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Comparing SDN and SD-WAN: What's the Difference?

StrongDM Team
Written by
Zero Trust Privileged Access Management (PAM)
Fazila Malik
Reviewed by
Product Marketing Manager
Last updated on: March 18, 2024

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Software-defined networking (SDN) and software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) are two buzzwords that have caused much confusion. While both technologies share similarities, they offer different approaches to networking. Understanding their differences is crucial for businesses looking to optimize their network infrastructure.

SDN and SD-WAN Key Takeaways:

  • SDN (Software-Defined Networking) centralizes network control by separating the control plane from the forwarding plane, enhancing efficiency and simplifying management primarily within LANs.
  • SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) optimizes WAN connectivity by using software to control data flow over multiple geographic locations, offering cost savings and improved performance.
  • SDN is ideal for data centers and large enterprises requiring high scalability and centralized management, while SD-WAN suits small to medium businesses with multisite connectivity needs.
  • SD-WAN provides built-in security features like firewalls and VPN tunnels, contrasting with SDN's need for additional security measures.
  • While SDN improves network flexibility and efficiency, it involves high initial costs and demands specialized management skills.
  • SD-WAN helps reduce network costs and increases flexibility but may introduce security risks and also requires skilled IT management.

Understanding the Basics

When it comes to networking, there are a lot of different terms and technologies to keep track of. One of the most important of these is SDN, or Software-Defined Networking. But what exactly is SDN, and how does it work?

What is SDN?

At its most basic level, SDN is a solution that separates network control from the forwarding plane. In traditional networking, these two functions are closely tied together, with each network device responsible for both controlling and forwarding network traffic. This can lead to a number of inefficiencies and limitations, particularly in larger networks.

With SDN, however, the control plane is separated from the forwarding plane. This means that network administrators can manage and configure the network from a central location, rather than having to make changes to individual devices. Decisions about network traffic are also made independently of the forwarding plane, which can help to improve network efficiency and reduce complexity.

What is SD-WAN?

While SDN is focused on local area networks (LANs), there is another related technology that is designed specifically for wide area networks (WANs). This technology is called SD-WAN, or Software-Defined Wide Area Network.

Like SDN, SD-WAN uses software to simplify network management and improve performance. However, SD-WAN is specifically designed to work across multiple geographic areas, connecting different branch offices and data centers into a single network. This can help to improve network reliability and reduce costs, as well as making it easier to manage and monitor the network as a whole.

One of the key features of SD-WAN is its ability to connect multiple WAN connections into a single network. This can include broadband internet, 4G cellular networks, and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) connections. By combining these different connections, SD-WAN can help to ensure that network traffic is always routed along the most efficient path, while also providing redundancy and failover in case of network outages.

Overall, SDN and SD-WAN are both important technologies that are helping to shape the future of networking. By separating network control from the forwarding plane and using software to simplify management and improve performance, these technologies are making it easier for organizations to build and maintain complex networks that can meet the needs of modern businesses.

Key Differences Between SDN and SD-WAN

Software-defined networking (SDN) and software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) are two popular networking technologies that are used to manage and optimize network infrastructure. While both technologies are software-defined, they have key differences in their network architecture, deployment scenarios, management and control, and security features.

Network Architecture

The primary difference between SDN and SD-WAN is their network architecture. SDN is focused on the local area network (LAN), while SD-WAN is designed for wide area network (WAN) infrastructures. SDN separates the control and forwarding planes of the network, allowing for centralized network management. This means that the network administrator can manage the network from a single location, making it easier to monitor and troubleshoot network issues. On the other hand, SD-WAN uses various internet connections to provide WAN connectivity while ensuring optimal network performance. This allows for greater flexibility in network design, as SD-WAN can dynamically route traffic based on network conditions.

Deployment Scenarios

Deployment scenarios for SDN and SD-WAN differ significantly. SDN is typically deployed in data centers and enterprise networks, where there is a high level of network traffic, and the network architecture is relatively complex. This is because SDN requires specialized hardware and software to function properly. SD-WAN, on the other hand, is suitable for small and medium enterprises where most of the applications run on public and private clouds. This is because SD-WAN is designed to be more flexible and can be deployed on a variety of hardware and software platforms.

