been used to guarantee 100% uptime and data security, by allowing customers to utilize multiple commodity Internet links and full AES-encrypted VPN mesh connections. But unlike competitive SD-WAN solutions, IQS also has unique proprietary technology that combines voice prioritization with dynamic congestion management. This proprietary technology guarantees optimum performance for voice traffic and improves overall throughput for data traffic over a single link. This allows a customer to get great value from IQS with a simple plug-and-play installation into their existing network, saving the cost and delays of implementing yet another network connection for each site.
With the InSpeed SD-WAN solution, it’s now possible to make reliable IP telephony calls and experience smooth videoconferencing over any network connection, all the time.
The SD-WAN marketplace is crowded. By taking a Voice First™ approach and focusing on the interactive services that organizations depend on, InSpeed brings clarity to SMBs and enterprises interested in improving network experience while enjoying the cost savings of SDN technology.