Software-Defined WAN has generated considerable interest within the ICT world for a number of years, for good reason: After all, its slogan is essentially “No more MPLS.”  That’s enough to catch most ICT pros’ attention. However, to understand the true benefits of SDWAN you need to get beyond the hype to see what the technology can deliver.

Before we continue, let’s define SD-WAN. SD-WAN makes it possible to bond multiple WAN connections, Internet, Fixed Wireless, 4G/5G, Satellite etc. into a single cohesive fabric, making the best use of bandwidth and reducing dependency on expensive MPLS links. This is done by placing edge devices at customer sites that are managed centrally. Overlay tunnels are created on top of the available links to mesh sites together. SD-WAN is transport agnostic, so it does not care about what connection method is used!

What we really have today is the choice of three basic network ecosystems: 

  1. Full MPLS
  2. Hybrid MPLS and SD-WAN
  3. Full SD-WAN


Which one is best for my organisation?  This is the conundrum many organisations are wrestling with today.  For many organisations there is a direct business case here: Use the Internet pipe to deliver what the MPLS pipe would otherwise deliver. Why purchase a big pipe for MPLS when one can buy a smaller pipe with a parallel Internet/ broadband (best effort) link? SD-WAN will put the critical, real-time data on the MPLS link and the rest on broadband, thereby reducing the need to have a big pipe of MPLS to carry both kinds of data. This is a simplistic view of what can be achieved but there is so much more value SD-WAN can deliver on top of cost benefits.

Does the decision come down to cost versus know predictability, ease of deployment compared to complex configurations, etc, etc.  This decision should be made after assessing network ecosystems against current, and most importantly future needs. 

From experience, Star21 sees that the biggest benefit of SD-WAN is not cost savings. SD-WAN can provide other things which MPLS cannot, or at least not as easily. The management and orchestration of SD-WAN is what differentiates the technology from its competitors. Also, the greater agility to support multiple types of computing, wired and wireless network communications needs for both today and the future, especially in moving towards the “new normal” way of working post Covid-19.

The plug-and-play concept of the SD-WAN edge device and the point-and-click provisioning of the services are tremendous advantages. Everything is centralized, GUI based and much easier to manage when compared to MPLS. In fact, you don’t need a large team of network experts to run an SD-WAN, what you do need is a comprehensive real-time view of your network environment to ensure that SD-WAN is delivering required outcomes.

To conclude, Star21 as an experienced designer, implementer and manager of complex wired and wireless networks, highly recommend SD-WAN as a great technology.  However, pure marketing statements that can be misleading must come second to a thorough understanding of technical and business needs when assessing SD-WAN impacts to your business.