Management and Control

SDN offers centralized network management, whereas SD-WAN offers centralized control and distributed management. With SDN, all network operations are managed through a control panel, which provides a single point of control for the entire network. This allows for greater visibility and control over the network. With SD-WAN, the control plane is distributed among routers across the network. This means that each router has some level of control over the network, allowing for greater flexibility in network design and management.

Security Features

Both SDN and SD-WAN come with security features. However, SD-WAN is more security-focused and comes with built-in firewalls and VPN tunnels, which provide greater protection against cyber threats. SDN, on the other hand, requires additional security measures to be put in place, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and access control lists. This is because SDN was designed primarily for network management, rather than security.

In conclusion, while SDN and SD-WAN are both software-defined networking technologies, they have key differences in their network architecture, deployment scenarios, management and control, and security features. These differences make each technology better suited for certain types of networks and applications. Ultimately, the choice between SDN and SD-WAN depends on the specific needs and requirements of the network.

Advantages and Disadvantages of SDN

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is an innovative approach to network management that has gained popularity in recent years. It is a network architecture that separates the control plane from the data plane, allowing for centralized network management and greater flexibility. While SDN offers several advantages, there are also some drawbacks to consider.

Pros of SDN

SDN offers several advantages, such as:

  • Centralized network management: With SDN, network administrators can manage the entire network from a central location, making it easier to configure and troubleshoot network issues.
  • Improved network efficiency: SDN allows for better traffic management, which can improve network efficiency and reduce congestion.
  • Reduced complexity and cost: By separating the control and data planes, SDN reduces network complexity and can lower costs by enabling the use of commodity hardware.
  • Greater scalability: SDN enables network administrators to easily add or remove network resources, making it easier to scale the network up or down as needed.
  • Better network performance: SDN enables network administrators to prioritize network traffic and allocate resources more effectively, resulting in better network performance.

Cons of SDN

While SDN offers several advantages, there are also some drawbacks to consider, such as:

  • High initial cost: Implementing an SDN network can be expensive, requiring investment in specialized hardware and software.
  • Requires extensive network analysis and planning: Implementing an SDN network requires a thorough understanding of the existing network infrastructure and careful planning to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Requires specialized staff to manage: SDN networks require specialized skills and knowledge to manage, which may require additional training or hiring of new staff.

In conclusion, SDN offers several advantages, including centralized network management, improved network efficiency, reduced complexity and cost, greater scalability, and better network performance. However, implementing an SDN network can be expensive, requires extensive network analysis and planning, and requires specialized staff to manage. Despite these drawbacks, SDN remains an innovative approach to network management that is worth considering for organizations looking to modernize their network infrastructure.

Advantages and Disadvantages of SD-WAN

Pros of SD-WAN

SD-WAN, or Software-Defined Wide Area Network, is a technology that allows businesses to connect their networks over large distances, such as between different offices or data centers. This technology offers several advantages, including:

  • Cost savings: SD-WAN can help businesses save money on their network costs by reducing the need for expensive hardware and leased lines.
  • Centralized control: With SD-WAN, businesses can manage their network from a centralized location, which can help improve efficiency and reduce the risk of errors.
  • Improved network performance: SD-WAN can help improve network performance by optimizing traffic and reducing latency.
  • Better WAN optimization: SD-WAN can help businesses optimize their WAN by prioritizing traffic and reducing the amount of data that needs to be transmitted.
  • Increased flexibility and scalability: SD-WAN can help businesses be more flexible and scalable by allowing them to easily add or remove network connections as needed.

Overall, SD-WAN can help businesses improve their network performance, reduce costs, and increase flexibility.

Cons of SD-WAN

While SD-WAN offers many advantages, there are also some drawbacks to consider, including:

  • Security risks: SD-WAN can create new security risks, such as the potential for data breaches or cyber attacks.
  • Requires a skilled IT team: Implementing and managing SD-WAN requires a skilled IT team, which may be a challenge for some businesses.

Despite these drawbacks, SD-WAN can still be a valuable technology for businesses looking to improve their network performance and reduce costs.

Use Cases for SDN and SD-WAN

Software-defined networking (SDN) and software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) are two technologies that are transforming the way networks are managed and operated. Both SDN and SD-WAN offer benefits such as centralized network management, automation, and scalability. However, they are designed to address different use cases and requirements.

