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Difference between SD-WAN and Traditional WAN

Author : PyNet Labs
Last Modified: February 21, 2024 
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Difference between SD-WAN and Traditional WAN – Technology is meant to evolve, getting better with time. So, is SD-WAN over traditional WAN.

SD-WAN is an evolution of the traditional WAN (Wide Area Network) that provides advanced services and decreases costs while at the same time setting the stage for more advanced capabilities in the future. PyNet Labs is world-renowned for its Cisco SD-WAN training, check out our latest batches.

Whether your organization is still relying on Traditional WAN, has switched entirely to SD-WAN solutions, or implementing some combination of the two, here’s what you need to know about these two technologies. Before moving to the difference between SD-WAN and Traditional WAN, you need to understand both these technologies.

What is SD-WAN?

Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) uses SDN technology to connect any user to any application with integrated capabilities for multi-cloud, security, unified communications, and application optimization.

Some might say SD-WAN are over-hyped or are becoming an increasingly popular option to businesses worldwide but, its benefits are real. As organizational tools and apps have moved online, network traffic has increased, challenging traditional WANs to their full limits.

In such a scenario, SD-WANs provide organizations with an end-to-end view of the entire WAN and the ability to prioritize network traffic over different connections. Moreover, the central network management with SD-WAN offers control and flexibility.

Advantages of SD-WAN

Here are some advantages of SD-WAN –

  • Enhanced Performance: SD-WAN optimizes network traffic by dynamically selecting the best path for data transmission based on real-time conditions. This results in reduced latency, improved application response times, and overall enhanced network performance.
  • Cost Savings: By effectively utilizing multiple network connections, SD-WAN allows organizations to use cost-effective broadband internet alongside traditional MPLS lines. This reduces need for expensive dedicated connections and leads to significant cost savings in any network infrastructure.
  • Centralized Management and Control: SD-WAN provides a centralized management interface, allowing IT administrators to configure, monitor, and control the entire network from a single location. This simplifies network management, reduces manual configurations, and streamlines troubleshooting processes.
  • Secure Connectivity: SD-WAN often incorporates built-in security features such as encryption, firewall integration, and secure connectivity between branches and data centers. By enforcing consistent security policies, SD-WAN helps improve overall network security.
  • Scalability: SD-WAN is highly scalable and adaptable to changing business needs. Adding new branches or locations becomes easier, and the network can adjust to new changing requirements without significant hardware upgrades.

Overall, SD-WAN provides organizations with improved network performance, cost savings, centralized management, enhanced security, and the flexibility to meet the demands of a modern and dynamic business environment. 

 Disadvantages of SD-WAN

  • Complexity and Implementation Challenges: Implementing SD-WAN can be complex, especially for larger and more distributed networks. Integrating SD-WAN with existing infrastructure, configuring policies, and ensuring smooth migration can bring challenges and require skilled networking professionals.
  • Initial Cost and Investment: Deploying SD-WAN involves an initial investment in hardware, software, and licensing however, it can lead to cost savings in the long run for the organizations.
  • Security Concerns: While SD-WAN can offer built-in security features, it can also introduce new security risks if not properly configured or if security measures are not consistently applied across all branches. Properly checking the security concerns is important to prevent potential vulnerabilities.
  • Dependence on Internet Connectivity: SD-WAN heavily relies on internet connectivity, especially when utilizing broadband connections. If an organization experiences internet outages or unreliable connections, it can impact overall network performance and availability.
  • Compatibility and Interoperability: Integrating SD-WAN with legacy systems or certain applications may require additional effort to ensure compatibility and interoperability. Some applications may not be optimized for SD-WAN, leading to potential performance issues.

Now let’s understand traditional WAN briefly along with its advantages and limitations.

What is WAN?

Traditional networking or WANs are connections between several local area networks (LAN) with large geographic distances between them, and their configuration is distributed. WAN connects remote offices or campuses to centralized network data centers, sharing data, accessing applications, and performing various business functions.

