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SD-WAN vs. VPN: The Comprehensive Guide


With more and more applications being hosted in the cloud, businesses are turning to SD-WAN, an effective solution that offers scalability, as well as high levels of security and performance.

Nowadays especially, it is important for businesses to find a telecommunications solution that keeps their business running efficiently and seamlessly in order to provide the proper level of service to their customers. With that being said, it is only natural - and advised - that businesses compare solutions to see which is best for them.

Two solutions that are commonly compared include SD-WAN and VPN. VPN is a long-established network that has been used to protect a user’s connection and privacy on the Internet, while SD-WAN was created due to the growing popularity of the cloud.

Which solution is better for you? Below, we compare the two networks in terms of cost, maintenance, performance, and reliability, so you can learn if SD-WAN is better than VPN for your business.

What is a VPN?

VPN (Virtual Private Network) is an internet-based network that gives users the ability to turn a public connection into a private connection. When a user establishes a connection with their VPN, the VPN will help protect them against external surveillance or tracking when they are on the internet.

When a user is connected to a VPN their data is transferred to the intended destination by a network of servers that the VPN provider maintains, rather than by the user’s Internet Service Provider. A VPN tunnel encrypts data so any server that intercepts it cannot make sense of it or read it.

Therefore, when the data reaches the destination, the data appears to have come from the VPN server, rather than the user’s own computer. Furthermore, your Internet Service Provider cannot see your final destination - it can only see that you are connecting to a VPN server IP.

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN, or a Software-Defined Wide Area Network, is a network that connects enterprises over vast distances using WAN connections such as broadband internet, LTE, 4G or MPLS. It separates traffic based on security, authority, and quality of service. SD-WAN does not use a traditional router system. Instead, SD-WAN removes the need to rely on enterprise data centers and routers by using the cloud exclusively. This gives SD-WAN the ability to offer flexible scalability and bandwidth capabilities.

Difference Between SD-WAN & VPN

Whether SD-WAN or VPN is better for your business depends on what your business needs - both networks offer unique benefits. The main difference between SD-WAN and VPN is the software-defining network (SDN) features that SD-WAN technology is based upon. Both networks have differences in bandwidth, cost, performance, maintenance and security levels.

Cost of SD-WAN vs. VPN

Both VPN and SD-WAN are internet-based network solutions, making them affordable options for businesses. However, VPN tends to be more affordable than SD-WAN, due to its simplicity. This makes VPN great for businesses that need a simple WAN network for a small number of sites.

Maintenance of SD-WAN vs. VPN

While SD-WAN is scalable and grants flexibility due to its use of the cloud, VPN requires more maintenance and work. A great level of expertise is needed to configure and scale IPsec tunneling, IKE, and NAT-T in VPN. What’s more, maintaining a VPN becomes more and more difficult as additional sites are added to a WAN.

Performance & Bandwidth of VPN vs. SD-WAN

With VPN-based WANs, you’ll generally experience considerable latency due to distance between sites and spikes in congestions that affect performance. VPN also does not come with features that SD-WAN offers, such as dynamic path selection, Quality of Service, and application-aware routing. In addition to these features, SD-WAN is cloud-based, so there is no latency due to geographical distance as there is with VPN.

Reliability of SD-WAN vs. VPN

Both SD-WAN and VPN are very secure systems, however, SD-WAN offers a failover security feature that VPN does not. SD-WAN automatically fixes a service failure or outage by taking control of your IP address and transferring it from one network to another.

Overall SD-WAN Benefits Over VPN

For businesses requiring a secure network connection, SD-WAN offers a more seamless user experience than VPN. SD-WAN does this by extending from traditional WAN to various public clouds, which minimizes packet loss.

Furthermore, if your business uses applications that are hosted in the cloud, SD-WAN provides better security and makes running your operations more seamless. SD-WAN also better supports remote employees that are working from home, a coffee shop, or somewhere out of the office. With SD-WAN, you can restrict traffic based on a user profile or traffic type.

Another advantage SD-WAN holds over VPN is that SD-WAN offers more network connectivity flexibility. This is due to SD-WAN’s use of a variety of WAN connections, such as broadband internet, LTE, 4G or MPLS.

Create a Customized Telecommunications Solution with Coeo

So, how do you decide whether SD-WAN or VPN is better for your business? If your company is small and only requires connection to a small number of sites, opting for VPN makes sense. However, if your business is fast-growing and needs a system where scalability, reliability, and performance are of utmost importance, SD-WAN is the more effective option.

For more information on SD-WAN vs. VPN or to learn more about how Coeo can help you come up with a custom connectivity solution that meets your business needs, contact us today!

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