SD-WAN vs. WAN Optimization: You May be Confused

SD-WAN and WAN Optimization

These two terms get thrown around a lot in IT blogs, many of which declare that SD-WAN is the newest settlement on the WAN optimization frontier.

The thing is, this may be a little over simplistic.

WAN optimization and SD-WAN are more like two mates that play on the same team than they are legend and successor. The two can work wonders alone or, possible even better, together, but it is not correct to think of an SD-WAN solution as a replacement for WAN optimization.

Let’s take a look at each to understand their similarities and differences.

Back to Basics: WAN Optimization

Companies have been analyzing how to optimize their WAN since the inception of this technology, which depending on which era you think is the starting point could go back as far as the late ‘80s or early ‘90s.

Optimization for the WAN does exactly what is sounds like. It’s goal is to make the most effective use possible of the limited bandwidth available across the WAN link through several techniques like deduplication, compression, reduced latency and caching to name a few.

Think of WAN optimization like remodeling your house, not building on an addition. Optimization allows you to reduce your current bandwidth consumption through, say, your MPLS link to improve the throughput of your TCP.

Chances are that you are already implementing some form of WAN optimization on your current network, especially if you have in-house, private applications. The more applications that your IT network houses, the better optimization is for you.

But, you may also be considering new adoptions like SD-WAN because at full optimization, your network is still not able to keep up with your business’ traffic, security compliance standards or integration of cloud applications.

So, let’s talk a little about the newest technology on the WAN block: software-defined networking.

Back to Basics: SD-WAN

Back to our earlier metaphor of house renovations, an SD-WAN solution would be like a newly-built addition to your IT home. You’re not necessarily moving, but you are adding onto what was recently available to you. SD-WAN let’s you go above and beyond what your linked bandwidth provided you.

Unlike WAN optimization, which is geared toward traffic that is not delay-sensitive, SD-WAN specializes in real-time network scenarios, accounting for jitter, latency and packet loss to ensure that traffic is travelling optimally across your WAN at all times. It can dramatically increase your visibility into your public or private (or both) applications so that you have more control over operations.

SD-WAN solutions, like Silver Peak’s Unity products, are designed to provide more efficient control of links and both TCP and non-TCP traffic (whereas optimization deals only in TCP). Because an SD-WAN overlay (VPN) can view your network landscape in real-time, you can leave it up to the software to automatically decide which route to use for any application based on things like policy.

In short, SD-WAN is more than just WAN optimization. Whereas optimization can make the best of what you have within bandwidth limits, SD-WAN can break out of those limits – all the way to the cloud and back.

SD-WAN and Hybrid WAN solutions are notably cheaper than optimizing an MPLS connection alone, and many SD-WAN vendors now offer WAN optimization software included with their solution because they know that, although each can work independently, together they provide the most optimal infrastructure possible for many businesses.

So, what is the right investment for you company?

Optimization and SD-WAN: Better Together?

Don’t worry. We are not telling you that if you only have WAN optimization implemented at this time, you are doing it wrong. The truth is SD-WAN and WAN optimization may have a similar goal, but one is not dependent on the other, and each company’s specific network needs will make a set of unique demands.

However, if you currently have WAN optimization in place and are still feeling limited in your network infrastructure, it may be beneficial to consider layering SD on top to add some intelligence to your WAN. Depending on your current setup, you may not even have to purchase more hardware.

By merging the two, you can take advantage of the featured benefits of each solution, building an even stronger, safer and more efficient network.

You have many options when it comes to designing your WAn architecture, and each has its benefits. WAN optimization allows you to efficiently utilize your enterprise infrastructure, but does not work with off-site applications like those in the cloud. SD-WAN is highly automated and flexible, and allows you increased visibility into your network and applications, however it may not make the most of your WAN architecture.

Because they are advantageous for different reasons, integrating the two may provide you with the best results. This intelligent WAN could make full use of physical TCP paths while optimizing non-TCP traffic to all of your applications.

In Conclusion

SD-WAN and WAN optimization are not the same, nor is the former a new subset of the latter. You can use one or the other, or use them together. They do work toward a similar goal, but they have different means of getting there.

The most widely-circulated benefit of an SD-WAN solution is decreased OPEX and CAPEX. Some companies see savings up to 90 percent. Of course, this number would vary depending on your current IT infrastructure and how much you choose to rely on MPLS and SD-WAN with your rebuild.

WAN optimization is still reliant on linked bandwidth so, no matter how optimized, there will always be a limit to what you can do with your traffic routing.

SD-WAN relies on software so initial installment is simple and practically immediate. A benefit of a VPN overlay is that you can construct your network in a way that makes the most sense for your business, choosing between full reliance on broadband or integrating a Hybrid SD-WAN with your current MPLS.

Only your IT team can decide what type of configuration will be most beneficial in helping you realize your network goals. Take a look at what your issues with your current architecture are, and brainstorm on some ways to fix them.

If you decide that you’d like to learn more about the network solutions that are out there for your company, contact one of our CTC Technologies experts to discuss your best options.

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