If you’re struggling with the complexity involved in managing, configuring, and orchestrating a multi-provider network, or managing connectivity for multiple office locations, you’re probably longing for a simpler way to run everything.

An SD-WAN, software-defined wide area network, just might be the cure for some of those network headaches you are experiencing.

SD-WAN essentially automates network traffic over multiple connection types, offering small and mid-size businesses (SMB) a cost-efficient, secure, cloud-based network option that vastly enhances networking. It’s more capable, more reliable, and provides a platform for driving business growth.

As a bonus, it’s likely to save your business money as well. It offers predictable monthly pricing and the opportunity to streamline operational costs by consolidating networks and better leveraging lower-cost broadband access.

If you are like most SMBs, resources can be a challenge, especially when it comes to IT. With an SD-WAN, your IT people are freed from constant routine management of the network and applications, allowing them to focus on more creative and strategic initiatives.

Let’s take a look at five specific ways how SD-WAN can improve your networks and your SMB’s operations:

1. Simplified management

With an SD-WAN, you can manage all your applications from a single central platform. Gone is the complexity associated with managing multiple networks and multiple locations. With improved visibility into network and application performance, it is far easier to identify and correct problems rapidly.

Perhaps most importantly, if you’re dealing with a large number of branch offices and other locations, SD-WAN makes provisioning network changes a snap. Companies can save as much as 90 percent of the time involved in configuring branch equipment when compared with the use of traditional routers, according to the analyst firm Gartner1.

That represents huge savings in time and costs and ensures that branches can be turned up more quickly when needed. The cost savings and value also multiply over time, Gartner notes, with the five-year hardware, software, and support costs for SD-WANs running about 40 percent less than traditional routers.

2. Better availability

With an SD-WAN, you get a single, consolidated view of application performance. It doesn’t matter if the app is in the cloud or on your premises. Either way, you can more easily manage app availability and performance.

Availability can be managed at the application layer through per-packet steering, to provide a seamless user experience and ensure, for instance, that your VoIP calls are well handled and that applications are properly maintained. It can also be managed at the link level, which can improve performance of a single link during disruptions and allow broadband links to function just as effectively as private links.

3. Optimized bandwidth

Another thing an SD-WAN allows you to do is to optimize bandwidth through the use of what might be called “internet economics” coupled with link aggregation.

For example, you can offload internet traffic, which allows you to free higher-cost private access for more important applications and uses. You can also route traffic dynamically during adverse network conditions, and include internet-only remote locations as part of the network if needed.

You can also aggregate access connections to gain greater bandwidth. For instance, you might blend a 10 Mbps internet connection with 10 Mbps MPLS and get a single 20 Mbps link. This addresses the challenge of deploying video or other high-bandwidth real-time applications to branch locations. Yet another benefit: you can route traffic dynamically across each path, either individually or simultaneously.

Because of SD-WAN’s ability to intelligently route network traffic based on your defined business policies, you can more efficiently manage bandwidth at branch sites. This means application performance won’t be affected by unexpected spikes in bandwidth use.

This better utilization of WAN connections, Gartner points out, does more than improve load sharing. It can delay the need to add incremental carrier bandwidth or allow for greater use of lower-cost internet connectivity. And if you use the SD-WAN to route traffic in a way where only the most important traffic is delivered over a more expensive link such as MPLS, with less-critical traffic delivered over the internet, you gain additional value.

4. Increased visibility

A managed SD-WAN service offers complete visibility into network and application performance. That’s a good thing. Because more visibility into your network, users, and applications improves your ability to manage the network. You can easily determine which applications may be causing network congestion, and quickly move to limit or disable any rogue users or video streams.

Your insight into how links are being utilized means you can prioritize critical applications for the best-suited link, and better understand when your links may need to be upgraded.

5. Any network, any destination

The beauty of SD-WAN is that it allows you to manage applications across any network to any destination. You can optimize routing decisions based on business priority, best path for that traffic, the destination, application type, or network costs. Importantly, you can also make sure that the business-critical applications always get the priority they deserve.

New applications can be added automatically, and you can customize your application classes so that they always are aligned with changing business demands.

The SD-WAN trend

More and more SMBs are moving to SD-WANs as they see what the technology can do to improve operational efficiency – and even offer a competitive advantage.

When your people are spending less time troubleshooting their networks, and are instead focusing on higher-value work – such as improving the customer experience – there is a clear payoff. A more efficient network removes the obstacles to productivity and enhances collaboration.

As important as the network is to your SMB today, if you aren’t already considering the value of an SD-WAN, you should.

1 Gartner Technology Insight for SD-WAN, 14 September 2018