Busting the #1 myth about SD-WAN

Saving money with SD-WAN (part one)

Software Defined WAN, or SD-WAN for short, is the new big thing in business networking. Everybody’s talking about SD-WAN, and about what it can do for businesses.

Well, there’s no doubt that SD-WAN can do a lot for your business; in fact, we’ll be talking about exactly that in part 2 of this 3 part blog series. But before we do that, we need to talk about what SD-WAN can’t do.

Right now there’s a popular misconception among businesses concerning SD-WAN – a misconception fed and sustained by headlines and marketing hype – that could lead them to take damaging shortcuts in incorporating SD-WAN into their business.

The Myth: SD-WAN is a magic box: just plug it in and you’ll save money!

What SD-WAN isn't.

As with many myths, there’s an element of truth to this one. SD-WAN can save you money – just not in the way you might have been misled to believe.

SD-WAN is a technology with great potential. It allows you to monitor and manage network performance, for example, while you can use it to centrally control policies and prioritise applications – and that’s just for starters. What SD-WAN isn’t is an adequate replacement for good networking in of itself.

But here’s the thing: private, business-grade WAN/MPLS is expensive (or at least is perceived to be). And – since the headline on the typical SD-WAN article will be something like: ‘Save 40% on your networking with SD-WAN!’ – SD-WAN is perceived as cheap.

It’s no wonder that for SMEs, the ‘SD-WAN is a magic box!’ myth is an attractive one, since – unlike larger enterprises with resources to burn – SMEs are less inclined (and able) to pay for full SD-WAN integration.

‘Save money!’

… that’s an attractive prospect for any organisation. However, while large enterprises can afford to fully integrate SD-WAN with their network infrastructure, SMEs are easily tempted by the myth. No big surprise, either, that some SD-WAN vendors are telling these SMEs not to waste money on an expensive MPLS when you can get something just as good by buying a cheap broadband connection and plugging it into an SD-WAN box.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Bingo!

Here’s why…

There are no shortcuts: consumer vs business internet

Think about your broadband router at home. Silently running in the hallway, green signal-light flashing inconspicuously. Seems fairly harmless, doesn’t it? You basically forget it’s even there.

Your router at home.

Your home router at home a.k.a PAL 9000

Most of the time, it will run fine; the lights will remain green. Sometimes, it will slow-down, or even stop working. This happens maybe once or twice a week. You don’t ring up your service provider because it’s unlikely to cause too much damage.

But imagine that humble, harmless home router sitting, not just in your business but at the centre of your business. Suddenly, seeing a light go red instead of green will send a shiver down your spine. A drop in speed now has real financial repercussions. And an outage? Even worse.

And then there’s security…

Your router at work.

Your home router at work a.k.a. HAL 9000

Obviously, businesses need the internet. But do they need consumer internet – even if it’s being managed through an SD-WAN box? The answer is NO.

Business-grade internet: the price is right

If plugging the internet into SD-WAN really did make consumer-internet as secure as business-internet, business-internet would become obsolete. This isn’t going to happen, however: a pseudo-MPLS service running on the Internet will never be able to replace a good network.

Yes, it’s true – business-grade internet is expensive. But it’s expensive for a reason. Unlike consumer-internet, it’s fully managed, with SLAs in place to ensure against latency and packet loss, and underpinned (if you pick the right service provider) by intelligently designed networking using nothing but the best technology.

SD-WAN can compensate for some of these shortfalls, but not entirely – or even adequately.

Will you save money in the short term by opting for an SD-WAN box over a business-network with an underlying physical bearing? Sure. But in the long term, going for the cheaper option might end up costing you a lot more.

So, how do you really save money with SD-WAN?

When you truly understand what SD-WAN is (i.e. not a magic box), you can save money in the long term, too. At Exponential-e, our approach to SD-WAN is to take good, solid network underpinnings and insert SD-WAN into them, using the technology intelligently in order to make networks more efficient – which saves money and boosts revenue.

I’ll demonstrate some of the ways we might use SD-WAN to improve a network in the next blog in our series. In the third part, we’ll look at some real-world instances of SD-WAN being applied intelligently to networks.

Director of Infrastructure at Exponential-e With over 17 years of experience running service provider networks, Andrew is responsible for core network and DC infrastructure teams within Exponential-e managing the design and operations of services that run on various platforms. Andrew is an evangelist of new technologies and an advocate for continual improvement.

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