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Cisco SD-WAN: Features and Benefits

What is Cisco SD-WAN?   

Cisco SD-WAN or Cisco Software-Defined Wide Area Network is a technology solution designed to simplify and optimise the management of wide area networks (WANs). Traditional WANs often rely on hardware-centric approaches, making them complex and challenging to adapt to the evolving needs of modern businesses. SD-WAN leverages software-defined networking principles to provide a more flexible, scalable, and efficient approach to connecting and managing networks. 

SD WAN Features

Here's a brief overview of Cisco SD-WAN: 

  • Software-Defined Networking (SDN): Cisco SD-WAN is built on the concept of SDN, where the control plane is decoupled from the underlying hardware infrastructure. This allows for centralised management, automation, and programmability of network resources. 
  • Overlay Technology: Cisco SD-WAN often utilises overlay technology to create a virtualised layer over existing network infrastructure. This overlay enables the seamless integration of multiple network connections, such as MPLS, broadband, and LTE, into a unified and intelligent network. 
  • Centralised Management: One of the key features of SD-WAN is centralised management through a centralised controller. This controller allows administrators to configure, monitor, and optimise the network from a single point, providing significantly enhanced visibility and control over the entire network. 
  • Traffic Optimisation: SD-WAN dynamically directs traffic over the most efficient path based on real-time network conditions. This optimisation improves application performance and user experience, leading to enhanced productivity. 
  • Security Integration: Cisco SD-WAN integrates security features, such as firewall capabilities and encryption, directly into the solution. This helps in securing data traffic as it traverses the network, especially important in today's environment with increasing cybersecurity threats. 
  • Application-Aware Routing: Cisco SD-WAN understands the specific requirements of different applications and can route traffic based on application priority. This ensures that critical applications receive the necessary bandwidth and low latency, contributing to a better user experience. 

SD-WAN is an essential tool to businesses in modern networking. The days of waiting months for new offices or branches to be added to the network are over, SD-WAN provides businesses with the flexible, efficient and secure network solution.  

  • Agility and Flexibility: SD-WAN provides businesses with the agility to adapt to changing network requirements quickly. This flexibility is crucial in today's dynamic business environment where new applications and services are constantly emerging. 
  • Cost Efficiency: By optimising the use of multiple network connections, SD-WAN can reduce or even eliminate reliance on expensive MPLS connections and leverage more cost-effective alternatives, leading to potential cost savings. 
  • Improved Performance: SD-WAN enhances network performance by intelligently routing traffic, optimising bandwidth usage, and reducing latency. This results in a better user experience and improved productivity for end-users. 
  • Enhanced Security: Integrating security features directly into the SD-WAN solution ensures that data is protected as it travels across the network. This is particularly important in the era of increased cyber threats and data breaches. 

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How does Cisco SD-WAN Work?

Cisco SD-WAN works by leveraging software-defined networking principles to provide a more flexible and efficient approach to wide area network (WAN) management. It involves the use of centralised controllers, overlay technology, and intelligent routing to optimise network performance and improve overall connectivity. Here's an overview of how Cisco SD-WAN works, its evolution from traditional WAN, and its key components:

1. Evolution from Traditional WAN:

Traditional WAN: 

  • Traditional WANs often rely on hardware-centric approaches with routers and switches at different locations. 
  • Network configurations and policies are typically managed manually on individual devices. 
  • Traffic routing decisions are usually based on static rules and are less adaptable to changing network conditions. 
  • Limited visibility into network performance and application behaviour. 

Cisco SD-WAN: 

  • Utilises software-defined networking principles, decoupling the control plane from the underlying hardware. 
  • Introduces centralised controllers for policy management, monitoring, and automation. 
  • Leverages overlay technology to create a virtualised layer that abstracts the underlying network infrastructure. 
  • Adopts dynamic, application-aware routing for intelligent traffic steering and optimisation. 

