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Despite its advantages, what are the top disadvantages of SD-WAN?

Cost, complexity, security, training, troubleshooting and software bugs are some of the top disadvantages of SD-WAN. See how these issues affect SD-WAN deployment.

Software-defined WANs deliver clear benefits and have reached a maturity level that warrants consideration for customers with branch offices. However, enterprises must also weigh the disadvantages of SD-WAN before they decide to adopt the technology.

Check out this list of some of the top disadvantages of SD-WAN:

Cost. SD-WAN will increase costs in the near term, but provide operational efficiency and savings in the long term. The underlying WAN circuit cost may not immediately change, but you will have additional software licensing for this new layer of software. Long-term savings may eventually come from circuit changes or optimization, but the savings won't come immediately.

Training. SD-WAN completely upends the WAN status quo and will require a lot of training for IT teams because of the new approach to WAN management. You can't simply drop an SD-WAN in and let your teams manage it. Be sure to allocate sufficient training budgets.

Security. WANs represent significant exposures because they are outward-facing and rely on transport outside the firewall. Deploying any new WAN technology can introduce unintended security issues. Additionally, vulnerabilities could now exist across both WAN layers.

Complexity. Typically, WAN connections are a single service from one company. SD-WAN adds an extra component on top, bringing an overlay to the existing WAN connection -- the underlay -- creating complexity.

Software. Software is more susceptible to errors, bugs and glitches, which is why for years WAN vendors preferred to hard-code functions into hardware for more stability. By moving to SD-WAN, customers will gain tremendous operational flexibility, but that comes at the expense of the peculiarities and limitations of software.

Troubleshooting. Because SD-WAN includes both an underlay and overlay in the WAN service -- and possibly from two different vendors -- troubleshooting becomes more complex. WAN issues then require two different places to investigate before zeroing in on the problem.

Overall, these disadvantages of SD-WAN should not be taken as a reason not to investigate or deploy SD-WAN. Instead, enterprises should view these issues as important considerations in the planning process.

This was last published in June 2019

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