Wide Area Network over a city

Traditional WAN vs. SD-WAN: A Comparison

Wide area networks (WANs) were first established to host computer networking over a large geographic area. With a WAN network in place, connected computers can be far apart, allowing businesses to have a headquarters location and multiple office branches.

WANs have been around since the early days of computer networks. Over the years, modems evolved to increase connectivity speeds. But now we live in an age where remote work is common, and people use the internet on phones and tablets in addition to computers. As the world evolved, so did wide area networks. Today, software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) optimize business operations. Let’s explore the difference between traditional WAN and SD-WAN and narrow down which option is best for your business. 

Traditional WAN: How Does It Work?

As we unpack the difference between traditional WAN and SD-WAN services, you will see many acronyms. Before diving in, let’s define these essential acronyms.

  • LAN: “Local Area Network” is a collection of devices connected together in one physical location, such as a home, office, or building.
  • VPN: “Virtual Private Network” is a network that extends across a public network and allows users to send and receive information as if their devices were directly connected to a private network.
  • MPLS: “Multiprotocol Label Switching” is a telecommunications routing technique that directs data based on short path labels instead of long network addresses to speed up traffic flow.
  • IP Address: “Internet Protocol Address” is a unique identifying number that associates a device with its online activity.

Now, traditional WAN technology had previously been customary for voice and data networking. Traditional WANs rely on MPLS to provide consistent network traffic flow. Traditional WANs are used to connect various computer locations through multiple LANs, VPNs, and routers.

Traditional WAN works by sending IP packets through a metaphorical tunnel, which in this case is a VPN. IP packets arrive at a designated LAN, the IP headers are taken away, the payload is made unintelligible, and ultimately, private-networking features become accessible.

Traditional WAN needs to use hardware to complete its operations. Due to the physical hardware, scaling traditional WANs can be complex, as establishing supplemental office branches and remote locations require additional equipment. Businesses with conventional WAN services also frequently experience incompatible traffic explosions when attempting to mix cloud-based and hard-drive-based services.

SD-WAN: The New and Improved WAN

Traditional WAN continues to use physical hardware even as the world adapts to using cloud-based applications. Enter: SD-WAN. SD-WAN combines traditional WAN technologies like MPLS and broadband internet. However, since it is software-defined, SD-WAN connects all computer networks to a cloud-based central network to improve flexibility and control.

At its core, SD-WAN operates a network on top of an existing network. It uses pre-existing network structures to unify communication paths and optimize application performance by offloading user traffic to cloud services. Since it is curated for cloud-based operations, many popular business applications are highly compatible with SD-WAN, including:

  • Office 365
  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • Apple iCloud
  • And more

SD-WAN is ideal for businesses with remote work functionalities since it can support multiple high-bandwidth intensive applications simultaneously. In the instance of network traffic, SD-WANs reroute traffic to local networks whenever possible, allowing for near-seamless service and minimal interruptions.

The 3 Main Differences Between Traditional WAN and SD-WAN

Simply put, traditional WAN connects multiple computer networks through physical hardware, while SD-WAN accomplishes the connection through the cloud. But beyond that, how do traditional and SD-WAN compare when it comes to performance? The three main differences between conventional WAN and SD-WAN appear in efficiency, security, and cost.

1. Efficiency

When you need to make improvements or changes to traditional WAN, everything needs to be done manually with hardware. Because of this, companies that want to add branch offices or allow remote work experience long, drawn-out processes that decrease efficiency.

SD-WAN provides simplified network processes by streamlining operations over the cloud. If your business wants to add offices or remote employees, you won’t run into time delays as you would with traditional WAN because no hardware is required.

With SD-WAN, traffic for high-demand software and applications gets routed through the fastest available connection. By prioritizing the most essential traffic, issues such as lagging and jittering rarely occur, allowing employees to remain efficient.

2. Security

Traditional WAN has typically always been secure since it utilizes VPNs that offer security through:

  • Authentication
  • Encryption
  • Confidentiality
  • Non-repudiation

However, conventional WAN connections require stringent security because a WAN connection leaves room for vulnerability where an attacker could gain access to a private network. If an office is relaxed with cybersecurity, a hacker could breach a network and access information on the business’s primary WAN. Networks become more vulnerable when mixing traditional hardware and cloud operations, which is a common occurrence with traditional WAN services.

SD-WAN often comes with built-in security services that keep your business networks safe from hackers and breaches. These integrated security features help prevent security issues like:

  • Downtime
  • Lost data
  • Regulatory violations
  • Legal liabilities

SD-WAN technology also allows you to easily incorporate added security features like firewall and associated threat management services.

3. Cost

Business owners know firsthand how seemingly small monthly costs can add up quickly. SD-WAN has been shown to reduce internet costs for businesses. This cost reduction is due to not having to spend large sums on regularly upgrading your bandwidth. SD-WAN can also run on 4G LTE and broadband internet, which is usually less expensive than the MPLS networks traditional WAN relies on.

With SD-WAN, you can utilize technology your business already has, such as a WiFi connection or ethernet. Due to this, you won’t need to pay for intensive IT involvement or new overhead costs.

SD WAN cloud

Move Your Business Forward With SD-WAN

While traditional WAN services have handled wide area computer networks thus far, business operations are rapidly modernizing to cloud-based services. Because of these modern operations, SD-WAN is the preferred choice for many businesses to reap benefits such as higher security, improved efficiency, and lower costs.

If you’re ready to take your business operations to the next level, stop mixing hardware and cloud services and make the switch to SD-WAN. Integrated Communications partners with North America’s best SD-WAN providers. Contact us today, and we will perform a free network audit to determine areas of improvement in your business.