 2. Key Components and Architecture: 

Cisco SD-WAN Architecture:  

Orixcom Managed Cisco SD-WAN Architecture

Key Components:  

i) Controllers:
  • Centralised controllers, such as Cisco vSmart controllers, play a crucial role in SD-WAN. They manage and enforce policies, control the flow of traffic, and provide a unified view of the network. 
  • Controllers communicate with edge devices and make real-time decisions based on network conditions and policies. 
ii) Edge Devices:
  • Cisco SD-WAN edge devices, like Cisco vEdge routers, are deployed at branch offices or data centers. 
  • These devices establish secure connections to the centralised controllers and are responsible for enforcing policies, managing local traffic, and participating in the overlay network. 
iii) Overlay Network:
  • Overlay technology creates a virtualised network on top of the physical infrastructure, allowing for the seamless integration of various network connections. 
  • Tunnels are established between SD-WAN edge devices, enabling the transport of data across the network. 
iv) Transport Networks:
  • Cisco SD-WAN supports various transport networks, including MPLS, broadband, and LTE. 
  • Intelligent routing decisions are made based on real-time analysis of network conditions, ensuring optimal performance for different applications. 
v) Security Integration:
  • Security features, such as firewalls and encryption, are integrated into the SD-WAN solution. 
  • This helps in securing data traffic as it traverses the network, providing end-to-end protection. 
vi) Orchestrator:
  • An orchestrator, like Cisco vManage, provides a centralised management interface for administrators. 
  • It allows for the configuration, monitoring, and troubleshooting of the entire SD-WAN deployment from a single point. 

Cisco SD-WAN Security Features 

Cisco SD-WAN incorporates a comprehensive set of security features to safeguard network infrastructure and data. Some key security features of Cisco SD-WAN include: 

1. Integrated Firewall:

Cisco SD-WAN includes an integrated firewall, allowing for the enforcement of security policies at the network edge, protecting against unauthorised access and potential threats. 

2. Zone-Based Firewall Policies:

Administrators can define security zones and implement granular policies based on these zones, segmenting network traffic and applying specific security rules. 

3. Application-Aware Security:

Cisco SD-WAN can identify and classify applications, enabling the implementation of security policies tailored to the specific requirements of each application. 

4. Encrypted Traffic Analytics (ETA):

ETA is a feature that allows the detection of malware in encrypted traffic without decrypting the data, enhancing security against potential threats. 

5. IPsec VPN:

Secure communication over the internet is facilitated through IPsec VPN, ensuring that data is encrypted in transit and providing a secure connection between different branches and the data center. 

6. SSL Inspection:

SD-WAN supports SSL inspection, allowing for the decryption and inspection of SSL-encrypted traffic to identify and mitigate potential threats hidden within encrypted communication. 

7. Malware Protection:

Cisco SD-WAN integrates malware protection mechanisms, employing signature-based detection, behaviour analysis, and other advanced threat prevention techniques. 

8. Centralised Policy Management:

Security policies can be centrally managed through the orchestrator (vManage), ensuring consistent and coherent security policies across the entire SD-WAN deployment. 

9. Identity-Based Access Control:

Access to network resources can be controlled based on user identities, providing an additional layer of security and ensuring that only authorised users have access to specific applications and data. 

10. Threat Intelligence Integration:

Cisco SD-WAN can leverage threat intelligence feeds to stay updated on the latest security threats, allowing the solution to proactively identify and mitigate emerging threats. 

Benefits of Cisco SD-WAN 

Cisco SD-WAN, specifically, offers a range of benefits tailored to address the challenges of modern networking. Some key advantages of Cisco SD-WAN include: 

1. Application Optimisation:

Cisco SD-WAN optimises application performance by dynamically selecting the best path for traffic based on real-time network conditions. This ensures that critical applications receive priority, leading to improved user experience. 

2. Cost Efficiency:

Cisco SD-WAN allows organisations to leverage cost-effective internet connections while maintaining the reliability and performance traditionally associated with MPLS networks. This results in significant cost savings in terms of network connectivity. 

3. Centralised Management with vManage:

The vManage orchestrator provides a centralised management interface, enabling administrators to easily configure, monitor, and troubleshoot the entire Cisco SD-WAN deployment. This centralised control enhances visibility and simplifies network operations. 

