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4 SD-WAN Trends to Watch in 2023

Modern networks have come a long way from the traditional on-premise, single-location architectures. Today, businesses are getting into hybrid and cloud setups. These contemporary network models offer unparalleled flexibility, scalability, and cost-efficiency, enabling organizations to seamlessly integrate multiple locations, data centers, and cloud services into a cohesive and agile network infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, this poses a problem to larger organizations that have wide area networks. The sheer scale of their WAN infrastructure can lead to a variety of issues, including increased operational overhead, security risks, higher costs, and potential performance bottlenecks. How do you efficiently manage a large network with multiple devices, applications, and users while still prioritizing security?

The answer is SD-WAN. It empowers larger organizations to efficiently manage extensive networks by providing centralized visibility and control, simplifying network administration across multiple locations, and improving security measures. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of SD-WAN and four major SD-WAN trends that can help you optimize your organization’s network.

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WANs (software-defined wide area networks) are technologies that simplify the management and operation of a wide area network (WAN). It does this by separating network control from the underlying hardware and then applying software-based solutions.

There are several advantages of SD-WAN vs. traditional WAN that make it a better choice:

  • The biggest benefit is that the software-centric approach enables centralized management of the WAN network. This means IT teams can configure devices, manage traffic, and control the entire network conveniently from one location.
  • Second is that SD-WAN tends to be more cost-effective. WAN in networking traditionally uses MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching), which can be expensive. SD-WAN, in contrast, uses a mix of connection types, including broadband and 5G, which lowers costs significantly.
  • SD-WAN also helps the network to become more resilient and secure by introducing security protocols and failover mechanisms that traditional, hardware-centric WAN networks lack.

These are just a few of the reasons why companies are increasingly adopting Software Defined networking and why it should be the de-facto solution for managing wide-area networks. In fact, MetTel’s research has shown that 64% of businesses that use WANs are planning to switch to SD-WAN solutions, overtaking older WAN models like MPLS and traditional VPNs.

Enterprise technology is constantly evolving, and the same can be said of SD networks. Trends get introduced all the time, let’s discuss the top four that are revolutionizing how modern companies do business. 

1. Managed SD-WAN

In a managed SD-WAN, a third-party service provider is responsible for designing, deploying, monitoring, and maintaining the organization’s SD-WAN. Think of it like a SaaS (software-as-a-service) setup but with hands-on WAN management instead.

Managed SD-WAN services enable complete control of everything from a centralized cloud-user interface. This allows businesses to easily monitor traffic, applications, and devices in the network. In contrast, an unmanaged SD-WAN is where an organization takes full responsibility for its network. That also means companies take on all any risks and costs involved with maintenance and orchestration. 

Managed SD-WAN is the next evolution of traditional WAN and SD-WAN solutions. It helps streamline network functionality through management, visibility and providing the analytics required to adapt complex WANs.

Managed SD-WANs can also help organizations save on costs. Business owners don’t need to shell out millions upfront to invest in their WANs, nor do they need to worry about buying network assets that would depreciate and need to be replaced down the line. Instead, they can partner with a provider that has the necessary infrastructure and pay them as they go. The service provider will take on the cost and risks of managing the SD-WAN.

This setup is especially crucial for high-growth companies that need to scale rapidly. A managed SD-WAN allows them to instantly accommodate more traffic without the time and cost of expanding network equipment. Thus, SD-WAN is instrumental in making organizations more nimble and reacting to business demands more rapidly and flexibly.

In addition, a managed SD-WAN offloads network management responsibilities from IT teams, freeing up staff to help them identify problems and know what to tackle, and when. This streamlined workflow allows teams to focus on more critical business activities besides network maintenance. 

Managed SD-WANs also give organizations access to extra functionalities. For example, MetTel’s managed SD-WAN service integrates security protocols like PCI compliance, 256-bit encryption, and firewalls. Organizations also benefit from intelligent automation and cloud access, with instant connection with leading cloud providers like AWS and Azure.

2. Secure Remote Access

Remote access has accelerated as a result of the work-from-home movement that started during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations, in response, provided tools and technologies to facilitate this new way of working.

However, remote access also brings heightened security risks to the table. More remote connections mean more chances for hackers to get into the network, increasing the overall attack surface on the infrastructure. For this reason, organizations are prioritizing tightening security for WAN remote access without sacrificing the flexibility and reliability of these connections.

The easiest way to do this is with ready-made SD-WAN services with built-in critical security protocols, such as MetTel’s SASE (Secure Access Service Edge). It combines wide-area networks (WAN) with security services, giving a comprehensive WAN management solution.

