Logistics has always been an essential part of business and it has become even more critical in the digital age. The sector is fast-paced and dynamic, relying heavily on real-time data transfer and instant communication between different locations, suppliers, and partners.

To meet the current demand, logistics companies need a reliable and efficient wide area network (WAN) infrastructure that can handle large volumes of traffic across sites and in the cloud to integrate with third parties, provide enhanced performance and most importantly security.

One technology that has emerged as a potential solution for all of this, is SD-WAN or known as Software Defined – Wide Area Network.

In this blog post, we'll explore what exactly SD-WAN is and when it's worth considering for logistics companies.

What is SD-WAN?

Firstly, SD-WAN is an abbreviation which stands for Software-Defined Wide Area Network.

As the name suggests, it is a software-based approach to managing and optimising a company's wide area network.

Instead of relying on hardware-based appliances and dedicated private service provider connections, SD-WAN leverages software to route traffic across multiple transport paths, such as broadband and LTE connections.

This ultimately enables companies to achieve better network and system performance, and reliability, while reducing costs and improving security across the WAN. This is especially effective in a world that has heavily adopted the cloud and hybrid-working models.

“This new approach to network connectivity can lower operational costs and improve resource usage for multisite deployments. Network administrators can use bandwidth more efficiently and can help ensure high levels of performance for critical applications without sacrificing security or data privacy.” – Cisco Systems, Inc.

How does SD-WAN compare to SASE?

Again, let’s start with a definition.

SASE stands for Secure Access Service Edge.

It is an emerging approach to network security and management that combines several technologies into a single cloud-based platform.

SASE is designed to provide comprehensive security features and network management capabilities for modern distributed networks, including traditional offices, remote workers, and cloud applications.

Although SASE and SD-WAN share similarities and serve well together, they are fundamentally different technologies.

Network Management: SD-WAN and SASE both provide centralised control.

SASE is designed to provide a unified view of the entire network, including cloud applications and services, whereas SD-WAN is primarily focused on high-quality management.

Network Performance: SD-WAN is specifically designed to improve network performance by providing advanced traffic management and optimisation features.

While SASE also offers some network optimisation features, it may not be specifically designed for network performance improvement.

Familiarity: It is worth us noting that SD-WAN is a more established technology than SASE, with many organisations already using it to improve their WAN infrastructure.

As such, it cannot be ignored that it may be easier to deploy and manage than a new and unfamiliar technology like SASE.

What are the benefits of SD-WAN for logistics companies?

As mentioned, the logistics sector relies heavily on the wider-area network infrastructure to manage its operations, connect hybrid locations, and ensure timely delivery of goods.

However, traditional WANs can be complex, expensive, and difficult to manage, especially as more logistics operations move to the cloud.

This is where SD-WAN comes in - providing a range of benefits to logistics companies that help them streamline their operations, improve performance, and reduce costs.

  1. Improved Network Performance: SD-WAN can improve network performance by using multiple connections and transport mechanisms to route traffic over the best available path. This ensures that critical applications, such as warehouse, distribution, and transportation management systems, receive the network resources they need to operate efficiently

  2. Cost Reduction: SD-WAN can help logistics companies reduce WAN costs by using cheaper connection methods such as Broadband and LTE, instead of expensive service provider Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) with dedicated circuits.
    This can result in significant cost savings, especially for companies with multiple locations across the world.

  3. Simplified Management: SD-WAN provides centralised management and control of a network, making it easier for logistic companies to manage their infrastructure.
    With SD-WAN, IT teams can easily configure and manage network policies, monitor performance down to the application layer, and troubleshoot issues from a single console. This reduces the complexity of having to manage all of your hardware appliances individually at the click of a button.

  4. Secure Connectivity: SD-WAN provides secure connectivity by encrypting traffic and providing assured access to cloud applications and services.
    SD-WAN can also provide a tighter connection between branch offices and the headquarters or data centre, protecting data in transit. This is particularly important for logistics companies that handle sensitive information, such as customer data and delivery schedules.

  5. Cloud Integration: SD-WAN can help logistics companies integrate their WAN with cloud services, such as software-as-a-service applications and platform-as-a-service offerings. SD-WAN provides its own PoP (Point of Presence) which means connectivity destined for the cloud can travel much faster than traditional service provider PoP routes.
    This enables logistics companies to access their cloud resources securely and efficiently, providing greater flexibility and agility for their operations.

  6. Automation: SD-WAN uses automation to streamline network operations, reducing the need for manual intervention, and thereby decreasing the chances of human error.
    For example, network administrators can use automation to simplify deployment of new devices, configure network policies, and manage traffic flows.

What are the costs?

There are a number of factors to consider before understanding what your costs will look like moving to SD-WAN, however here are a few things which will have a significant impact.

  • Network Size – Naturally a huge factor in the pricing of an SD-WAN solution is its size. The more locations, the higher the price. But it also must be considered what the locations are. The more data centres on a network, the higher the cost will be. The big advantage of SD-WAN in terms of network size is that it is easier to add new locations to the network, rather than having to pay for future capacity like you would need to do with MPLS.

  • Features in use – Not only will pricing vary from SD-WAN vendor, but it will also vary by the SD-WAN technology and package that you select. SD-WAN offers package upgrades such as the inclusion of Next-generation Firewalls or Application Performance technology such as Application Quality of Experience (AppQoE). This is where bandwidth is dedicated to pre-determined apps and programs, using SLA automation rules against elements such as jitter and latency to ensure they always perform at optimum levels (which often does require multiple internet connections).

  • Resiliency – of course, every business will want a network that has disaster recovery method built-in, and SD-WAN makes that more achievable than ever before. However, the more resilience you want, the more the price will increase. Failover internet connections to every site, whilst cheaper than MPLS due to the ability to use Broadband, LTE (4G & 5G) and full-fibre technologies from a range of internet service providers (ISP’s), will still add up when rolled out across an entire network. Also, for true resilience and no single point of failure across the estate, backup endpoints such as routers and firewalls will need to be employed, which can in theory double the hardware costs on the network. Something to consider! 

  • WAN connectivity – With more and more choices available to different locations across the UK, one of the biggest factors in making SD-WAN more cost-effective than MPLS is the savings available on internet connectivity. Instead of being tied to a single provider with limited buying power and network reach, you can choose connectivity from different suppliers and take advantage of their individual network reach, whilst still being able to manage these connections from an SD-WAN orchestrator/GUI in real-time.

What does implementation look like?

The implementation of SD-WAN for logistics companies typically involves a few key steps:

  1. Assessment: The first step in implementing SD-WAN is to assess the current network infrastructure and identify the areas that need improvement. This assessment will help logistics companies to determine the specific SD-WAN solutions that are best suited for their needs. Consider performance, agility, resiliency, cost, and operational support.

  2. Design: After the assessment, the next step is to design the SD-WAN network architecture. This involves determining the hardware and software requirements, the network topology, and the security measures that will be put in place.

  3. Deployment: Once the design is complete, the SD-WAN solution can be deployed. This typically involves a mapped out schedule of installing the new hardware appliances and configuring the software to meet the requirements.

  4. Testing: After deployment, the SD-WAN network should be stress tested to ensure that it is operating efficiently and meeting the key solution and operational requirements

  5. Maintenance: Finally, ongoing maintenance and support will be required to ensure that the SD-WAN network continues to operate at optimal efficiency. This may involve monitoring network and application performance, troubleshooting connectivity issues, or applying software updates as needed.