When to Choose SDN

SDN is typically deployed in large enterprises or data centers that require centralized network management, high scalability, and network automation. With SDN, network administrators can manage the entire network from a central location, which simplifies network management and reduces operational costs. Additionally, SDN provides high scalability, which is critical for large enterprises with thousands of devices and users.

One of the most popular use cases for SDN is in data centers. In a data center environment, SDN can be used to automate network provisioning, improve network performance, and provide better security. SDN can also be used in cloud computing environments to provide on-demand network services that can be easily scaled up or down based on demand.

Another use case for SDN is in software-defined storage (SDS). SDS is a storage architecture that separates the storage hardware from the software that manages it. With SDS, storage resources can be easily provisioned, allocated, and managed using software-defined policies. SDN can be used to provide the network connectivity and automation needed to support SDS.

Finally, SDN can be used to improve security and compliance. With SDN, network administrators can create and enforce security policies across the entire network, which helps to prevent unauthorized access and data breaches.

When to Choose SD-WAN

SD-WAN is ideal for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that require reliable WAN connectivity at a lower cost. With SD-WAN, organizations can use a combination of public and private networks to provide reliable and secure connectivity between different locations.

Multisite connectivity is one of the most popular use cases for SD-WAN. With SD-WAN, organizations can connect multiple sites using a combination of public and private networks, which provides greater flexibility and reduces costs. SD-WAN can also be used to connect branch offices to the main corporate network, which improves network performance and reduces latency.

Another use case for SD-WAN is in cloud-based applications. With SD-WAN, organizations can easily connect to cloud-based applications, such as SaaS applications, using a combination of public and private networks. This provides greater flexibility and improves application performance.

Finally, SD-WAN can be used in virtualized network environments. With SD-WAN, organizations can easily manage and provision virtual network resources, which is critical in virtualized environments where resources are constantly changing.

Conclusion

SDN and SD-WAN are both powerful solutions for optimizing network infrastructure. While there are similarities between them, they offer different approaches to networking. Understanding the differences will help businesses determine which solution is a better fit for their specific network requirements.


About the Author

, Zero Trust Privileged Access Management (PAM), the StrongDM team is building and delivering a Zero Trust Privileged Access Management (PAM), which delivers unparalleled precision in dynamic privileged action control for any type of infrastructure. The frustration-free access stops unsanctioned actions while ensuring continuous compliance.

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In today's digital age, there are many cybercrimes that individuals and organizations need to be aware of. Two of the most common cybercrimes are spoofing...

SQL vs. NoSQL Databases: Which One to Choose?

Understanding SQL and NoSQL Databases When it comes to managing data, there are two main types of databases: SQL and NoSQL. While both types of databases...

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Technical Debt

Technical debt is any software code which achieves a short-term goal at the cost of some future drawback. It commonly takes the form of code that...

Telemetry

Derived from the Greek roots tele ("remote") and metron ("measure”), telemetry is the process by which data is gathered from across disparate systems to...

Threat Actor

What Is a Threat Actor? A threat actor is any individual or group that has the intent and capability to exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems,...

Threat Hunting

Threat hunting is the cyber defense practice of proactively searching for threats within a network. Threat hunters look for threats that may have evaded...

Threat Intelligence

The ultimate findings from cyberthreat analyses are referred to as threat intelligence. Producing threat intelligence involves a cycle of collecting data...

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds a second layer of protection to your access points. Instead of just one authentication factor, 2FA requires two...

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Understanding the Difference Between CRUD and REST

In the world of web development, CRUD and REST are two terms that are frequently used, but often misunderstood. While both are important and have their...

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Vulnerability Management

Vulnerability management (VM) is the proactive, cyclical practice of identifying and fixing security gaps. It typically leverages scanning software to...

Vulnerability Management Lifecycle

What is a Vulnerability Management Lifecycle? The vulnerability management lifecycle involves continuous monitoring and assessment of systems, regular...

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WebAuthn

WebAuthn is the API standard that allows servers, applications, websites, and other systems to manage and verify registered users with passwordless...

What Is a Policy Administration Point (PAP)?

