Behind the Blog: SD-WAN 101, Understanding the Basics


When it comes to technology purchases, "no one wants to make an uneducated decision," says Riverbed Senior Manager of Content Marketing Michael Sheehan. But SD-WAN is still a technology that's new to a lot of people — even C-suite decision makers — so Michael works hard to make sure information on Riverbed's remarkable SteelConnect SD-WAN offering is accessible to all types of stakeholders. With blog posts like "SD-WAN 101" and the accompanying animated instructional video (watch it below), he's been educating the masses on SD-WAN.

We spoke to Michael to go “behind the blog” and hear his thoughts on making SD-WAN easy to understand for everybody.

Riverbed Connections: Would you say SD-WAN is still a new idea for many people?

Michael Sheehan: Software-defined networking has been around for more than a decade. What's new is the concept of software-defined wide area networks. And while everything in the datacenter and in the cloud has evolved over the past few years, wide area networking hasn't changed as quickly.

RC: Is the concept starting to penetrate beyond just hard-core techies?

MS: There’s a lot of market hype and network engineers are geeking out on the technology. Then, there are those who’ve heard about SD-WAN, but don't really know it. My goal is to explain SD-WAN to a wide spectrum of people, even to folks like my parents, and that includes the 101 approach I've taken in my blog post. Even people in the C-suite who will never need to know the nuts and bolts of SD-WAN should know the basic vocabulary and concepts.

RC: What's the easiest way for us to understand what SD-WAN does?

MS: It’s a way for organizations to automate, centralize, and greatly simplify network management functions. Gone is the old, tedious approach of command-line interfaces to establish connections and program each networking device. With SD-WAN, you can design and deploy networks, provision devices, and set up policies from a single pane of glass for the whole WAN.

RC: Why is that better than the traditional way of doing things?

MS: Well, one thing I did in the video is to metaphorically compare shopping at traditional brick-and-mortar stores to buying at Amazon. With the old way, you have a shopping list written down; that's like a command-line interface. There are specific stores for each item and you're driving all over the place — and if you forget something you have to go back and redo it, the way you might have to troubleshoot command-line scripts. But Amazon is more like SD-WAN: Everything's there in one place on your screen, you have your virtual cart, and it doesn't matter which warehouse (or individual network connection) it's coming from. It just appears.

Another metaphor that I didn't put into any of the blog posts was comparing a traditional taxi cab to Uber. I have an eighteen-year-old who uses Uber all the time. And there's a family version of the app that gives me insights as to where she is, when the Uber's arriving, when she's arrived home, and how much it costs.

And that ties into the SD-WAN side of things. In some ways, Uber's just an app that replicates a lot of the functionality of ordinary cabs but is centrally managed by some massive AI in the backend. But the efficiencies and visibility change behavior. I wouldn't want my daughter getting into a cab or carrying cash around or that sort of thing. Uber makes the process safer and far easier to manage.

In the same way, Riverbed's SteelConnect SD-WAN lets organizations tackle more complex networking tasks than they ever could under the traditional model of command-line interface management, and with fewer people to boot. For instance, you can set policies that send business-critical network traffic over dedicated MPLS links while routing social networking packets over the ordinary Internet. That ensures the most efficient use of your network architecture and cuts down on both capital and operational expenditure.

RC: This is all great. Where can readers find out more?

MS: Beyond the SD-WAN 101 blog post, they'll definitely want to check out the video we've created, "SD-WAN Explained" below.

And they can follow up with another blog post I wrote, "SD-WAN Oversimplified," which includes some material that I thought about while working on the video contains more great Riverbed resources.