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What are some of the weaknesses of SD-WAN?

Cost, complexity and interoperability issues with existing network components are some of the weaknesses of SD-WAN that organizations need to consider.

The internet is full of information regarding the benefits of software-defined WAN. Yet, organizations need to consider some drawbacks or weaknesses of SD-WAN as well. Additionally, some benefits of SD-WAN may not be fully attainable.

For example, many SD-WAN vendors proclaim the cost savings advantages of SD-WAN when compared to traditional WAN deployments. In fact, SD-WAN may end up costing considerably more to build and manage. The reason for this is organizations that are finding cost savings did not have to upgrade their underlay network components. Reusing hardware and software at the WAN edge can significantly reduce the Capex costs of SD-WAN projects.

However, many organizations eventually discover that the SD-WAN platform they chose will not run on their production WAN routing hardware. Thus, if your primary goal with SD-WAN is to cut costs, you'll want to do the proper research to be sure it's truly obtainable.

SD-WAN management and troubleshooting issues

Next, be sure to understand that SD-WAN architectures are considerably more complex to manage compared to legacy WAN alternatives. Network operations administrators will need to be trained on how to best monitor and troubleshoot the SD-WAN edge when problems arise. This includes monitoring overlay and underlay networks, working with multiple carriers and carrier technologies to troubleshoot problematic WAN links, and managing packet-level priorities across the WAN.

Additionally, since SD-WAN architectures are still relatively new and, in some cases, proprietary in nature, having a clear understanding of how to open and escalate trouble tickets with the SD-WAN vendor is a process that will require time to develop.

One final weakness of SD-WAN is the benefits are limited to only the WAN and not the rest of the corporate network. A full software-defined network or intent-based network architecture is necessary to achieve that level of centralized control and visibility. Yet, that's what many organizations are seeking.

Thus, be aware that SD-WAN deployments are likely to be a temporary stopgap technology as we move toward a full-blown software-defined networking (SDN) architecture. In some cases, IT leaders are opting to skip the SD-WAN deployment in favor of SDN across the entire network.

This was last published in March 2020

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