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The Way Forward: How SD-WAN Benefits the Modern Enterprise

Posted on: September 26, 2019 By: Carolyn Kuczynski

In 2019, it has become clear that SD-WAN has secured its position as the way forward for enterprise WAN connectivity. Market adoption is growing rapidly, and industry experts have declared a winner in the SD-WAN vs MPLS debate. For example, Network World called 2018 the year of SD-WAN, and before the end of Q3 2018 Gartner declared SD-WAN is killing MPLS. What’s driving all the excitement around SD-WAN? It effectively comes down to this: SD-WAN is more cost-effective and operationally agile than MPLS. SD-WAN reduces capex and opex while also simplifying WAN management and scalability.

However, if you don’t drill down beyond high-level conclusions, it can be hard to quantify how SD-WAN will matter for your business. Here, we’ll dive into the top 5 SD-WAN benefits and explain why IT professionals and industry experts alike see SD-WAN as the way forward for enterprises.

Reduced WAN Costs

MPLS bandwidth is expensive. On a “dollar per bit” basis, MPLS is significantly higher than public Internet bandwidth. Exactly how much more expensive will depend on a number of variables, not the least of which is location. However, the costs of MPLS aren’t just a result of significantly higher bandwidth charges. Provisioning an MPLS link often takes weeks or months, while a comparable SD-WAN deployment can often be completed in days. In business, time is money, and removing the WAN as a bottleneck can be a huge competitive advantage.

Just how big of a cost difference is there between MPLS and SD-WAN? The specifics of your network will be the real driver here. Expecting savings of at least 25% is certainly reasonable, and for many enterprises it can go well beyond that. For one Cato customer, MPLS was 4 times the cost of cloud-based SD-WAN despite MPLS only providing a quarter of the bandwidth.

For a real world example of how Nick Dell, an IT manager at a major auto manufacturer, optimized his WAN spending by ditching MPLS and moving to SD-WAN, check out this webinar.

Enhanced WAN Performance

MPLS was the top dog in enterprise WAN before cloud-computing and mobile smart devices exploded in popularity. Once cloud and mobile became mainstream, a fundamental flaw in MPLS was exposed. Simply put: MPLS is very good at reliably routing traffic between two static locations, but it isn’t good at meeting the demands of cloud and mobile.

With MPLS, enterprises have to deal with the “trombone effect”. Essentially, an MPLS-based WAN has to inefficiently backhaul Internet-bound traffic to a corporate datacenter. The same Internet-bound traffic is then routed back through the corporate datacenter. This places a drag on network performance and can really hurt modern services like UCaaS and videoconferencing.

As SD-WAN enables policy-based routing (PbR) and allows enterprises to leverage the best transport method (e.g. xDSL, cable, 5G, etc.) for the job, this means no more trombone effect and improved performance for mobile users and cloud services.

In addition to solving the trombone routing problem, SD-WAN is a game changer when it comes to last-mile performance. The same ability to leverage different transport methods enables a more advanced approach to link-bonding that can significantly improve last-mile resilience and availability.

Improved WAN Agility

MPLS wasn’t designed with agility in mind. SD-WAN on the other hand is designed to enable maximum agility and flexibility. By abstracting away the underlying complexities of multiple transport methods and enabling PbR, SD-WAN allows enterprises to meet the varying demands of cloud workloads and scale up or down with ease.

For example, onboarding a new office with MPLS can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. With Cato’s cloud-based SD-WAN, new sites can be onboarded in a matter of hours or days. Case in point: Pet Lovers Center was able to deploy two to three sites per day during their Cato Cloud rollout.

Similarly, adding bandwidth can take over a month in many MPLS applications, while SD-WAN enables rapid bandwidth provisioning at existing sites.

Simplified WAN Management

As we’ve mentioned, the long provisioning times with MPLS can create significant bottlenecks, but MPLS management issues go well beyond that. The larger an enterprise scales, the more complex WAN management becomes. Multiple appliances used for security and WAN optimization become a maintenance and management burden as an enterprise grows.. Further, gaining granular visibility into the network can be a challenge, which leads to monitoring and mean time to recover issues. Cloud-based SD-WAN adds value here by providing an integrated and centralized view of the network that can be easily managed at scale.

Increased WAN Availability

When it comes to uptime, redundancy and failover are the name of the game. While MPLS has a solid reputation for reliability, it isn’t perfect and can fail. Redundancy at the MPLS provider level is expensive and can be a pain to implement. SD-WAN makes leveraging different transport methods easy, thereby enabling high-availability configurations that help reduce single points of failure. If your fiber link from one ISP is down, you can failover to a link from another provider. Further, the self-healing features of cloud-based SD-WAN make achieving high-availability (HA) significantly easier than before.

The Cloud-Based Advantage

We’ve already mentioned a few ways cloud-based SD-WAN helps magnify SD-WAN benefits, but it is also important to note that cloud-based SD-WAN overcomes one of the major SD-WAN objections MPLS proponents have put forth. In the past, it could have been argued that the lack of SLAs meant SD-WAN solutions were not ready for showtime at the enterprise-level. However, with cloud-based SD-WAN from Cato, enterprises get all the benefits of SD-WAN, an integrated security stack, and an SLA-backed private backbone supported by Tier-1 ISPs across the globe.

Furthermore, this private backbone solves another problem other SD-WAN solutions cannot: latency across the globe. For international enterprises that must send traffic halfway across the world, routing WAN over the public Internet alone can lead to significant latency. In the past, this would mean dealing with the operational and dollar costs of MPLS to become worth it. However, cloud-based SD-WAN offers a more cost effective and operationally-efficient alternative. Cato’s global, private backbone has PoPs (Points of Presence) across the world that enable traffic to be reliably routed across at speeds that meet or exceed MPLS-level performance.

SD-WAN outstrips MPLS for the modern enterprise

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to every WAN challenge, it’s clear that the majority of modern enterprises can benefit from SD-WAN. We can expect to see MPLS hold a niche in the market for years to come, but SD-WAN is better suited for most modern use-cases. In particular, cloud-based SD-WAN gives businesses a reliable, secure, and modern MPLS alternative that offers the agility of SD-WAN without sacrificing reliability or the peace of mind SLAs provide.

To learn more about what cloud-based SD-WAN can do for your business, join our upcoming Dark Side of SD-WAN webinar or contact us today.

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