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SD-WAN simplifies the management and operation of a WAN by decoupling the networking hardware from its control mechanism. This concept is similar to how software-defined networking implements virtualization technology to improve data centre management and operation

A key application of SD-WAN is to allow companies to build higher-performance WANs using lower-cost and commercially available Internet access, enabling businesses to partially or wholly replace more expensive private WAN connection technologies such as MPLS.

WANs allow companies to extend their computer networks over large distances, connecting remote branch offices to data centers and each other, and delivering applications and services required to perform business functions. Due to the physical constraints imposed by the propagation time over large distances, and the need to integrate multiple service providers to cover global geographies (often crossing nation boundaries), WANs face important operational challenges, including network congestion, packet delay variation, packet loss, and even service outages. Modern applications such as VoIP calling, videoconferencing, streaming media, and virtualized applications and desktops require low latency. Bandwidth requirements are also increasing, especially for applications featuring high-definition video. It can be expensive and difficult to expand WAN capability, with corresponding difficulties related to network management and troubleshooting.

SD-WAN products are designed to address these network problems. By enhancing or even replacing traditional branch routers with virtualization appliances that can control application-level policies and offer a network overlay, less expensive consumer-grade Internet links can act more like a dedicated circuit. This simplifies the setup process for branch personnel. MEF Forum has defined an SD-WAN architecture consisting of an SD-WAN Edge, SD-WAN Controller and SD-WAN Orchestrator. The SD-WAN Edge is a physical or virtual network function that is placed at an organization’s branch/regional/central office site, data center, and in public or private clouds cloud platforms.

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