SD-WAN as a Service: How to Streamline Network Management

published
June 11, 2024
TABLE OF CONTENTS

SD-WAN As a Service is a networking model where a third-party provider delivers the SD-WAN infrastructure and services over the internet. This lets businesses offload the complexities and costs associated with owning and managing network hardware. 

Think about SD-WAN as a Service like Netflix for your network management. You subscribe to use the service without needing to own the physical media or hardware. 

SD-WAN itself is a software-defined approach to managing the WAN (wide area network) that bridges the connection between your remote and main office locations. The technology uses a centralized interface to orchestrate network traffic across multiple endpoints, ensuring seamless connectivity and improved performance.

SD-WAN enables you to use various types of connections, like MPLS, 4G/5G LTE, and broadband Internet, independently of each other. This flexibility means you can choose the most cost-effective and data transfer option for your needs. 

SD-WAN as-a-service is the latest evolution of SD-WAN that packages it as a software for remote use by third parties.

Benefits of SD-WAN as a Service

Cost efficiency

Traditional WAN solutions often require expensive hardware and maintenance. SD-WAN as a Service removes the need for hefty upfront investments in physical infrastructure. Instead, you pay a subscription fee, which is significantly cheaper. 

For example, rather than shelling out thousands for routers and setup, you simply pay a monthly or annual fee, which covers both the software and the support.

Consider the savings on operational costs. Managing a traditional WAN often demands a dedicated IT team working around the clock. With SD-WAN as a Service, much of the maintenance and troubleshooting is handled by the service provider.

Another cost-saving aspect is bandwidth optimization. SD-WAN as a Service can intelligently route traffic through the most efficient path, meaning less reliance on expensive MPLS links and more use of cost-effective broadband connections.

There are also indirect cost savings. For instance, improved network performance and reliability can lead to increased productivity. Employees spend less time dealing with connectivity issues and more time being productive. Fewer VPN dropouts and faster access to cloud applications for your remote teams translate to savings in time and money.

Scalability and flexibility

When your business grows, traditional WAN requires equally significant investments to scale up. But with SD-WAN as a Service, scaling up is often as simple as adjusting your subscription plan. You avoid the capital expenditure and logistical hurdles of expanding physical infrastructure.

Let's say your business is growing and you're opening new branch offices. With traditional WAN solutions, you'd have to invest in new hardware for each location, which is time-consuming and expensive. When using SD-WAN as a Service, you simply deploy a new edge device and configure it through the cloud.

The flexibility of SD-WAN as a Service also means you can easily adapt to changing network conditions. If one of your links becomes congested or experiences an outage, SD-WAN can dynamically route traffic through the best available path. No human intervention is needed.

Enhanced security

SD-WAN as a Service offers robust, integrated, and automated security measures that adapt to your changing needs. With traditional WANs you have to juggle different tools and hope they all work well together.

One of the best security features of SD-WAN as a Service is end-to-end encryption, which wraps every bit of data in a secure package from the moment it leaves your device until it reaches its destination. 

Another convenient security feature is the embedded security policies. Instead of manually configuring firewalls and access controls for every branch location or remote user, SD-WAN as a Service allows us to set these policies centrally. 

If your company has rules about which applications can be accessed by remote employees, you can enforce these rules across the entire network with just a few clicks. You won’t have to worry about someone slipping through the cracks because they’re working from a coffee shop.

SD-WAN as a Service also improves threat detection and response. It often comes with built-in tools for spotting and dealing with threats in real time. 

Say there's an unusual amount of data being transferred at an odd hour. The system can flag this activity and even take automatic actions to protect the network, such as isolating the affected segment. 

SD-WAN as a Service also makes it easy to integrate with cloud security platforms that add layers of protection for your network. For instance, integrating with a service like Zscaler or Palo Alto Networks can help you monitor traffic moving in and out of cloud services, adding another shield against potential data breaches and cyber-attacks.

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is another advanced security feature baked into many SD-WAN solutions. With ZTNA, trust is never assumed based on network location. Every user and device must continuously prove they should have access. 

Applications for SD-WAN as a Service solutions

Zero-touch provisioning

Zero-touch provisioning allows you to remotely configure and manage SD-WAN devices. It simplifies the process of connecting a new SD-WAN router to Ethernet and letting it automatically get an IP from DHCP. Just like that, the router will be visible in the ZTP portal, ready to be managed. 

That simplicity reduces the need for skilled IT staff to be present at each location, which is a major cost saver for widespread deployments. It eliminates many manual steps and minimizes errors, leading to faster deployments.

A few practical use cases where organizations can benefit from the quick and secure setup ZTP provides include a retail chain deploying SD-WAN quickly without waiting for a specialized IT team, healthcare providers ensuring their network devices are compliant and secure without needing on-site configuration, and educational institutions expanding their campuses.

