How to Effectively Set Up Your SD-WAN Architecture

Image showing three devices connected to a cloud icon.
Effectively implementing SD-WAN architecture is key!
Source: kreatikar on Pixabay

Many businesses are starting to adopt Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) because it offers improved flexibility, centralized control, and more. Many of these benefits come from the underlying SD-WAN architecture, which will be this article’s main focus.

Read on to learn more about SD-WAN, how it works, and its benefits and challenges. You’ll also learn how SD-WAN compares with other technologies before diving into the different types of SD-WAN architecture. Finally, I’ll talk about how you can select an appropriate vendor and how to deploy SD-WAN in your business.

Let’s begin with what SD-WAN is and how it works before continuing any further.

What Is SD-WAN and How Does It Work?

SD-WAN refers to a network of software layers that sits over physical infrastructure. In essence, SD-WAN provides multiple virtualization layers to help run applications, implement security measures, and more. SD-WAN creates each layer using a routing, or switching software joined together by two endpoints.

Essentially, this SD-WAN architecture centralizes control in the cloud for easy network management and orchestration. The architecture combines the functions located at the edge of your networks for improved performance and flexibility.

Now that you understand SD-WAN architecture, let’s explore the benefits and challenges that come with it.

Benefits of SD-WAN

SD-WAN is popular because of the many benefits it offers. Here’s a look at some of them:

  • Improves application performance
  • Speeds up deployments
  • Comes with automatic failover
  • Reduces operating expenses
  • Enhances overall network security

Moving on, let’s look at the challenges now. 

Challenges of SD-WAN

Despite SD-WAN’s benefits, this technology also has its downsides. Some of these challenges include:

  • Adding more layers can translate to more vulnerabilities, and SD-WANs require close monitoring overall
  • Adding licensing costs can be expensive in the long run
  • Relying on third-party service vendors for several aspects, such as maintenance, is unavoidable
  • Selecting the right vendor requires time and effort
  • Having cloud access is essential

So, now you have a good idea of how SD-WAN works and its benefits and challenges. However, how does SD-WAN compare with other technologies? I think it’s time to explore this point further.

SD-WAN vs Traditional WAN vs MPLS

In this section, I’ll look at how SD-WAN compares with other technologies across several aspects. I’ve created a simple table that highlights the comparisons briefly. After that, I’ll talk about how SD-WAN compares with each one specifically. Here’s the table:

FeatureSD-WANTraditional WANMulti-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS)
SetupEasyComplex and requires a ton of time and effortModerately difficult
Real-time and automated configuration changesYesNoYes
Flexibility to manage security policies through a centralized controllerYesNoSomewhat
Visibility into networksHighLow to moderateHigh
CostLow, though licensing costs can add up in the long runExpensiveExpensive
PrivacyModerateHighExtremely high
Look at the differences between SD-WAN, traditional WAN, and MPLS!

Now, let’s go through how SD-WAN compares with each one in more detail.

SD-WAN vs Traditional WAN

Although a traditional WAN offers many features similar to an SD-WAN, such as disaster recovery, it’s complex to implement. Specifically, traditional WANs require manual configurations, resulting in human errors. SD-WAN also makes it easy to implement uniform security policies across all endpoints in an organization. This isn’t the case in a traditional WAN.


MPLS offers high network visibility, much like SD-WAN. However, it’s too costly. It also doesn’t have the same levels of flexibility as SD-WAN. Still, it’s much more secure than SD-WAN, and its Quality of Service (QoS) level is much higher because it’s a private connection.


Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is a broad architecture that encompasses many components, including SD-WAN, Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS), and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA). Overall, it provides stable connectivity, secure access, and high levels of security to organizations. 

Note that I didn’t place SASE in the table above. That’s because it’s a superset of SD-WAN. In this sense, it’s not exactly a competing technology per se. 

Now that you understand how SD-WAN compares with other technologies, let’s delve into the different types of SD-WAN architecture.

