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What Are The Benefits of SD-LAN?

By Craig Mathias in · Experts · September 14, 2016

OK, so we now have a pretty good understanding of what SD-LAN is, and what features SD-LAN brings to the marketplace. This time we’ll look at the benefits of SD-LAN, since these provide the justification for making any investment or otherwise strategic decision.

We introduced some of these benefits indirectly in the previous column, but expanding just a bit here:

  • Reduced complexity – I put this one first because to me, and many network managers as well, this is truly a justification for SD-LAN (or, really, any meaningful advance in networking technology) if there ever was one. I’ve been an advocate of ease-of-use as a primary product design goal for decades, and not just for end-user products and services, but rather across the entire network value chain. Sure, it’s a sign of true wizardry that certain wizards can type mysterious strings into a CLI that make everything right – but do we really want wizards alone managing and operating networks? Let’s save wizardry for the design phase, and instead apply automation, policy, and simplicity to operations – exactly what SD-LAN does. Benefits? Big savings in cost, improved reliability, and, as we’ve discussed, much more. And we also simplify the number of physical functional units required, an additional big plus in the simplicity (and cost) departments. 

  • Reduced costs – As we noted last time, improving productivity is the Number One goal of many managers today, but, let’s face it: We can only improve the productivity of people so much before they need a weekend off. Instead, let’s make networks themselves smarter and use control and management tools to simplify the lives or carbon-based units everywhere. Chalk up another point for SD-LAN. 

  • App visibility and control – We’ve not discussed analytics here because SD-LAN isn’t analytics. Instead, think of SD-LAN as a source of data for analytics, and one dimension where such is critically important in understanding what apps are really doing on the network in terms of usage, traffic demands, time-boundedness requirements, and more. SD-LAN can use this information in conjunction with policies to tune app behavior automatically, from improving efficiency to prioritizing certain apps when necessary to blocking prohibited usage altogether.

  • Policy-based management – Similarly, we’ve not spent much time on policy-driven management strategies either, and for the same reason. But imagine polices as an abstraction of what we want the network to do (including enforced limitations), and you get the idea. Note that it’s much (as in vastly) easier to change policies than it is to whip out the above-mentioned CLI, and much more cost-effective, reliable, and secure as well. SD-LAN is absolutely perfect in such an environment.

  • Improved reliability – Again, since we’re trying to optimize productivity, any steps which can be taken to improve reliability likely knocks an item or interruption off the to-do list. SD-LAN implementations will be able to proactively deal with reliability issues where possible, as well as emergencies like those security-related issues that always rear their ugly heads at just the wrong time.

  • Easy scalability – And, just like successful organizations themselves, networks only grow over time. Managing growth and adapting to changing demands can be enormously time consuming, but SD-LAN techniques can mitigate the expensive OpEx otherwise required as a matter of course. I see a time in the not-too-distant future when SD-LAN systems will produce messages (on the Cloud-based console viewed on a handset, of course) like “you need to install another AP above Susan’s office. I’ve ordered it for you”. Installation is then limited to assuring building codes are met and plugging in a cable. The remaining configuration, management, and tuning will be automatic. And, of course the software- and policy-based nature of SD-LAN makes it easy to add new features, such as support for BLE beacons, new control or data efficiencies, and others that we perhaps (OK, likely) haven’t even thought of yet.

  • Opportunities for MSPs – And, finally all of the above applies to managed services providers (MSPs) as well. In other words, SD-LAN will provide real benefits for firms that operate across multiple clients and networks as part of their fundamental business model. They face the same challenges and constraints as individual end-user forms, after all, with perhaps an ever greater emphasis on OpEx.

Let’s close with a short revisit to a key point we made early on in this series: The importance of system architecture.

This is another case where simplicity is desirable, of course, but also one that can speed the adoption, implementation, and payback of SD-LAN. We know we need switches to consolidate traffic to and from APs, and PoE. And we need APs. But more than that? SD-LAN clearly benefits from the very simplicity it provisions.

Keep that in mind when that next refresh cycle begins!

All posts in this series

  1. Introducing the Software-Defined LAN: SDN at the Edge, and More (1 of 3 in a series by Craig Mathias)
  2. What Are The Requirements For SD-LAN? (2 of 3 in a series by Craig Mathias)
  3. What Are The Benefits of SD-LAN? (3 of 3 in a series by Craig Mathias)

For More Info on SDN, Read This Series of Articles By Marko Tisler

  1. Software Defined
  2. The Many Colours of SDN
  3. The Coming Age of SDN

For More Info on SDN, Read This Series of Articles By Craig Mathais

Craig Mathias (@farpoint1)

Craig J. Mathias is a Principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specializing in wireless networking and mobile IT. Founded in 1991, Farpoint Group works with technology developers, manufacturers, carriers and operators, enterprises, and the financial community. Craig is an internationally-recognized industry and technology analyst, consultant, conference and event speaker, and author. He currently writes columns for Boundless, Connected Futures,, and various sites at TechTarget. Craig holds an Sc.B. degree in Computer Science from Brown University, and is a member of the Society of Sigma Xi and the IEEE.