4. Security Integration:

Cisco SD-WAN incorporates robust security features, including integrated firewalls, encryption, and threat intelligence integration. This ensures a secure network environment and protects data in transit across the WAN. 

5. Application-Aware Routing with Intelligent Path Selection:

Cisco SD-WAN intelligently routes traffic based on application requirements, providing optimal performance. The solution dynamically selects the most efficient path, improving bandwidth utilisation and reducing latency. 

6. Cloud Connectivity:

Cisco SD-WAN facilitates seamless and secure connectivity to various cloud environments, supporting organisations in their cloud adoption strategies. This includes direct connections to major cloud providers such as Microsoft Azure. 

7. Zero-Touch Provisioning:

Cisco SD-WAN simplifies deployment with zero-touch provisioning, allowing remote offices to be quickly and easily integrated into the network. This feature accelerates the deployment process and reduces the need for on-site IT support. 

8. Scalability:

Cisco SD-WAN is designed to scale with the evolving needs of businesses. It supports the rapid and seamless integration of new locations into the network, providing flexibility for organisational growth. 

9. Visibility and Analytics:

Cisco SD-WAN offers advanced analytics and reporting tools, providing detailed insights into network performance and application behaviour. This visibility enables proactive monitoring and efficient troubleshooting. 

10. Integration with Cisco Security Solutions:

Cisco SD-WAN can be seamlessly integrated with other Cisco security solutions, creating a comprehensive security infrastructure. This integration enhances the overall security posture and ensures consistent policy enforcement. 

Case Studies

One of our customers Al Ghandi Auto is a prominent automotive retailer in the UAE. They wanted to improve their network performance and take advantage of the benefits of the Cloud with minimal costs.  

Businesses in the UAE face limitations in network choices based on their physical location, often requiring multiple offices or branches to manage two separate MPLS networks. This traditional approach is burdensome, expensive to install and maintain, and lacks visibility into network applications. The prospect of connecting two circuits and establishing an MPLS connection to Azure was cost-prohibitive, posing a threat to Al Ghandi Group's cloud migration project. In light of SAP's move away from supporting on-premise ERP systems by 2027, Al Ghandi Auto Group aimed to future-proof their business by seeking more flexible network options.  

Orixcom proposed a comprehensive solution for Al Ghandi Group by implementing Managed SD-WAN and CloudConnect services to enhance their network infrastructure and secure connectivity to Azure. With the deployment of Managed SD-WAN, Al Ghandi Group transitioned away from the traditional MPLS network, gaining significantly improved flexibility, heightened network visibility, and enhanced control. 

Another customer, CNBC Arabia is a 24-hour financial and business information channel headquartered in Media City, Dubai. They have bureaus in Qatar, KSA, Cairo, Kuwait and London and also have correspondents based in Iraq and Jordan.  

CNBC faced challenges using IPSec (VPN) for media file transfers between locations, as their existing firewall hardware implementation caused frequent connection failures, resulting in significant broadcast preparation delays. Transferring media files across bureaus and the head office became a formidable obstacle, affecting journalists' ability to submit stories and upload essential content promptly.   

In response, Orixcom proposed an SD-WAN solution connecting offices and bureaus throughout the Middle East region. The implemented SD-WAN ensured successful first-time, every-time file transfers from any network location, eliminating delays in delivering content, thereby increasing overall productivity and ensuring timely broadcasting. Additionally, the SD-WAN solution provided the flexibility to seamlessly incorporate new locations, addressing CNBC's connectivity challenges efficiently. 

Emerging Technologies Shaping the Future of SD-WAN: 

1. Edge Computing Integration:

SD-WAN is likely to integrate more closely with edge computing to support the increasing demand for low-latency applications. This integration can enhance the performance of applications by processing data closer to the source. 

2. AI and Machine Learning:

The incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) into SD-WAN solutions can optimise network performance, automate troubleshooting, and enhance security by identifying and responding to anomalies in real-time. 

3. Zero Trust Security Models:

As security remains a top concern, SD-WAN is expected to adopt and strengthen zero-trust security models, ensuring that every device and user is verified before granting access to the network. 

