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A Comparison Between SD-WAN and VPN and Which is Best for Me?

February 1st, 2023 | 4 min. read

By Jordan Pioth

Woman working on a laptop

If you are dealing with poor network performance, you may be looking for a solution to resolve this issue. There are two main solutions that will help you achieve better performance; VPN and SD-WAN.

It is important you know the differences between the two services so you understand which solution is best for your business.

Educating yourself on these alternatives before you make a selection will prevent you from making a poor decision that could have negative consequences for your organization.

Coeo has helped thousands of customers with their network performance and knows how important a reliable network is to an organization.

By the end of this article you will know what SD-WAN is, what VPN is, the differences between the two, and which one is the right fit for your organization.

What is SD-WAN?

Software Defined Wide-Area-Network (SD-WAN) is an overlay network built on top of underlying network connections, whether over fiber, LTE, MPLS, or broadband.

The solution is carrier agnostic meaning it can be leveraged using any number of underlying internet providers regardless of who the providers are.

SD-WAN is applied as a software network of SD-WAN appliances, connected by encrypted tunnels. Data sent over an SD-WAN network is secure due to the encrypted tunnels it travels through.

An SD-WAN solution continuously monitors the availability and performance of each network service. This allows for data to be sent over the most reliable network.

Data traffic is then classified based on application, ensuring data is sent out over the fastest, most reliable service.

This helps your organization with productivity and efficiency in the workplace by sending out the most important data the fastest.

If you would like to learn more information about SD-WAN, check out the Buyer's Guide:SD-WAN BUYER'S GUIDE

What is a VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an internet-based platform that gives users the ability to turn a public connection into a private one.

A VPN can help protect a user from malicious actors when they are on a public network like the internet.

When a user is connected to a VPN, the data transferred over the network is managed and maintained by a VPN provider rather than an Internet Service Provider.

VPN tunnels are encrypted so malicious actors cannot make sense of the data which helps you avoid becoming a victim of a cyberattack.

Differences between an SD-WAN and a VPN network

Though SD-WAN and VPN solutions may sound similar, there are multiple ways in which they differ. It is important to understand the differences between the two solutions so you can make an educated decision on which solution is the best fit for your organization.


A minor difference between SD-WAN and VPN is the cost between the two solutions. Since both solutions are internet based, they are both relatively inexpensive compared to other services that do not use the internet.

While the cost of these services varies from case to case based on the characteristics of each unique client, a VPN is, typically, slightly less expensive.

While a VPN is slightly less expensive due to its simplicity, it does not offer some of the benefits that an SD-WAN solution provides.


When it comes to managing and maintaining each solution, a VPN solution takes a little more time and effort to manage and maintain.

VPN requires more expertise and knowledge because it is more of a manual service.

SD-WAN, unlike VPN, uses the cloud and because of this, has many automatic features to help maintain and manage without you having to do so manually.

Most SD-WAN solutions are also more flexible than VPN allowing you to personalize your organization’s needs.

You and your SD-WAN provider can manage and maintain the solution together so you can personalize it to your liking while also not having to maintain and manage it by yourself.

Performance and reliability

When it comes to performance, VPN-based WANs can have high latency issues between locations if the locations are too geographically dispersed. With SD-WAN, you will not experience these problems because it is a cloud-based solution.

SD-WAN is also new software compared to VPN so it has updated features as part of its solution such as application-aware routing and dynamic path selection in which both features allow you to choose the best path for data to travel through efficiently.

In addition to better performance, SD-WAN also has better reliability than VPN when it comes to keeping your network up. SD-WAN offers a failover security feature that is not provided by VPN.

This feature allows it to automatically fix a service failure or outage by taking control of your IP address and transferring it from one network to another to avoid network downtime and data packet loss.

Which solution is a better fit for your organization?

VPN software is considered a legacy solution when compared to SD-WAN. With updated software comes more benefits than with older software.

While VPN can still be a reliable service, it is a better fit for small organizations with fewer locations that are close in distance to each other.

Additionally, since VPN requires more manual maintenance and management, you need an IT person on staff with knowledge of the service.

SD-WAN, on the other hand, is a better fit for larger organizations with multiple locations.

If your organization uses significant data, you could experience more downtime or higher latency with VPN so SD-WAN would be a better fit if you use more data.

Next steps to choosing your WAN solution

Now you know what SD-WAN is, what VPN is, the differences between the two, and which one is the best fit for your organization.

This will allow you to make a better decision between the two solutions and allow you to make the right choice for your organization.

No one wants to experience poor network performance just like no one wants to purchase and waste money on the wrong service for their organization.

Coeo has delivered thousands of SD-WAN solutions and has helped thousands of customers with their network performance.

We want to educate you on network information so you can make the best decision for your organization.

If you would like to speak with our team to talk about SD-WAN or VPN or ask any questions you may have you can schedule an appointment. TALK TO AN EXPERT

Now you know the differences between SD-WAN and VPN. Read this article to learn the challenges SD-WAN solves for your organization:

Jordan Pioth

When he's not creating content for Coeo, Jordan loves to watch sports, hang out with friends and family, and anything sneaker-related.