Traditional wide area network (WAN) technology is still a valid and reliable way to deliver and receive network services. But, when companies expand their network infrastructure to new locations and over long distances, the data may travel from multiple carriers. That results in many mis-happening such as network congestion, dropped calls, data packet loss, and possible service outages.

Also, as you know, WAN configuration is distributed, every single router and server must be locally updated each time there is a change in provisioning or policy. This is a highly time-consuming and tedious process.

Besides, while using data-intensive applications with low latency requirements such as virtual reality (VR), HD video streaming, and video conferencing, WAN starts harming the user experience. You can take these points as the limitations of traditional WAN.

Advantages of WAN

  • Geographical Connectivity: WAN enables organizations to connect multiple offices, branches, or data centers across different cities, countries, or even continents. This geographical connectivity facilitates smooth communication and collaboration between remote locations, allowing employees to work together while they are working from home.
  • Centralized Resource Sharing: WAN allows centralized sharing of resources such as data, applications, and servers. This centralized approach helps in managing data, reduces redundancy, and ensures that all users have access to the same resources regardless of their physical location.
  • Improved Data Backup and Disaster Recovery: With WAN, data can be backed up to remote locations. In the event of a disaster or data loss at one site, the data can be quickly recovered from a different location, ensuring business continuity and data availability.
  • Cost-Effective Communication: WAN enables cost-effective communication between remote locations by utilizing technologies like the internet and leased lines. It reduces the need for expensive long-distance telephone calls and physical data transfer methods.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: WAN can easily scale to accommodate the growing needs of an organization. As new offices or branches are added, they can be seamlessly integrated into the existing WAN infrastructure. This scalability and flexibility support an organization’s expansion and changing business requirements.

Disadvantages of WAN

  • Latency: WANs cover large geographical areas, and data packets may traverse multiple intermediate points before reaching their destination. This can result in increased latency, affecting the responsiveness of applications.
  • Cost: Building and maintaining a WAN infrastructure can be expensive, especially when using dedicated leased lines or MPLS connections. The costs associated with equipment, service contracts, and ongoing management can be substantial.
  • Complexity: WANs are inherently complex, involving multiple network devices, protocols, and configurations. Managing and troubleshooting issues across a distributed network can be challenging, requiring skilled IT personnel.
  • Security Risks: WANs connect multiple locations, making them susceptible to security breaches and cyberattacks. Securing data across the WAN requires robust encryption, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems to protect sensitive information.
  • Reliability: WAN reliability can be influenced by factors such as the quality of the underlying transport links, potential network congestion, and failures in intermediate network devices. Ensuring high availability and uptime may require redundant links and failover mechanisms, adding to the complexity and cost.

Before moving to the difference between SD-WAN and WAN, let’s see some similarities between the two.

Similarities between SD-WAN and WAN

Here are some similarities between SD-WAN and WAN –

  • Connectivity between Remote Sites: Both SD-WAN and traditional WAN provide connectivity solutions for connecting geographically dispersed locations within an organization. They allow seamless communication and data exchange between branch offices, data centers, and other remote sites.
  • Support for Multiple Applications: Both SD-WAN and traditional WAN are designed to support various applications, including voice, video, data, and cloud-based services. They aim to ensure that different types of traffic are delivered efficiently and with appropriate quality of service (QoS) levels.
  • Network Security: Both SD-WAN and traditional WAN address network security concerns. While the specific security mechanisms may differ, both solutions incorporate features like encryption, firewalls, and access controls to protect data and prevent unauthorized access or attacks on the network.

Now, let’s move to the difference between SD-WAN and Traditional Wan.

