WAN optimization technologies have for years been the go-to solutions for improving enterprise application performance across the WAN. The WAN is changing though, and traditional WAN optimization technologies may soon not be enough on their own.
The rise of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) provides enterprises with greater control over WAN operations, promising more efficiency and effective application management across the entire corporate WAN infrastructure.

Traditional WAN optimization technologies aren’t about to disappear of course, but the challenges presented by the current — and future — state of the WAN beg for more than basic application optimization. That’s where SD-WAN technologies can help.

Applications have become so central to enterprise business success that poorly performing apps or downtime across the WAN can seriously reduce employee productivity, which can impact both the top and bottom lines.

For years, WAN optimization solutions have been deployed to ensure applications are as speedy and efficient as possible between headquarters, data centers and branch/remote offices. It’s a formula for success in reducing pain points related to TCP-based applications.
However, business-critical applications are finding their way onto the WAN more and more. Take voice over IP (VoIP), video and unified communications (UC) as good examples of applications that were previously run locally or over dedicated networks. Today, it’s increasingly likely to find such bandwidth-intensive — and lag-sensitive — applications running over the WAN.

Not all WAN optimization technologies are fully up to the challenge. Instead, WAN operators need far greater visibility into the WAN, as well as the ability to quickly react to potential issues that may cause slowdowns or even loss of connection to these critical apps.
VoIP, video and UC have been on the minds of network engineers and administrators for some time, but it’s only in recent years that the technologies have started to gain greater traction in the enterprise. And they’re all reliant on a smoothly-running WAN (at least as far as branch office and remote workers are concerned).

Not all WAN optimization technologies support such applications. That’s where SD-WAN can provide some additional benefit. Increased visibility, a flexible overlay network design and the ability to rapidly make changes to address new challenges all make SD-WAN part of an overall application optimization strategy.

The flexibility of being able to shift traffic between dedicated MPLS and public Internet connections can also help ensure application performance levels remain high. SD-WAN’s ability to use multiple links for data transmission and application connectivity can not only increase application performance over the WAN infrastructure but also improve confidence in its ability to keep workers productive.

The benefits of SD-WAN are frequently misunderstood. Many believe they begin and end up with improved total cost of ownership and reduced expenses, but it’s the flexibility in optimizing WAN applications that will represent the long-term benefits of the technology to enterprises.