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How will software-defined WANs impact the enterprise?

SD-WAN has a lot of potential for enterprises, especially as developers cobble together custom services and capabilities.

The evolution of software-defined WANs (SD-WAN) offers enterprises a variety of benefits, ranging from lower capital cost outlays to improved functionality.

But let's first discuss how software-defined networking (SDN) differs from traditional networking.

In a traditional network, each device is equipped with a proprietary control plane that understands and runs the switching and routing protocols necessary to route traffic as needed. With SDN, the control plane is separated from the physical device; instead, traffic is routed by a centralized software controller. This approach allows the network to be more dynamic; resources can be added and dropped as needed. It also ends the need to use proprietary software to run physical components. Using open source and open-standard software as their foundation, SD-WAN developers can add the capabilities they need with little or no knowledge of the hardware needed to operate the network. To that end, the WAN is virtualized -- much like servers are today -- because hosts are not aware that network resources are simulated and not physical.

Nexus of open source software, collaboration to fuel software-defined WANs

It is the intersection of collaboration, open source software and open standards where the transformation of today's WAN will occur. In a software-defined environment, it will no longer be necessary to purchase a piece of dedicated hardware that can perform a specific task. Instead, WAN management and services will flow through white box devices; connectivity will be cobbled up as needed. Optimization and other quality of service attributes will be generated to meet the specific needs of the application itself.

With open source software as the root, WAN software developers can work collaboratively, creating new services that will allow enterprises to quickly provision WAN links that meet their specific business needs.

We are not there yet -- the technology underpinning software-defined WANs is just in its beginning stages, but within the next few years, expect to see companies exploit the benefits yielded by the next generation of networking.

Editor's note: See Robert Sturt's step by step guide that examines what you need to do when picking an MPLS provider.

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This was last published in September 2015

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