Learning Center - What is an SD-WAN?

A software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) connects local area networks (LANs) across large distances using controlling software that works with a variety of networking hardware. A wide area network (WAN) is a network that connects local area networks (LANs) across long distances. Large organizations often use a WAN to connect their various branch offices and locations to the central corporate network. In traditional WANs, the software that defines how traffic flows in the network is tightly integrated with the hardware that actually directs the traffic. Typically this software/hardware combination is purchased from a single networking vendor.

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. Learn more in the Cloudflare Learning Center.

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