4. 5G Integration:

With the deployment of 5G networks, SD-WAN solutions may leverage the increased bandwidth and low latency to provide faster and more reliable connectivity, especially for mobile and IoT devices. 

5. Multi-Cloud Connectivity:

The future of SD-WAN is likely to focus on providing seamless connectivity and management across multiple cloud environments. This ensures optimal performance for applications hosted in various cloud platforms. 

6. Application Performance Optimisation:

SD-WAN solutions will continue to evolve in terms of application-aware routing and optimisation, ensuring that critical applications receive the necessary bandwidth and low latency for enhanced user experience.  

Cisco's Roadmap for SD-WAN Development: 

Cisco has been a key player in the SD-WAN space, and its roadmap for development is expected to align with industry trends. Some potential areas of focus include: 

  • Enhanced Security Integrations:
    Cisco is likely to continue strengthening the security features of its SD-WAN solutions, integrating advanced threat detection, encryption, and secure access controls. 
  • Cloud-Native Architecture: Cisco will look to emphasise a more cloud-native architecture to support the growing trend of applications being hosted in various cloud environments. This could involve closer integration with cloud service providers. 
  • Automation and Orchestration: Cisco is likely to enhance automation and orchestration capabilities, simplifying the deployment, management, and maintenance of SD-WAN solutions for enterprises. 
  • Integration with Cisco's Networking Portfolio: Integration with other networking solutions within Cisco's portfolio, such as Cisco DNA (Digital Network Architecture), to provide a comprehensive and unified networking infrastructure. 
  • User Experience Improvements: Cisco may focus on improving the overall user experience by providing intuitive management interfaces, proactive monitoring, and rapid issue resolution through AI-driven analytics. 

Ready to upgrade your network with SD-WAN? Transform your network with Orixcom Managed Cisco SD-WAN today!  


  1. How does Cisco SD-WAN improve application performance?
    Cisco SD-WAN improves application performance by dynamically optimising the routing of traffic based on real-time network conditions. Through its application-aware routing capabilities, SD-WAN identifies and classifies applications, allowing it to prioritise critical applications and allocate the appropriate bandwidth. This intelligent traffic steering ensures that data takes the most efficient path across the network, reducing latency and enhancing overall performance. Additionally, Cisco SD-WAN provides visibility into application behaviour, enabling administrators to monitor and troubleshoot network issues promptly, resulting in improved user experience and increased productivity. 

  2. Can Cisco SD-WAN be seamlessly integrated into existing networks? 
    Yes, Cisco SD-WAN is designed to be seamlessly integrated into existing networks. Cisco provides solutions and migration strategies that allow organisations to adopt SD-WAN without disrupting their current network infrastructure. This integration is facilitated by the overlay architecture of SD-WAN, which creates a virtualised layer on top of the existing network. The SD-WAN edge devices can coexist with traditional routers, and the solution is often compatible with various transport networks, including MPLS, broadband, and LTE. This allows organisations to gradually transition to SD-WAN, maintaining connectivity during the migration process. Cisco also offers tools and services to assist in the planning and execution of the integration, ensuring a smooth and efficient transition to SD-WAN without causing significant disruptions to ongoing operations.

  3. What are the security challenges of SD-WAN?
    Implementing SD-WAN introduces security challenges, including increased internet exposure at branch offices and potential threats to data in transit, necessitating robust encryption measures. Visibility into encrypted traffic, consistent policy enforcement, and integration with existing security infrastructure become complex, and direct internet access at branch offices poses risks. Vendor-specific vulnerabilities, user authentication concerns, and compliance requirements further contribute to security challenges. Organisations must focus on network edge security, regular updates, and operational best practices to mitigate risks associated with misconfigurations and human errors. A comprehensive strategy involving encryption, access controls, threat detection, and ongoing security training is essential to address these challenges and ensure a secure SD-WAN deployment. Implementing SD-WAN as part of a SASE solution allows businesses to realise the benefits of SD-WAN as well as implementing full network edge security. SD-WAN can also be implemented with Cisco Umbrella to provide an extra layer of security.  


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