What is SDWAN and Which One is Right for Your Business?

SDWAN is the biggest trend in enterprise networking today. Companies of all sizes are looking toward this next generation WAN technology as the best alternative to legacy networks to connect far-flung offices to resources hosted in the data center and the cloud. Many analysts and research firms expect the market to reach into the billions over the next couple of years.

So, what exactly is an SD-WAN? What is all the fuss about? How does SD-WAN work? And the obvious question about how does SD-WAN help keep my network secure? Is it the same old hardware wrapped in new packaging or is it something worth investing your time and money in? Let’s find out.

Attracted by the potential, vendors from all walks are wading in: Start-ups, telcos, and edge-router providers are each offering a different take on the basic idea. Understanding the core differences is key. Whether you’re a mid-sized business or a global enterprise, the following information should help you understand what does SD-WAN do and which is right for you.

Typical SD-WAN Architecture
Typical SDWAN Architecture


Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SDWAN) simplifies enterprise connectivity to remote locations and branch offices, providing needed flexibility, centralized control and monitoring, and reducing WAN costs.

Common features of SDWAN include, the ability to:

  • Combine network links serving one location into a single pool of capacity available for all applications and services
  • Customize bandwidth and connectivity to meet the needs of specific network services, locations or users
  • Centrally define and manage policies and network traffic without requiring manual configuration at each device

Download CIOs Guide to SDWAN


There are three basic types of SDWAN deployments out on the market: Internet-based SDWANs, Managed Service SDWANs, and SDWAN as-a-Service.  The performance needs of your global users and applications, the skillset of your in-house team, and your appetite for taking on the job of building and managing an SDWAN, will determine which deployment option is best for your business (see Not all SDWANs are created equal).

1. Internet-based SDWAN

Internet-based SDWANs use appliances at each company location, either behind routers or replacing them as the branch connection to the enterprise network and to the Internet (SDWAN appliances can also collapse the typical branch stack by replacing appliances for WAN optimization and firewalls).

Network traffic is forwarded over legacy MPLS links or the Internet depending on performance considerations and established policies.  While using the Internet to complement MPLS offers a low-cost, flexible and rapid deployment option, and makes it easier to connect users to Cloud/SaaS applications, performance of the public Internet is often spotty, particularly over longer distances and in parts of the world where the Internet is less reliable. Latency, packet loss and jitter are inherent to the Internet and these issues are aggravated with distance.

Internet-based SDWANs also leave the burden of managing the WAN on IT, and you still may have to invest in WAN optimization and other technologies to have a fully-functioning network.

2. Managed Service SDWAN

With a managed service SDWAN, the customer pays a service provider to install and deliver connectivity, as well as any appliances the service may require.  The managed SDWAN is a value-added service and may come with service level agreements (SLAs), but the managed service is typically deployed using some of the same hardware to support Internet-based SDWANs, and will typically rely on the public Internet for access to cloud/SaaS applications, meaning the same caveats apply: application performance and user experience will suffer over greater distances.

3. SDWAN as-a-Service

With SDWAN as-a-Service, companies acquire SDWAN much the way they buy cloud services today, using a consumption model.  Instead of constructing their own SDWAN using the Internet, or having a service provider deliver that same tech, next-generation networks such as Aryaka’s fully-managed Cloud-First WAN combine the security and reliability of a private network with the flexibility, low cost, and quick deployment of the Internet to deliver a superior connectivity solution.

Businesses can rely on a fast and secure private core network without having to build out heavy infrastructure and manage additional hardware at the edge, making it simple to expand branch offices or move locations as they please, without compromising on reliability and application performance.

Enabling this faster connectivity through a global private network layered with WAN optimization ensures every employee around the world has seamless access and gets consistent performance when accessing mission-critical applications anywhere in the world.


Not sure which SDWAN is right for your business? Here’s a look at the benefits of the different WAN connectivity approaches available today, followed by deployment typical with each, and a list of pros and cons:

SD-WAN Infrastructure Comparison - Cost and Performance

Average Deployment Time of SD-WAN

SDWAN as-a-Service:

  • Pros:
    • Private Network Connectivity
    • Reliable performance and consistent latencies
    • Works with all applications: on-premises, cloud, and SaaS
    • Built-in WAN optimization
    • Network and application monitoring
    • Deployment in hours or days
    • Zero CapEx/Lower TCO
  • Cons:
    • Not ideal for IT departments wanting to construct network infrastructure
    • Offered by only a handful of providers

Managed SDWAN:

  • Pros:
    • Reliable performance and consistent latencies within region
    • Direct IaaS connectivity
    • Fully managed service with support
  • Cons:
    • SDWAN functionality may not be fully integrated
    • Will often use the public Internet for transport, so performance will suffer over greater distances
    • May require customer to pay for additional functionality
    • Lacks connectivity to majority of cloud/SaaS services
    • May not include WAN optimization

Internet-based SDWAN

  • Pros:
    • Rapid deployment and cost savings
    • Network and application monitoring
    • Great for regional deployments
    • Deploys in days
  • Cons:
    • Inherits weaknesses of both Internet and MPLS
    • Does not address global application performance issues
    • Lacks the network component


  • Pros:
    • Rapid deployment
    • Flexibility
    • Zero CapEx
  • Cons:
    • Lacks enterprise-grade performance
    • Unreliable latencies
    • Frequent network congestion and packet loss


  • Pros:
    • Private network connectivity
    • Reliable performance and consistent latencies
  • Cons:
    • Expensive in remote geographies
    • Takes 2-4 months to deploy
    • Increased complexity – multiple vendors globally
    • Needs WAN optimization for bandwidth savings and improving application performance
    • Lack of support for cloud/SaaS optimization


Depending on who you ask, the size and potential of the SDWAN market can range from $1-10 billion, but everyone agrees this technology is part of a growing change in the networking environment.

SD-WAN market growth

“SDWAN solutions help in monitoring and measurement of network traffic, providing deep visibility to IT department into WAN and allowing them to quickly pinpoint a security attack. It enables enterprises to create certain priority policies in order to inform the network about how certain types of traffic should be treated.”

P&S Market Research

“Customers are moving beyond branch and cloud connectivity and using a Global SDWAN as-a-service as a unified connectivity solution for their data centers, applications and mobile users as well, completely replacing the existing hodgepodge of MPLS networks in the process.”

451 Research

“SDWAN is really part of the software-defined networking movement, where the idea is to spin up and down services…the idea that this entire network is being much more agile, flexible, and responsive.”

Forrester Research

“[Global SDWAN] provides the following capabilities within its WAN edge infrastructure portfolio: routing, SDWAN, advanced firewall and cloud gateways… Aryaka is representative of a vendor that specializes in this delivery model for its services.” 


Hear what Andre Kindness, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research has to say about SDWAN.

Want to learn more about SDWAN and get answers to questions such as “how do I manage an SD-WAN?” . Download some of these additional resources to gain more insight on the future of SDWAN:

Or contact us today to find out which solution is best for your business.

Or check out our recent offering, “The Cloud-First WAN For Dummies” book here.

Feel free to contact us today to find out which solution is best for your business.

About the author

Shehzad Karkhanawala
Shehzad is Director of Marketing at Aryaka. He leads public and analyst relations globally and demand generation as well as partner marketing activities for the Asia-Pacific region. Shehzad is an SD-WAN evangelist and often participates in webinars, events and discussions on the subject.