Types of SD-WAN Architecture 

You can choose from several SD-WAN architecture options. This section seeks to educate you on each option, starting with on-premise SD-WAN architecture.


As the name suggests, this SD-WAN architecture sits completely within your on-premise network. To clarify, it’s a router that shapes traffic in real-time and monitors the packets that flow through your network. If your company hosts all its applications in-house, this is the right SD-WAN architecture type for you.


  • Has no cloud enablement costs
  • Offers load balancing across multiple circuits
  • Shapes traffic in real-time
  • Provides an improved backup strategy

Cloud Environment

A cloud SD-WAN architecture uses an SD-WAN box that virtually connects to a cloud gateway. As a result, you’ll receive improved performance and reliability for your cloud applications. The gateway connects to cloud service providers such as AWS and Microsoft, so failover can kick in when required. Companies with many cloud applications can benefit the most from this architecture type.


  • Improves the performance and reliability of cloud applications
  • Offers better backup connectivity
  • Enhances load balancing
  • Has quick connectivity

Cloud-Plus Backbone Architecture

A cloud-plus backbone architecture is a combination of cloud and on-premise SD-WAN architecture. Here, the SD-WAN box in your on-premise network connects to the SD-WAN provider’s local access point. After that, it’ll route traffic through the provider’s fiber-optic network. This SD-WAN architecture type is ideal for companies with many real-time applications that don’t want all traffic to go over the internet.


  • Improves the performance of real-time, on-prem, and cloud applications
  • Gives better backup connectivity and disaster recovery
  • Enhances load balancing
  • Provides traffic shaping in real-time
Image showing lines connecting different buildings in a city.
SD-WAN connects all the endpoints in your organization’s network!
Source: geralt on Pixabay

You can choose one of the above architectures based on your company’s application setup and requirements. However, I want to mention one final type of SD-WAN architecture before moving on: SD-WAN-as-a-service.


In this model, you’ll buy SD-WAN services from a cloud provider. This type of architecture doesn’t entail complex deployment or hardware; you simply pay for what you consume. SD-WAN-as-a-Service offers the same benefits as a cloud service, such as improved performance and reliability.


  • Has high flexibility
  • Is cheap when compared to other options on the market
  • Provides seamless access to apps within your network
  • Maintains quick deployment whenever necessary

With so many different SD-WAN architecture deployments, how do you choose the right solution and vendor? I’ll discuss that next.

How to Select the Right SD-WAN Vendor for Your Business

Selecting an SD-WAN vendor is critical when effectively deploying your SD-WAN architecture. Here are some aspects to consider when selecting one:

Type of SD-WAN Architecture

The first aspect to consider is the SD-WAN architecture you want to deploy. Companies like Cisco and Juniper offer the hardware components for setup if you choose an on-prem implementation. You can even buy components from different vendors and connect them yourself. However, this might bring up compatibility issues.

You can also opt for SD-WAN-as-a-Service, where the provider manages all aspects of setup and maintenance for you. In turn, you just have to pay for the services you consume.

Vendor Specialization

Another aspect to consider is vendor specialization. Does this particular vendor service your industry? Do they meet the mandatory compliance requirement standards for your nature of operations? Answering these questions can help you zero in on a provider that can cater to your needs and requirements.


Cost is another major aspect. Start with a budget and look for a provider with the best bang for your buck. Consider bargaining hard, especially if you’re looking for long-term contracts. 


Make a list of the features you’d need, like last-mile connectivity, integrated optimization, high service level agreements (SLAs), and more. Accordingly, choose a vendor that offers them to you at competitive rates.

Regardless of which service provider you choose, you should follow a certain sequence of steps for deployment.

How to Deploy SD-WAN

In this section, I’ll explain steps you can follow to deploy SD-WAN in your organization. Let’s begin.

