Understanding the Differences Between VPN and SD-WAN Software

vpn

Introduction

As new software like SD-WAN emerges, many people assume it is to replace old tools like VPNs. VPN usage skyrocketed in 2020 with the increase in remote working, but the SD-WAN market is predicted to go through exponential growth now too.

The topic of SD-WAN vs. VPN is currently popular with those trying to understand which is the best for their business. In this guide, we’re going to breakdown both software options to compare their pros and cons.

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN architecture – Software Defined Wide Area Network – provides a reliable connection to your network that encompasses all traffic transport options (Wi-Fi, mobile network, MPLS, etc.).

The software is designed to choose the best route for traffic to safely travel from the main network to the applications and devices using it. SD-WAN automatically highlights the best route for the application’s traffic based on pre-existing policies and priorities so that highly sensitive data and programs receive the full performance quality they need at the time. Lower priority processes will then have temporarily reduced bandwidth. This intuitive software works to keep productivity high throughout the organization – even when working remotely. It balances out bandwidth across employees, prioritizing those that are working on certain applications.

What is a VPN?

A VPN – Virtual Private Network – is software commonly used by individuals and businesses for connecting to a network securely. The VPN creates a tunnel between the network and your device to protect all traffic from cybercriminals and onlookers lurking in the shadows.

This tunnel is fully encrypted so that any data and traffic within it is completely safe. This is particularly useful when businesses have remote workers trying to access internal systems as all traffic can be scanned and decrypted before arriving into the corporate network.

There are several ways to install a VPN. The most common options are IPsec which requires additional software, and SSL, which can be used within your web browser.

The Pros and Cons of a VPN

Pros

VPNs provide businesses a solution to help remote workers access everything they need to while not jeopardizing the company’s security. They are also incredibly easy to use.

As well as ease of use, they’re also pretty easy to install and can actually be installed via the web browser, rather than having to integrate additional software being required.

If you’re using a VPN for personal use, there are also a huge range of additional benefits.

Cons

As with most software, a VPN also has its downsides. For one, the VPN has to be installed separately for each employee – meaning quick scalability isn’t possible. Standard VPN options typically have a limit on the number of devices it can handle at once, and this often doesn’t scale in the same way as required.  This means getting a large enough VPN option for all employees can quickly become costly and difficult to manage.

In a similar sense, visibility and access to the business network can be hit and miss, as with so many VPN connections working at the same time, it can be difficult to ensure visibility for everyone altogether.

Lastly, VPNs aren’t a full security solution. While the channel between the business network and the remote worker’s device is secure, that doesn’t mean their computer is protected from cyber-attack. That means they could easily – but accidentally – send malware through the tunnel onto the network or become a victim of cybercrime even with a VPN in place. A VPN will need to be a larger part of the cybersecurity strategy.

The Pros and Cons of SD-WAN

Pros

As you can see from above, SD-WAN and VPNs are actually quite different.

SD-WAN optimizes traffic routes to create a high-performing, reliable network connection for all employees, no matter what applications they’re trying to use. Unlike a VPN, SD-WAN works differently for each application on the network, rather than spreading bandwidth evenly across all connections.

In terms of businesses increasing their remote workforce, SD-WAN also helps to reduce the strain on the company’s central HQ network, as there will be less manual inspection required for each individual traffic stream.

Cons

One disadvantage to SD-WAN is that every application must be originally routed through SD-WAN – unlike a VPN which catches all traffic after a single installation. This means SD-WAN is slow for implementation and requires updating whenever a new application is introduced to the network.

Secondly, a standard SD-WAN is not used for security. You’ll need a Secure SD-WAN to benefit from the traffic routing service without compromising the business’s defense against cyberattack.

Conclusion

At first glance, it’s easy to assume one software replaces the other, but each tool actually serves a slightly different purpose. To understand fully which software your company needs, you need to consider the size of your business, the number of traffic streams being used, and, of course, what the reason for the installation actually is. It’s best to speak with a specialist to understand all your options.

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