Difference between SD-WAN and WAN

The major difference between SD-WAN and WAN are as follow:

Reliability, Prioritization, and Cost

Traditional WAN running over MPLS allows for prioritization and can give users traffic predictability and reliability but are typically more expensive. Whereas SD-WAN reduces internet costs as users don’t have to pay much to upgrade their bandwidth. SD-WAN runs on 4G LTE and internet broadband, typically less expensive than service delivered via an MPLS network. Also, SD-WAN allows for dozens of application prioritization options resulting in no packet loss.


Traditional WANs are secure private and allow for site-to-site secure communication. Similarly, with SD-WAN, users have end-to-end encryption over a VPN connection. On top of it, users can implement and integrate additional security layers like firewalls for unified threat management.

Network Scalability and Control

Since traditional WAN configuration is distributed, any changes to your WAN has to be done manually. But, with an SDN solution, it’s easier to scale SD-WAN as your organization grows, especially if you partner with a managed service provider.


If we compare the two technologies, you will get a better view of the difference between SD-WAN and WAN.

Reduced Network CostConventional WANs are usually an expensive mix of private and public data lines.
Application prioritization options that let users send important data over the best network link.It offers reliability and predictability with prioritization of critical traffic like voice & video.
SD-WAN uses encryption & VPN for secure end-to-end network connections.Traditional WAN’s MPLS connection is very secure.
SD-WAN is Easy to update and scale.Changes to traditional WANs need to be done manually.
SD-WAN solutions have in-built virus detection, IPsec, firewall management, and encrypted network traffic for data security.While using traditional WANs on MPLS, it offers great QoS.
SD-WAN can detect outages in milliseconds.As users and applications have moved beyond the enterprise, traditional WANs Resilience perimeter has dissolved.
SD-WAN offers clear network visibility allowing users to check the status of the different devices connected to the network and can operate them from a centralized location.Traditional WANs miss out on the ability to monitor the performance of their network.

These are the main difference between SD-WAN and WAN.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1 – What is the difference between SD-WAN and traditional WAN?

SD-WAN is a software-defined approach with centralized control and dynamic traffic routing, using multiple transport options, advanced security, and simplified management. In contrast, traditional WAN relies on hardware-based configurations with static routing, limited transport options, and separate security setups for each location.

Q2 – What is the difference between SD-WAN and traditional routing?

SD-WAN uses software-defined control and dynamic traffic routing with multiple transport options, offering improved agility and application performance, while traditional routing relies on static configurations and limited transport choices. SD-WAN is more flexible and cost-effective than traditional routing.

Q3 – What is a traditional WAN?

A traditional WAN is a network infrastructure that connects geographically dispersed locations using hardware-based configurations and static routing protocols like OSPF or BGP. It typically relies on dedicated leased lines or MPLS for secure data transmission.

Q4 – What are two benefits of implementing a traditional WAN instead of an SD-WAN solution?

Two benefits of implementing a traditional WAN are predictable performance, especially with MPLS, and compatibility with existing infrastructure, reducing migration complexities.


After knowing the difference between SD-WAN and Traditional WAN, you will be able to analyze which technology is a valid and reliable way for your organization to deliver and receive network services. Of course, it’s SD-WAN, but some businesses have a hybrid approach with both (SD-WAN and WAN) in play, and it’s pretty beneficial. In the end, it comes down to what will be more useful for your short-term objectives and long-term needs.

So, it depends on the needs and unique situation of each organization. But in both cases, the need for a skilled workforce to manage and maintain network serviceability remains mandatory.

Network professionals whose organizations are making the switch to SD-WAN must be prepared for the change to help their organization with whatever comes after.

The best way to capitalize on this new market trend is to gain Cisco SD-WAN training and upgrade your skills as per the current networking industry.

For this, PyNet Labs’ online Cisco SD-WAN Viptela training facilities are most suitable as you can learn from the comfort of your home. All you need is an Internet connection and a laptop to learn this invaluable skill and lead your networking career in a new direction.

Here are the 11 reasons to join SD-WAN training.

Connect with us at [email protected] or WhatsApp/ Call us on +919821215002 for more details on our offerings.

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