SASE is a form of access control specifically suited for wide-area networks with multiple endpoints. The hybrid (cloud plus on-premise) nature of these networks means that traditional security measures that only secure the perimeter are no longer sufficient. Thus, it uses more mobile, cloud-based security services.

One good example is ZTNA (Zero Trust Network Access). Zero trust is an approach that adopts the “never trust, always verify” principle, meaning that every user, device, or network entity is considered untrustworthy and suspect. They must be thoroughly and continuously verified before allowing access to network resources.

All connection requests are granted or denied based on various factors, such as user identity, device health, location, and contextual information. And if the request is granted, it’s on a “need-to-know” and “least privilege” basis, meaning that users are only given access to resources relevant to their tasks.

Zero trust is vital in a remote work setting because threats may exist inside and outside the traditional network perimeter. Plus, if a hacker compromises an account, zero trust can help limit their access privileges and the damage they can inflict.

SASE also uses a cloud-based firewall called FWaaS (Firewall as a Service). FWaaS is a cloud-based security protocol that provides firewall capabilities and related security services as a subscription, similar to SaaS.

The main advantage of FWaaS over traditional firewalls is that it can be deployed across multiple locations and networks, providing consistent firewall policies across the WAN. This can help protect your assets, whether on-premise or cloud. FWaaS is also much more scalable and flexible, enabling organizations to add more protection without the upfront investment. 

3. The Rise of AI in Network Automation

Artificial intelligence (AI) is taking the world by storm. It continues to impact every industry and technology — and that includes SD-WANs.

In fact, AI can improve almost every aspect of SD-WANs. For example, AI can automatically identify network issues and come up with solutions to address them. This is one of the automation capabilities of MetTel’s Managed SD-WAN. This gives SD-WANs the power to self-heal, which can minimize downtime and improve network resiliency.

Another is dynamic path selection. Algorithms can monitor real-time network conditions, such as latency, packet loss, and bandwidth. Based on this data, the AI can intelligently select the most optimal path for each data packet to traverse the network. This can give significant performance and speed boosts to the network.

AI can also be used to identify critical network traffic and prioritize them. For instance, VoIP and video conference traffic can be prioritized to have minimal performance impacts on the applications using them. This can help speed up critical applications without adding bandwidth.

AI is also beneficial for strengthening an SD-WAN’s security posture. Machine learning algorithms can identify abnormal network behavior, potential intrusion attempts, and malicious activities. It can even act on them immediately to minimize damage.

Proactive planning and prediction are another strength of AI. Algorithms can analyze historical network data to identify patterns and trends. Using this insight allows the system to predict potential network issues or bottlenecks and fix them before they become bigger problems. It can also be used to inform network administrators to expand capacity or optimize equipment to reduce these issues in the future.

AI can even give you insights into your users. For example, MetTel’s Wi-Fi Analytics service can gather demographic and behavioral information from people who connect to your network. This gives you insights that enable you to deliver to them a better, more personalized experience.

4. VPN Alternatives

VPNs used to be a common security strategy employed by organizations. The main reason is that it allows computers to connect remotely to your network safely and securely. It helps protect personal information through online anonymity, facilitates secure file sharing, and bypasses geographical restrictions.

However, SD-WANs are increasingly replacing VPNs for several reasons.

One is that SD-WANs generally have better performance and user experience. It can route traffic intelligently using the most optimal paths, thus improving bandwidth usage and lowering latency. It can prioritize traffic in critical real-time applications like video calls or VoIP. VPNs can’t do this. 

SD-WANs, especially managed ones, are centralized and thus easier to manage. You only need to configure the SD-WAN once from a single control panel. VPNs, in contrast, require extensive configuration at each network site.

SD-WANs also have superior security features. While traditional VPNs offer encryption and secure tunneling, SD-WANs add to that by incorporating firewalls, intrusion prevention, zero-trust access control, and threat detection. This improves the overall security posture of the network.

Furthermore, SD-WANs provide automatic failover capabilities, ensuring seamless traffic rerouting in case of link failures. This enhances network resilience and minimizes downtime in a way that VPNs can’t.

SD-WAN has emerged as a transformative technology, reshaping the landscape of modern networking. Whether you’re an enterprise company or a small business, don’t get left behind — join the movement with MetTel’s all-in-one managed network services. We stay on top of the latest technology trends, including artificial intelligence in networking, and integrate them into our offerings so you can focus on what matters most: running your business. 

We have a long track record of providing the most reliable SD-WAN service in the industry. For further review learn about our most recent accolade by Gartner, 4X Leader in Gartner’s 2023 Magic Quadrant for Managed Network Services.

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