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What Is SD-WAN?

Businesses rely on networks to keep productivity going. Find out how Cox Business Cloud Solutions can offer the reliability and security your business depends on.

For companies trying to stay competitive in a digital world with rapidly advancing technology, a cloud-based software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) provides the leverage you need. Today, many businesses are migrating to the cloud and using solutions like SD-WAN to modernize their network. Find out how SD-WAN helps lower costs, increase bandwidth and safeguard your business.

SD-WAN Explained

A WAN is a connection between local area networks (LANs) that are located anywhere from a few miles to thousands of miles apart.

Traditionally, WAN relied on dedicated connections, exclusive hardware, and a lot of labor to connect users at a physical location to applications hosted on a server. This was challenging to maintain and wasn’t feasible for businesses utilizing the cloud, as traditional WAN struggles managing traffic and accessing applications spread across the globe.

The new and improved WAN is software-defined (SD)—removing network traffic management from the restrictions of a physical infrastructure.

What Is SD-WAN?

As the name suggests, SD-WAN uses software to manage the network between data centers and remote locations or cloud servers. A software-defined approach makes WAN easier to deploy, operate and manage networks across various locations. SD-WAN is made up of four key components:

Multiple Connections

SD-WAN gateways support multiple connections, including Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), broadband and LTE, over a wide communication infrastructure. Each WAN connection is secured with a virtual private network (VPN).

WAN Optimization

SD-WAN is chained together with other network services to improve overall performance. For example, Internet traffic running through the main network can be routed across a secure VPN for better security and performance.

Centralized Control

The primary means of control is centralized, typically located in a software-as-service (SaaS) application in the cloud. Having a central SD-WAN controller helps eliminate the need to manage multiple gateways and routers.

Intelligent Routing

SD-WAN automatically routes traffic from one WAN link to another, depending on network conditions. For example, if one connection is down or highly congested, SD-WAN will route traffic to an alternative path. It can also identify traffic by application, user or destination, and select a path based on that information.

How Does SD-WAN Work?

SD-WANs is created through encrypted tunnels between sites. Every site in a network is equipped with an SD-WAN device. Once these devices are connected to the network, they automatically download customized traffic policies and establish tunnels with one another to communicate.

Each organization is responsible for creating policies that determine how the SD-WAN manages and routes traffic based on priority levels. A variety of policies can be created to meet specific business needs, such as prioritizing data transmission for VoIP services.

SD-WAN Architecture

SD-WAN uses an abstracted, virtual WAN architecture for its network, consisting of a control and  forwarding plane. The control plane lives in a centralized location, such as a company’s main headquarters. This allows the network to be managed remotely from virtually anywhere.

SD-WAN architecture can support applications hosted in on-site data centers, cloud servers and SaaS services such as Microsoft 365.

SD-WAN Infrastructure

SD-WAN doesn’t require specific hardware to work. The software-enabled infrastructure is made of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment, also known as white-boxes. Businesses can use a third-party cloud provider to take on most of the network management responsibility of their equipment.

SD-WAN Device and Technology Requirements

There are several technologies and characteristics that coincide with the SD-WAN, including:


  • SD-WAN Edge: This refers to locations where network endpoints reside, such as a company’s headquarters, an offsite data center or cloud server.
  • SD-WAN Orchestrator: This is the virtualized management tool for the network—it oversees and directs traffic according to the policies set up by individual businesses.
  • The SD-WAN Controller: This is a centralized management tool that allows users to see the entire network through a single plane and set custom policies for managing traffic.
  • An On-Site SD-WAN: Network operators can access and manage SD-WAN hardware on-site versus in the cloud. This is an ideal option for businesses handling extremely sensitive data that can’t be shared over the Internet.
  • Cloud-Enabled SD-WAN: This SD-WAN connects to a cloud gateway via the Internet, which provides better performance for cloud-based applications.
  • Cloud-Enabled with Backbone: A backbone allows traffic to move from the public Internet to a private connection for better security and performance.

Benefits of SD-WAN

With a SD-WAN solution, your business can benefit from:

Advanced Security

SD-WAN directs traffic through a secure path with strong encryption, application-level security policies and data segmentation to ensure your network is protected.

Centralized Management

Easy configuration and control of WAN, cloud, and security on a single, centralized cloud-delivered management dashboard.

Increased Speeds

Real-time traffic management that continuously monitors the health of each WAN link for optimal performance.

Cost Savings

SD-WAN services help lower the cost associated with maintaining a physical infrastructure internally, saving on capital expenses.


SD-WAN allows operators to implement new WAN requests and lets businesses scale based on needs in just a few minutes.


VPNs provide an encryption solution for traffic moving between two points or networks. However, VPNs are limited to two endpoints and don’t provide businesses with complete visibility into their entire network traffic. SD-WAN is far more comprehensive and has the capability of enabling basic Internet VPNs.


SD-WAN evolved from MPLS technology, which has been the foundation of WAN connectivity for over 20 years. While the two are very similar, they do differ. MPLS handles failed connections with backup links, while SD-WAN uses intelligent routing based on custom policies to direct traffic.

Moreover, MPLS private technology isn’t available in many locations and is more expensive than SD-WAN services, which use broadband Internet. However, businesses have the option of using a hybrid-WAN to direct sensitive business applications over a private MPLS connection and route everything else via broadband Internet.


Both SD-WAN and SDN use the same method of dividing the control plane from the data plane to make networking more intelligent. However, they are used for different things. SD-WAN enables communications between networks and across various locations, while SDN manages a service provider’s core network.

SD-WAN primarily focuses on application routing, and SDN provides a centralized view for automation of network services. Companies can combine these services to better support their cloud strategy and simplify their network connections.

SD-WAN Solutions

Deliver the reliability and efficiency your business demands with a SD-WAN solution that provides improved performance. Service providers, like Cox Business, offer a suite of cloud solutions that seamlessly integrate with SD-WAN to help optimize your virtual space. Revolutionize your WAN and optimize your network.

What can SD-WAN do for your business?

We provide reliable, innovative and secure services to move your business to the next level of IT productivity and profitability.

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