Assess Your Network

Start by assessing your current network and hardware to understand where you can implement SD-WAN. Sometimes, you might need to upgrade your existing hardware or buy new components like servers to implement SD-WAN effectively.

Test Your SD-WAN

Before deployment, conduct a test run to check important metrics such as failovers, performance, and delivery. Here are some things to consider:

  • Did you experience packet loss for your critical applications? How many packets did you lose, and what was the failover time?
  • Does your SD-WAN send and receive packets across multiple paths?
  • How’s the performance when you route traffic through the lowest-cost path?
  • What troubleshooting and monitoring tools do you have available for your SD-WAN?
  • How do WAN optimizations work in your network?

You can use the answers to these questions to compile your test results. Additionally, these results can help you evaluate the performance of your SD-WAN provider. Accordingly, suggest any optimizations you require.

Segregate Your Traffic

Before deploying your SD-WAN, devise a plan to segregate your traffic. To give you an idea, voice and video calls should take a low-latency path, applications need a reliable path, and bulk data transfers can take a slow and inexpensive course. 

Create a Monitoring Strategy

Make sure to have a comprehensive monitoring and troubleshooting strategy to capture events and fix them as soon as possible. Also, ensure that the failover is working properly as well. Overall, this will help you avoid any headaches in the future.

Check Your Security

Your SD-WAN should support the safe integration of additional devices, encryption, protection against malware, and more. Therefore, you should list your security requirements and ensure that they’re a part of your agreement with your SD-WAN provider.

Once you’ve evaluated these aspects, follow the instructions provided by your SD-WAN vendor to install the SD-WAN in your network. Typically, start by deploying the controllers, followed by the migration of data centers and hubs. Lastly, you can deploy your SD-WAN on remote sites like branches. 

If you’re using SD-WAN-as-a-Service, you don’t need any complex deployments. Simply buy the subscription and start using the service. 

I hope this information helps you make the most of your SD-WAN networks. Before I end, let’s quickly recap everything discussed in the article.

The Bottom Line

To conclude, effectively implementing an SD-WAN architecture can offer many benefits. These include high levels of network visibility, control, improved security, enhanced performance, and more.

However, you must choose the right type of SD-WAN architecture for your business to leverage these benefits. You should also consider selecting the right vendor to cater to your business’s needs and requirements.

Lastly, you can use the steps above to deploy your SD-WAN architecture effectively. Feel free to refer back to this article in the future should you need a quick refresher!

Do you have more questions about setting up SD-WAN architecture? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!


What are the components of an SD-WAN architecture?

An SD-WAN architecture consists of four broad components: data plane, control plane, orchestration plane, and management plane. The data plane sits at the endpoint and connects to the control plane through routers, while the control plane handles traffic shaping and routing. The orchestration and management planes sit on the cloud and are responsible for handling features like analytics, automation, integration, etc.

Which OSI layer corresponds to SD-WAN?

An SD-WAN has a wide-arching presence and operates from Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) layers 2 to 7. Essentially, it handles everything from packet routing to application flow but isn’t involved in the physical routing of data packets. In this sense, it’s a form of software that creates an abstraction layer for flexible deployments of security and other functionalities. 

What are the mandatory features of an SD-WAN?

According to Gartner, SD-WAN must have four characteristics. It must support multiple connections, such as MPLS and 5G, and it must have capabilities for dynamic path selections. Furthermore, it must support VPNs and have an easy-to-manage interface.

Is SD-WAN a cloud-based technology?

Not always. You can choose to have an on-premise deployment of SD-WAN if you don’t have a cloud presence. However, a majority of SD-WAN deployments are on the cloud. Cisco SD-WAN is also a cloud-delivered WAN that supports software-defined networking principles. 

Does SD-WAN increase my bandwidth?

Yes, an SD-WAN architecture increases your bandwidth. Typically, it aggregates all WAN circuits from multiple providers to increase your bandwidth. In the process, it also eases traffic congestion, handles load balancing, reduces latency, and increases application performance.


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