A Policy Administration Point (PAP) is a crucial component in access control systems, responsible for defining and managing policies that regulate user...

What Is a Policy Enforcement Point (PEP)?

A Policy Enforcement Point (PEP) is a component in a security framework that enforces access control policies. It regulates and monitors access to...

What Is a Policy Engine?

A policy engine is a software component that allows an organization to manage, enforce, and audit rules across their system. It is designed to provide a...

What Is a Policy Information Point (PIP)?

A Policy Enforcement Point (PEP) is a component in a security framework that enforces access control policies. It regulates and monitors access to...

What is Access Discovery?

Access Discovery is the process of identifying and verifying available pathways to digital resources or information within a system or network. It...

What Is Active Directory (AD) Bridging?

Active Directory (AD) bridging lets users log into non-Windows systems with their Microsoft Active Directory account credentials. This extends AD benefits...

What Is an Open Policy Agent (OPA)?

Open Policy Agent (OPA) is an open-source, general-purpose policy engine that enables policy-as-code across diverse software stacks. It provides a unified...

What Is Continuous Authorization?

Continuous Authorization is a security concept ensuring ongoing validation of users' access rights within a system. Employing real-time session monitoring...

What is Continuous Monitoring?

What is Continuous Monitoring? Continuous monitoring is a systematic and ongoing process that uses automated tools and technologies to monitor the...

What is Customer Identity Access Management (CIAM)?

Customer Identity Access Management (CIAM) is a specialized branch of identity and access management designed to facilitate secure and seamless customer...

What is Cyber Threat Hunting?

Threat hunting is the cyber defense practice of proactively searching for threats within a network. Threat hunters look for threats that may have evaded...

What Is Disaster Recovery Policy (DRP)?

Disaster Recovery Policy is a strategic framework outlining procedures and resources to swiftly restore essential business functions after a disruptive...

What Is eXtensible Access Control Markup Language (XACML)?

eXtensible Access Control Markup Language (XACML) is a standard for specifying and exchanging access control policies in computer systems. It provides a...

What Is Fine-Grain Access Controls?

Fine-grain access controls are a type of access control that enables granular access to systems, applications, and data. Access is based on specific...

What Is Group-Based Access Control (GBAC)?

Group-Based Access Control (GBAC) is a security model that regulates access to resources by assigning permissions based on user group membership. It...

What Is Identity Fabric?

Identity Fabric refers to an integrated set of identity and access management services that provide seamless and secure user access across a diverse range...

What Is NoSQL Injection? Examples, Prevention, and More

What is NoSQL Injection? NoSQL Injection is a type of injection attack that exploits vulnerabilities in NoSQL databases by injecting malicious code into...

What Is Policy-as-Code? Tools, Examples, Implementation

Policy-as-Code refers to the practice of managing and implementing policy decisions through code, making them enforceable and verifiable within IT...

What Is Privileged Identity Management (PIM)?

Privileged identity management is the process companies use to manage which privileged users—including human users and machine users—have access to which...

What is Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)?

What is Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)? Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a proprietary protocol developed by Microsoft that allows users to remotely...

What Is Segregation of Duties (SoD)?

Segregation of Duties (SoD) is a risk management principle that ensures critical tasks are divided among different individuals to prevent conflicts of...

What is Vendor Privileged Access Management (VPAM)?

Vendor Privileged Access Management (VPAM) is a cybersecurity strategy that focuses on controlling and securing third-party access to an organization's...

What Is Zero Trust Data Protection?

Zero Trust Data Protection is a security framework that assumes no inherent trust, requiring verification from anyone trying to access data, regardless of...

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X11 Forwarding: What Is It, Why Use It, How to Set It Up

X11 Forwarding is a feature of the X Window System that allows a user to run graphical applications on a remote server while displaying them locally. This...

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Zero Trust

Zero Trust is a modern security model founded on the design principle “Never trust, always verify.” It requires all devices and users, regardless of...

Zero Trust vs. the Principle of Least Privilege: What's the Differences?

As cyber attacks become more advanced and frequent, organizations are realizing the importance of enhancing their cybersecurity strategies. Two approaches...

Zombie Accounts

Zombie accounts: forgotten accounts that open the door to bad actors looking to insert malware, steal data, and damage your internal systems.

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