How Does SD-WAN Work?

Aerial image of a highway interchange.
Get your traffic under control with an SD-WAN.
Source: UnSplash Denys Nevozhai

You may have heard about SD-WANs before, but what are they exactly? The acronym is short for software-defined wide area network, is a virtualized service connecting and extending networks over large geographical areas. It allows companies to be geographically distributed. Simultaneously, it allows branch office workers or remote workers to connect seamlessly to the network. 

That said, how do SD-WANs work? Let’s dig deeper below. 

What Is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is a virtual software as a service (SaaS) that separates the control and management processes from the network hardware. It turns the processes into software and makes them constantly available. 

This solution also makes these processes easily configurable and deployable. In addition, network administrators get a single-pane-of-glass view, allowing them to see everything from one dashboard.

As technology evolves and develops, SD-WANs interconnect more artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps). AIOps have become paramount in automating tasks, scanning for anomalies, reducing alarms and alerts, etc. 

Overall, the more the software can do on its own, the more your network admins are available to work on other projects. From a security perspective, the more automation you have, the better your security will be. An SD-WAN will provide these things for your network.

At this point, you might be asking yourself how SD-WANs work. I’ll answer you below.

How Do SD-WANs Work?

As mentioned above, these WANs are SaaS that run on existing network hardware. That’s why you’ll need to have hardware in place before using this hardware. To better understand how it works, let’s break down their 3 major components

1. Centralized Orchestration 

The software-defined (SD) part of the name implies its centralized control. These WANs are software-based and not hardware based. Thus, your network administrators will be very happy because they can control the network and its configurations from one dashboard. This centralized orchestration also facilitates making network changes on the fly and adding new devices to the network. 

2. Connectivity Abstraction 

SD-WANs can connect with pretty much any kind of hardwired connection. To make things easier, they will abstract away the differences between multiple connections. Abstracting connectivity helps you easily retain data transfer quality and add various network connections. This process helps to create a large, cohesive network you can easily manage from one central location. 

3. Intelligent Path Control 

The intelligent path control will allow network administrators to easily direct traffic flow based on demand. Admins can also program parameters. That way, when the traffic patterns change, SD-WANs can automatically adjust to the changing traffic conditions. These conditions depend on the pre-programmed parameters your network admins have supplied. 

So far, we have covered many technical points. That said, what are the advantages and disadvantages of using it?

Advantages and Limitations of SD-WAN

A graphic image of a finger pressing a green key of a metallic keyboard with "SD-WAN Software-defined WAN" written on it.
What are the advantages and limitations of SD-WAN?
Source: DepositPhotos Momius 

Let’s discover 4 SD-WAN advantages and limitations below


  • Is low-cost since it is software based 
  • Is easy to configure and adjust to configurations 
  • Has centralized control, which makes it easy to use and consolidates your network to one dashboard
  • Can be programmed to adjust to changing traffic conditions


  • Gives your ISP control over dedicated bandwidth
  • Gives your ISP control over security measures
  • Need to rely on device firmware and its security
  • Has decreasing effectiveness with distance for non-web optimized apps

Final Words

An SD-WAN is a great option for most businesses to consider since it’s a SaaS. That means you’ll spend less time and money setting things up and managing them. Using a SaaS is great since the service provider manages the software. 

As more AIOps appear in SD-WANs, they’ll only grow more powerful and automated. This also allows your team to focus on other things. Ultimately, the benefits outweigh the limitations by a long shot. 

The writing is on the wall; SD-WANs are the way to go. If you’re not in the cloud yet, you will be once you switch to these SaaS solutions. 

Have more questions on SD-WANs? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!


How does SD-WAN differ from WAN optimization?

Although WAN optimization and SD-WAN are related, they’re two very different methods of achieving the same goal. WAN optimization comes into play if you already have a WAN you’d like to optimize. The only significant benefit you’ll get with WAN optimization is latency reduction. Other than that, you’ll get a lot of limitations and drawbacks. Read more about the comparison and contrasts of SD-WAN and WAN optimization here

What is an SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is short for a software-defined wide area network. The service uses software instead of hardware to define, manage, and configure a network’s attributes. SD-WANs are ready to go out of the box, so it’ll require little setup time. 

What is application monitoring?

Application monitoring is a way to follow the real-time data stemming from your applications. It also lets you watch your applications’ performance since you can see the real-time data. If something happens, you can quickly act to repair it. 

Why use SD-WANs?

SD-WANs use your existing hardware infrastructure, saving you money. Besides the cost savings, you can control the entire network from a single centralized common point. As a SaaS, the provider will also do all the heavy lifting. 

Do you have cost savings with SD-WANs?

You can find cost savings with SD-WANs in administration—especially network service and ongoing maintenance. Network executives don’t need to travel to remote locations for deployments. Using centralized, policy-based management, they can get more done back in the office.


TechGenix: Article on MPLS vs SD-WAN

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TechGenix: Article on SD-WAN Security Challenges

Learn how to overcome SD-WAN security challenges in your business. 

TechGenix: Article on Enterprises’ Needs with SD-WAN 

Learn about the specific needs of businesses using SD-WANs. 

TechGenix: Article on WAN Optimization Tools 

Explore the various WAN optimization tools for small and medium businesses. 

TechGenix: Article on SaaS Implementation Strategy 

Learn which SaaS implementation strategy is right for your business. 

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