Ethernet and the Rise of SD-WAN

SD-WAN technology is growing rapidly in popularity. It’s more economical and flexible than approaches like MPLS. Providers are offering managed WANs to companies that don’t want to set up and administer their own network. It even lets companies without a technical staff set up intra-business services at a low cost and update the network configuration whenever they need to.

A big factor in the growth of SD-WANs is the convenience of Ethernet. It’s easier to work with older, last-mile technologies. A T1 connection is finicky, and upgrading its bandwidth requires adding more lines. Ethernet is a widely supported standard, and connectivity is just a matter of plugging it. Maintenance is rarely a headache. Communications providers are finding the carrier Ethernet market an increasingly important part of their business model.

Where does Ethernet fit in?

What lets Ethernet work in a WAN is the VPLS (virtual private LAN service) technology. It allows service providers link local sites as if there was a bridge or “pseudowire” between them. It’s generally considered a Layer 2 technology on the OSI network model. This makes it very flexible and any type of network can be built on top of it.

In particular, VPLS allows point-to-point or multicast connections among any points on the network. It isn’t limited to connecting servers to other servers.

Understanding this is important for avoiding false alternatives in network design. Ethernet connections aren’t mutually exclusive with higher-level network features. If you can do something on a local network, generally you can do it on an Ethernet-based SD-WAN.


For modern business needs, a WAN needs to be fast and have low latency. MPLS is regarded as one of the best ways to do this. It avoids the uncertainties of the public Internet, providing very high uptime and consistent speed. The trouble is that it’s expensive, especially when it needs modification. Businesses have to choose among a few high-priced carriers. Connecting up a new facility can be costly and time-consuming.

An Ethernet-based SD-WAN takes advantage of the economy of the Internet, yet delivers high speed and good turnaround. Whatever approach a business takes to its network, it can’t afford to let the last-mile connection be a bottleneck. With the widespread availability of Ethernet connections to the Internet, businesses have ready access to the speed they require.

An SD-WAN is easy to manage compared to an MPLS network. Adding a new site to the WAN is straightforward. GUI dashboards make things simple for the administrator.

A VPLS network can include QoS support, though it is subject to the Internet’s vagaries. Packets can have priorities associated with them. This will allow good-quality voice and streaming connections, with a minimum of delay and jitter.

Other next-gen business services

“Unified communication” is a favorite buzzword in today’s business services. It goes beyond VoIP to combine voice, video, and data in real-time communication. A fast SD-WAN lets widely separated facilities improve their coordination and productivity through UC. Fast and secure data transfers let colleagues share documents while conferring, as fast as handing over a stack of pages in person.
Multicast video lets people make intra-company presentations to people at multiple facilities. There’s less need to travel from one site to another.

Cloud services have many uses, but sometimes it’s necessary to keep data on the premises. An SD-WAN lets a business maintain its own server and make it readily accessible to users at multiple sites. Ethernet speed and simplicity make this a practical choice. Many businesses that once considered a WAN out of their reach will find that Ethernet has become an attractive option.

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