Well over a decade ago, the term “cloud” became common vernacular when behemoths like Google and Amazon began to regularly toss around the phrase “cloud computing” to explain the paradigm shift occurring with how users were accessing software, computer power and files over the Web instead of on their desktops. Though some argue the term first originated in the 1960s with the notion of network-based computing, all pundits seemed to agree that no matter the introduction of the term, the way in which businesses and users would consume and deploy technology moving forward would forever be changed. In the same way that the introduction of cloud computing changed consumption models, it has also changed the network requirements to support applications shifting to the cloud (think: SaaS, IaaS, etc.).

Now, we are the edge of yet another shift as organizations increasingly cast an eye to software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) as a legitimate and low-risk solution for businesses looking to increase agility, reduce WAN costs and simplify their network operation. IDC supports this sentiment, estimating that nearly 70 percent of companies expect to adopt SD-WAN by the end of 2017. And with so many SD-WAN solutions popping up, you must look under the hood to determine what solution set best addresses your business requirements. Here are three things to consider:

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1. Routing Based on Specific Application

Traditional routing architectures send traffic to its destination solely based on IP address, ignoring any ramifications to application type, quality of service (QoS) markings, or potential network brownout situations (e.g., high packet loss, jitter) which occur even in expensive MPLS networks. With SD-WAN, you can apply business logic to choose which applications you would like to run over which link based on network conditions, and the SD-WAN solution will dynamically move traffic around your diverse connections based on real-time network conditions.

2. Flexibility for Application Placement

The notion of being able to manage all applications from a centralized management standpoint is a huge boon for businesses—particularly felt in the contact center space. As call center agents leverage a myriad of apps and deployment models—from live chat and video conferencing to hybrid clouds and SaaS-based models—SD-WAN solutions facilitate rock-solid connectivity providing for more options in workload placement, by ensuring mission-critical traffic is proactively monitored and dynamically re-routed in the event of carrier network issues. When evaluating SD-WAN solutions, look for solutions offering deep application level visibility and control for those applications that live in the public cloud (SaaS), on-premise, or a combination thereof.

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3. Security Components

With security growing more and more complex—and the threat of breach alive and well—it’s imperative to account for security factors when vetting solutions. The solution should provide: network-wide encryption capabilities; integrated PKI; internal network segmentation over the WAN as table stakes functionality. In cases where direct internet access is required at each branch, customers should carefully vet firewall and next-generation firewall (NGFW) capabilities included with the platform.  Most of the products in the SD-WAN space claim to have NGFW functionality, but many are very much lacking. Because of this, most will require the addition of a physical security appliance at the branch or a virtual firewall in the form of Virtual Network Function (VNF) as part of a customer or carrier provided Network Function Virtualization solution (NFV).

Moving Your Business Forward

The benefits of deploying SD-WAN are indisputable, and all signs point to adoption skyrocketing during the next few years as companies look to increase agility, reduce WAN costs and simplify their network operations. However, the task of choosing an SD-WAN solution can be daunting. As you start to pinpoint your unique business requirements, you’ll want to explore several things—chiefly, how much you are currently spending on your WAN from an OpEx perspective and how you can contain your costs by choosing the right SD-WAN solution to meet the specific requirements of your business.

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