For most businesses, creating local networks is a simple process: just hire a network administrator to make sure all the relevant systems speak to each other, and away you go.
But operating networks across longer distances or multiple locations – known as a Wide-Area Network or WAN – are a different story. They’re increasingly more complex and require significantly more experience to make sure traffic is prioritised and routed in the right ways.
Thankfully a new tech is emerging to make all that manual work redundant. It’s called SD-WAN, or software defined wide area network.
But…it’s not for everyone.
Most WANs don’t just work on their own. You need to embed rules or specific parameters to make sure traffic is prioritised for certain networks or sites – and you might even want to stop traffic flowing to certain sites altogether.
All of that work requires manual configuration. It’s slow, costly and prone to human error – which means you could end up with certain parts of your network that can’t access the information they need at the right time.
SD-WAN technology uses different types of connections, generally normal internet connections. Instead of just having to manually direct traffic, SD-WAN uses software to automatically direct that traffic based on the rules and parameters you set.
This is a huge advantage for businesses that use a combination of technology and carriers for networks, like different accesses, routers, servers, and complex interconnectivity across multiple sites or locations.
For one thing, you don’t need to spend money on people who direct that traffic manually. It also means you can make changes relatively quickly – so you can react to network outages or disruptions much quicker and easier. This means separate or remote locations won’t lose out by being locked out of a network for longer than necessary.
It’s essentially taking your network administration and creating a cloud based service for it. Your IT specialists can have a complete and full overview of your WAN.
One of the bigger advantages is that using SD-WAN tech doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands on upgrading your infrastructure. You can make do with a lot of what you have already.
SD-WAN also eliminates a lot of human error. Software based routing lets you organise traffic in easy, everyday language and graphical interfaces. That means blocking or allowing certain apps, locations, or even security features is relatively straightforward.
In fact, security is one of SD-WAN’s biggest advantages. You can easily offer end-to-end encryption across your network, even though you’re combining multiple technologies and data services like cable or 4G services.
But SD-WAN isn’t the best choice for everyone…
MPLS, or multiprotocol label switching, is the traditional technology many businesses use to manage their WANs. While SD-WAN has an advantage in that it can easily prioritise traffic without manual configuration, MPLS has a big, huge advantage:
MPLS can deliver much higher quality traffic. MPLS networks are also prioritised across carrier networks, as opposed to internet traffic which is treated as “best efforts”.
This is important if you operate a massive network, with hundreds of users, who depend on internet services like VoIP to communicate. MPLS based systems are able to send that traffic with very little packet loss.
The reason behind this is complex – MPLS essentially “labels” each packet and separates it from other traffic, like internet behaviour. This allows it to prioritise point-to-point traffic for higher reliability.
Which means staff on a WAN can easily communicate or use important cloud services without having to worry about losing connectivity or suffering a poor user experience.
It always comes down to one factor: cost. Even though MPLS networks allow for high service dependability, they also cost a lot of money due to bandwidth usage. The fact these networks are so reliable also means staff can use them for sending high volumes of images, videos or other media. That bandwidth adds up over time.
SD-WAN, on the other hand, is relatively cheap to implement and maintain because it doesn’t use MPLS networks.
Both MPLS and SD-WAN have advantages and disadvantages – it really depends on the type of business you run, the types of services you offer to your staff, and how reliably you need those services to operate.
Then you’re most likely going to get the most benefit out of SD-WAN. It’s a light technology that reduces all the manual configuration you would usually need, and because you only operate a smaller network you don’t need as much dependency on high bandwidth services.
In that case, then MPLS is probably the best fit for your business. The reliability of that service is more important than the cost – and you might be willing to pay a little extra to make sure your users have access to traffic they can prioritise.
SD-WAN carries a huge number of advantages, but MPLS might be the better choice for your business.
Our product specialists and network engineers can assist by analysing your business requirements in order to recommend the most effective solution.
Contact us to discuss how network technology can help achieve your business goals.