Centralized orchestration

Centralized orchestration puts the tools you need to manage the entire network on a single dashboard. It provides the control, visibility, and speed you need to keep the network running optimally.

This feature simplifies complex network configurations, allowing you to oversee multiple locations and devices effortlessly. It streamlines network management into one cohesive interface. 

Imagine pushing out a new security policy. Traditionally, you would have to manually update each device, which is time-consuming and prone to errors. But with SD-WAN as a Service, you can implement the changes across all connected devices from the central dashboard. It's quick, and efficient, and ensures uniform policy enforcement.

Monitoring network performance becomes a breeze, too. You can get real-time analytics and insights, all in one place. If there's a bottleneck or an outage, you know immediately where it's happening and why. This proactive approach means you can address issues before they escalate into bigger problems.

Real-time analytics and reporting.

Real-time analytics and reporting are crucial for understanding your network's health and performance. Your SD-WAN as a Service solution can provide real-time and historical event data for various SD-WAN functions. This helps in detecting traffic usage anomalies and protocol issues by analyzing trends over time.

Real-time analytics enable you to see exactly what's happening on your network at any given moment. This visibility allows you to improve your network’s performance by identifying problems quickly. 

Some solutions take network monitoring several notches higher by checking each of your Internet connections 10 times per second. This means you can react almost instantly to any issues, keeping your network running smoothly. Others, like Cisco's new SD-WAN reporting tool, offer insights into tunnel performance and bandwidth consumption.

SD-WAN as a Service use cases 

Remote work and branch offices.

Using SD-WAN as a Service allows you to easily connect remote workers and branch offices without the hassle of complicated hardware and constant maintenance. Traditional WAN setups just can't keep up with the demands of constantly adding new remote workers and opening new branches.

SD-WAN as a Service gives you consistent performance and strong security across all your locations. Your employees in the New York office can seamlessly share files with the team in San Francisco. The built-in security features of SD-WAN as a Service mean you don’t have to worry about data breaches with team members who work from home.

SD-WAN as a Service also adapts to your needs dynamically. For example, when hosting a virtual company-wide meeting, your SD-WAN as a Service solution can optimize bandwidth usage, maintaining top video quality for everyone, whether they joined from a home office or a branch location. 

Cloud-first businesses.

Cloud-first businesses need networks that can keep up with their cloud-based demands. They require a networking solution that can handle collective connectivity demands of VoIP systems, VPNs, cloud-hosted apps, and all the SaaS tools they need to function optimally.

SD-WAN as a Service handles these demands particularly well. It uses automation and rules-based configurations to ensure your critical traffic gets the priority it needs, which means faster, more reliable connections.

If you have multiple office locations, SD-WAN orchestrates the traffic flow and directs data in the most efficient way possible, minimizing latency and packet loss. 

IoT deployments.

IoT devices, like smart thermostats, security cameras, or industrial sensors, generate a ton of data. This data needs to be collected, transmitted, and analyzed, often in real time. SD-WAN as a Service consolidates management of these devices into a single dashboard, streamlining management.

Imagine you've got a network of smart agriculture sensors spread across a huge farm. These sensors monitor soil moisture, weather conditions, and crop health. Sending all that data to a central server can get tricky, especially if the farm is remote. SD-WAN as a Service can prioritize and route this data efficiently, ensuring it gets to the right place quickly, even over less reliable connections.

In a healthcare setting, IoT devices like patient monitors and wearable health gadgets are increasingly common. The data from these devices can be life-saving, requiring immediate and reliable transmission to medical staff. SD-WAN as a Service can provide the necessary speed and reliability, even if the hospital’s network is under heavy load.

Retailers are also jumping on the IoT bandwagon with smart shelves and inventory systems. Think of a scenario where a smart shelf detects that an item is out of stock and instantly sends an alert to reorder it. SD-WAN as a Service ensures that this alert isn't delayed or lost, streamlining inventory management and improving customer satisfaction.

Retail and Point of Sale (POS) systems.

Point of Sale (POS) systems need reliable and fast network connections. With SD-WAN, retailers can prioritize POS data over other network traffic, ensuring that transactions process smoothly even during peak times. 

For instance, during Black Friday a surge in customer activity can strain the network. But SD-WAN can dynamically reroute traffic, giving POS systems the bandwidth they need.

Another perk is easier network management. Retail chains often have numerous locations, each with its own network. Managing all these can be challenging. SD-WAN as a Service simplifies it by centralizing control, instead of dealing with IT issues store-by-store

Data security is also a critical factor for retailers. Retailers handle sensitive customer information. SD-WAN can enhance security through encrypted connections. 

‍Failover capabilities are another convenient perk of SD-WAN as a Service when deployed in retail POS systems where a failure of the main internet connection can cost the business thousands of dollars in dropped sales. SD-WAN allows you to seamlessly switch to a secondary connection, keeping transactions flowing.

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