When organizations began to fully embrace both the work-from-anywhere (WFA) user model and multi-cloud strategies, IT leadership quickly realized that traditional networks lack the flexibility needed to support modern digital transformation initiatives. 

Legacy network shortcomings led to the rapid growth of software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). This next-generation technology enables a more agile network and provides high-performance access to cloud applications for users on-premises and off-premises. It eliminates the need for backhauling—routing remote traffic through the data center before accessing the internet—enabling direct access to critical cloud services. The benefits are many and include:

Better application performance: SD-WAN can prioritize business-critical traffic and real-time services like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), steering it over the most efficient route and incorporating advanced WAN remediation. Having several options for moving traffic helps reduce packet loss and latency from heavy traffic. 

Increased agility: Organizations can easily scale to whatever sites and traffic levels they experience, eliminating the need to plan network upgrades months or years in advance.

Cost savings and ROI: SD-WAN routes traffic efficiently over multiple channels—including existing MPLS circuits and the public internet via LTE, broadband, and 5G. This maximizes the usage of available WAN capacity and eliminates the need for new MPLS bandwidth, cutting costs. It also optimizes operations and reduces network outages, which frees up IT resources so they can work on other things.

Common SD-WAN misconceptions
Like all technologies, SD-WAN has evolved since it was introduced several years ago. Though it has been around for some time, many in the industry have not embraced it and don’t fully appreciate its capabilities because of some misconceptions. Below are four common myths about SD-WAN:

SD-WAN causes latency: This is not true. Secure SD-WAN eliminates the need to backhaul traffic for security checks because it can do this closer to the remote location where the traffic originates. This reduces latency.  

SD-WAN = uCPE + SSE: Universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) that is stitched together with different virtual machines and security service edge (SSE) components that come from different vendors creates complexity. An integrated solution like SD-WAN from a single vendor is much more efficient. They are not equally effective solutions.

Networking and security solutions should be procured separately: Secure SD-WAN isn’t only about networking. A vendor with strong capabilities and deep experience in both networking and security is going to provide IT organizations with better solutions. 

SASE will replace SD-WAN: This won’t happen because SD-WAN is a foundational element of SASE, a comprehensive solution that securely connects the hybrid workforce. The right SD-WAN needs to be in place for a smooth, seamless transition to SASE that meets the organization’s needs.

The future of SD-WAN
With the rise of distributed applications and the continued increase in network traffic, SD-WAN will continue to grow in importance as a critical part of corporate network infrastructure. In fact, it’s becoming foundational to the distributed, hybrid network because it gives IT teams the visibility to anticipate network issues, automate remediation, enforce consistent security policies, and centrally control access to applications and resources. 

It is also a critical step on the journey to SD-Branch, software-defined secure networking for branch environments, and SASE. Because it plays such an important role in these technologies, SD-WAN needs to be fully autonomous to provide scalable and resilient architecture.

Additionally, the role of AI and automation will continue to grow, especially within Secure SD-WAN solutions that leverage these tools to detect, contain, and respond to emerging threats. Finally, ensuring optimal user experience should be top of mind for CIOs because if users run into challenges accessing resources they need to work, they may find workarounds that will expose the network to threats. 

Embrace SD-WAN for more nimble infrastructure
SD-WAN is an excellent network security solution that has not been fully embraced by all because of some lingering misconceptions. It’s past time for IT leadership to bust the myths and move forward. The future demands that organizations have more agile and secure networks and provide their WFA users with seamless access to data and applications on the cloud.

Fortinet’s Secure SD-WAN solution provides Secure SD-WAN on-premises and in the cloud while offering FortiGuard AI-Powered Security Services to protect sensitive traffic.