SD-WAN or WAN Optimization? Why This Question Doesn’t Cut It
by July 17, 2017

Filed under: Networking Technology, Performance Monitoring

Have you joined the rising crowd of IT pros claiming WAN optimization is dead in recent years?

It’s the same story with all types of technology at this point. You spend 10 or 20 years relying on yesterday’s innovation, and as soon as something new comes along, the industry is ready to move on. For many, SD-WAN seems like the technology that will leave WAN optimization behind.

But are we looking at the SD-WAN vs. WAN optimization discussion all wrong? One doesn’t kill the other—they’re better together.

SD-WAN Is Great, but Not Almighty

The reason SD-WAN solutions are gaining so much fanfare is their close relationship to software-defined networking (SDN). The main goal of SD-WAN technology is to place an intelligent layer over your wide area network so you can efficiently (and automatically) route traffic.

With so many SaaS and cloud-based applications supporting businesses, an SD-WAN’s ability to eliminate packet bottlenecks and latency is a major advantage. It’s easy to get caught up in all the benefits that SD-WAN solutions provide. After all, there’s a reason why the market is growing so quickly.

But rather than having a narrow focus on the great benefits of SD-WAN solutions, you have to consider the gaps in their effectiveness. When comparing SD-WAN and WAN optimization, our own Alec Pinkham has said that:

“SD-WAN has no ability to affect traffic once it leaves the endpoint location. Once the traffic is on the WAN, it will follow the rules of the WAN as defined by the providers. SD-WAN technology puts the packets on the currently best-performing WAN (or combination of WANs), but it does nothing to actually make those WANs work better.”

As a standalone product, SD-WAN can bring plenty of value. But replacing WAN optimization shouldn’t be part of the conversation. You’ll get more out of an SD-WAN with WAN optimization in place (and vice versa).

Making Improvements to the WAN Itself

While your SD-WAN can help you achieve the flexibility and agility necessary to compete in the modern business world, WAN optimization still addresses the lower-level capacity concerns that have plagued networks for years.

Unlike SD-WAN, WAN optimization techniques address infrastructure challenges such as:

  • The need to support the ever-increasing length of packet travel as you support remote locations.
  • The need for data compression to overcome inefficiencies in TCP/IP protocols.
  • Caching heavily used data to avoid latency (choosing the best link to route traffic won’t do much good if bandwidth is limited anyway).
  • Enforcing quality of service on specific WAN links.

When you combine SD-WAN with a WAN optimization strategy that overcomes these problems, you can create a truly intelligent WAN that can maximize end-user application experience at all of your remote locations.

There’s just one question that remains after you’ve merged an SD-WAN with WAN optimization—how can you make sure it’s all actually working? For all the visibility you gain with an SD-WAN, you still need application context and packet-level insights into application performance from the end-user perspective.

This means you need the right technology in place for your remote locations. If you want to learn more about this phase of SD-WAN/WAN optimization, download our free guide, Choosing the Right Technology for Remote Location Monitoring.