SDN vs SD-WAN: How to Choose the Right Virtualized Network

The networking terms SDN vs SD-WAN may look similar on paper, but they each represent very different kinds of business networks. 

This article will cover the differences and similarities of both SDN (Software-Defined Networking) and SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide-Area Network). It will also explain what business IT administrators and executives need to understand when comparing SDN vs SD-WAN.

What Is SDN?

SDN provides a method to centrally configure and manage physical and virtual network devices such as routers, switches and gateways within the internal network. SDN is ideal for managing network, control and data planes that are fundamentally detached from specific network devices. By decoupling the network control and forwarding functions, SDN enables the network control to become directly programmable by the customer or end user. This, in turn, allows for an efficient and agile configuration management in addition to an ability to quickly optimize resources via dynamic and automated SDN programs. SDN also supports management of both physical and virtual devices from a central controller, allowing IT managers to create a single management console for their physical and virtual devices. 

Watch the recorded webinar to learn more about SDN Management and Security Best Practices.

What Is SD-WAN?

WAN connections bring a wide range of improvements to software-defined networks including faster deployment, improved application performance and amplified user experience.

Unlike SDN, which was built to support processes inside your Local Area Network (LAN), SD-WAN focuses on the external components, allowing businesses to expand their computer networks outside the organization by connecting remote datacenters via the consumer-grade broadband Internet. SD-WAN uses dynamic WAN selection to route various applications over the best performing pathways that can be segmented for a high level of security.

SD-WAN complements existing network architectures by providing application-based vs. packet-based routing, offering greater control over user experience. This application-based model features robust reporting, zero-touch provisioning, policy-based routing and centralized policy management.

SDN vs SD-WAN: Understanding The Differences

While both options are designed to run on the same type of hardware and both can be virtualized and expanded to provide additional functions such as security or WAN acceleration, they are definitely not the same. As mentioned earlier, SDN primarily focuses on the internal operations within the LAN whereas SD-WAN routes applications to the wide area network (WAN) in order to connect an organization's geographically dispersed locations.

Other differences include:

  • SDN is programmable by the customer or user while SD-WAN's programming is handled by the vendor. This saves time and eliminates complexities for the end user.
  • SDN is enabled by Network Function Virtualization within a closed system, whereas SD-WAN provides application routing that can be virtualized or run on an SD-WAN appliance.
  • SD-WAN utilizes an application-based routing system via the consumer-grade broadband Internet, allowing for a higher quality performance and a lower cost per megabyte than Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) that's essential to SDN.

In a nutshell, SDN and SD-WAN are two different technologies that are designed to accomplish different business goals. While small and medium-sized businesses typically use SDN in their centralized locations, SD-WAN is used by larger companies that seek to establish interconnection between their headquarters and off-premises locations.

Learn how to simplify and secure your SDN Network in Windows Server

By taking advantage of the flexibility and instant response of SDN, both kinds of networks allow businesses of all sizes to become more agile with their network configuration. SD-WAN can also help businesses lower the cost of their WAN networks because SDN architecture is inherently less expensive than the architecture that's made up of costly and complicated hardware components.

When it comes to comparing SDN vs SD-WAN, there is no single answer as to which option is better or worse. Instead, businesses must look at their specific needs and goals in order to determine which system they should choose.

SDN vs SD-WAN: How to Manage and Secure Virtual Networks

As more organizations migrate workloads and tenants to private clouds, virtualizing all data center resources becomes a priority. The virtualization of resources removes dependencies on physical hardware and provides those resources with greater mobility, redundancy and high-availability. The abstraction of servers (VMs) and disks is common, and businesses are now virtualizing networks, which includes routers, switches, gateways, load balancers, firewalls and network security devices. Abstracting this layer and managing it with software is known as software-defined networking (SDN), and provides many benefits including, streamlined deployment, dynamic resource allocation and optimization, greater scalability, tenant isolation, self-service management and automation. The 5nine platform provides unified management and security for software-defined networking (SDN) in the Microsoft private cloud and its virtualized network infrastructure. Using 5nine Cloud Manager, admins can deploy, manage and optimize their virtual datacenter, including Hyper-V hosts, clusters, VMs, disks, networks and virtual network appliances with capabilities similar to System Center at a fraction of the cost. 5nine Cloud Security can be configured as a virtual router and managed by a network controller to protect the infrastructure using a virtual firewall, agentless antivirus, intrusion detection, network anomaly detection, deep packet inspection and network analytics with granular user access control.


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Maria Talley

Maria Talley

Maria is a strategic marketer who brings over a decade of digital marketing experience to 5nine. As a software industry insider, she brings a fresh voice and insight into content development projects at 5nine. Maria enjoys making complex topics accessible and engaging to various audiences by addressing their pain points and tailoring solutions that help IT professionals optimize and streamline their business processes.

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