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A software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is a more flexible WAN architecture that can take advantage of multiple hardware platforms and connectivity options. The controlling software works with any networking hardware. An organization can set up an SD-WAN using off-the-shelf hardware rather than specialized hardware. This makes SD-WANs cheaper, more flexible, and more scalable than traditional WANs.

Think about the difference between a desktop computer that runs a proprietary operating system and a desktop computer that runs an operating system that works with a variety of computers, for instance Linux. For the first desktop computer, the software and the hardware are tightly integrated. The operating system and the hardware on which it runs must be purchased together. In contrast, Linux operating systems can run on many types of desktop computers from various vendors. Someone who wants a computer that runs Linux can choose from a wide range of computers, from cheaper models to expensive high-end gaming computers, or they can build their own computer from off-the-shelf hardware components.

While the pros and cons associated with this choice in desktop computers are not related to the pros and cons associated with traditional WANs versus SD-WANs, a similar principle applies as with Linux operating systems, SD-WAN software is decoupled from the underlying hardware, giving organizations more choices for what hardware they will use.

What are some of the advantages of using an SD-WAN?

What is software-defined networking (SDN)?

Software-defined networking (SDN) refers to a category of technologies that make it possible to manage a network and adjust network topology via software. SD-WANs are one of the ways that the principles of SDN can be applied. All SD-WANs use SDN; not all networks constructed with SDN are SD-WANs.

SD-WAN vs. network-as-a-service (NaaS)

Network-as-a-service (NaaS) is a model in which networking services are purchased from a cloud provider, as opposed to an organization configuring their own network.

For NaaS, an organization only needs Internet connectivity to configure and use their internal network. Depending on how the service is configured, NaaS may offer greater flexibility and more cost savings compared to SD-WANs, just as other cloud service models like SaaS and IaaS do compared to traditional on-premise computing.

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