SD-WAN vs VPN – A Comparative Detailed Comparison

As the world changes, so too does technology. The business world is shifting dramatically into a globalized model. Employees no longer have to work in a single building to conduct business. Branches no longer need to conduct business on their business headquarter data center. Such a method is now archaic, a relic of the past.

Cloud-based systems have since taken over. Business is on wide area networks (WAN), virtual private networks (VPN), and software as a service (SaaS). These technologies have been around for decades at this point. The world keeps changing, so how has the world of information technology kept up? Look no further than SD-WAN.

What is VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and it has been around for decades. It was developed as a way for companies to tunnel through WAN or local area networks (LAN) so they could create a secure network connection on the same server. Employees can securely operate on company servers on their internet connection.

VPNs cover the potential security issue that is present with WAN. These programs mask data and change the IP address. This protects the user from hackers or monitoring from internet service providers.

Other than that, the use of VPN today has widened in scope. It is now used by citizens, travelers, and residents to unblock certain websites and TV shows when outside the country of origin. VPN has also taken on the task of protecting the user’s identity in the digital age. Not only does it allow for private browsing activity but it also hides valuable information from hackers.

What is SD-WAN?

Know we know about VPN but we know nothing about SD-WAN. So it’s important to know what does SD-WAN stands for and what exactly is SD-WAN. So SD-WAN stands for Software-defined Wide Area Network and SD-WAN is a new virtual Wi-Fi network technology that aims to provide high quality and secure internet access over longer distances. It is not just for large companies but also small businesses as well. The key attribute of SD-WANs is the ability to dynamically adapt network topology based on user demand, thereby reducing the need for expensive, fixed infrastructure.

It is the current evolution of WAN, SD-WAN uses software to intelligently route information across the WAN. WAN technology allows businesses to connect their networks over great distances as if they were all in the same place using the same data center.

WAN is a fantastic solution for companies to connect their employees, but it is not without problems. Application problems, low bandwidth, network reliability, and security are four of the biggest problems when using WAN. SD-WAN was developed as a remedy for these issues.

Also, SD-WAN relies on cloud computing systems for its operation. Data centers are central to this model of networking. Such data centers form the backbone of data transfer for SD-WAN. They are continually connected with virtual private networks (VPN) and wide area networks (WAN). They allow for the secure transmission of data by using encryption. Since this is completely transparent to end-users, it allows for a smooth and swift experience that is unparalleled by traditional methods.

SD-WAN vs VPN – Which Is Best?

In a way, the question of SD-WAN vs VPN is like asking if an apple is better than an orange. Both are great in their own right. But they are best used in different situations and for different purposes. In fact, they can actually work together to create a more powerful solution.

SD-WAN can be used as a substitute for VPN in many cases. It has the ability to connect multiple branches by using secure data center servers. This is a significant advantage when it comes to employee communication security.

VPN allows for secure access to the internet/network for VPN users. It allows for safe and private browsing as well as allows them to access certain programs and services that are not allowed on their normal internet connection

SD-WAN is great for companies with multiple branches or small office environments such as hospitals, government, airline maintenance or management companies, or technology firms. SD-WAN is best for businesses that don’t have many on-site employees. VPN is better if there are many employees that need to access the WAN network.

Other than that, there are many factors that a company must consider when deciding which solution to opt for. Companies must look for a quality connection primarily and also keep in mind that information has to be transferred swiftly and securely.

Companies must also consider implementation as a factor meaning establishing new IT solutions must be as painless as possible. Other than that, the security of the method must be considered independently as a factor, as the world grows increasingly online, so do cyber attacks. And at last, companies must consider costs and pricing and choose the one which is more affordable to them for their business.

A Brief History – VPN & SD-WAN

All technology grows to solve a problem. Both VPNs and SD-WAN are developed to suit the modern age.


The original VPN has a history that traces back to Microsoft in 1996. Microsoft employees (most sources say Gurdeep Singh-Pall)  created the peer-to-peer tunneling protocol (PPTP). This allowed them to have a secure network connection with each other. The PPTP created a tunnel on existing connections that was private. This was the stepping stone that grew into what is now considered a VPN.

In 2002, the Microsoft team created a company called “Point-to-Site” (P2S). This was to create a managed service for remote offices. This technology became known as PPTP. The idea was to create a secure VPN connection between companies by using existing connections that were already active in the network.

In 2005, Microsoft created an extension to the PPTP protocol called Multipoint Tunneling Protocol (MPTP). This allowed for a secure connection and tunneling for PPTP for multiple users at the same time. This meant that two or more people could share a secure connection at the same time.

In 2007, Microsoft created another extension to its protocol called Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP). This allowed MPTP to provide an easier method of connection and control between devices.

Nowadays, there are multiple protocols that are used in the VPN process. These include Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP), and Internet Protocol Security (IPSec).


SD-WAN has a history with more evolution. SD-WAN is the product of the growing world and network technology adapting. The history goes as far as the 80s. Network technology was point-to-point that relied on leased lines just like telephone communication.

Eventually, the technology moved from being less focused on connection and more on protocols that combine data onto one network.

Point to point turned into frame relay, the first example of a cloud-based connection. Frame Relay shifted to multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) which was the first instance of networks being connected from different places.

All the business that a company wanted to conduct could be consolidated on the MPLS. Networks are controlled in the network headquarters and branches of a company can all access and use this same network.

The rise of cloud services and programs called for the further development of information technology. Communication traffic is more sporadic. It makes no sense to go through the company network to access cloud services like Google cloud when an Internet connection can do so.

This causes delay and performance issues which are costly and increasingly unacceptable.

Communication technology has grown so large that MPLS does not cut it for some companies. There is too much traffic that there had to be a development that could handle and control it all. SD-WAN started in 2013 and has since grown to be the gold standard for IT.

Understanding Their Functions

Each service serves to do something specific. VPN services are concerned with person-to-person information exchange. SD-WAN deals with significantly more traffic and branches that traffic accordingly. SD-WAN is a big umbrella that encompasses different information technology services.

VPN can best be understood as essentially a system that connects to another computer through the Internet via a private, secure tunnel. The VPN masks the IP address and assigns the system a different one making data transfer completely private. VPNs create strong, private lines of communication.

VPNs are quite easy to use which makes them a favorable option for companies and even individuals. Most internet users know what VPNs are and how they are used. Individuals use VPNs, not just companies.

They are used by the public for accessing blocked content. Internet users can use a VPN to access media content that is restricted to them in their location. An example is a user in Canada making use of a VPN to access YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu videos that are only available in the USA. Free VPNs exist which makes them an attractive option for individuals especially.

Companies use VPNs to manage remote access to their networks. VPNs protect what access someone can get to their networks. An employee that must work remotely operates with a VPN and it is as if they are in the office. Full access to resources and data while the data is protected even though it is being transferred from through the Internet.

SD-WAN is sophisticated software that centralizes and controls traffic across the WAN securely and swiftly. WAN technology itself was not ready for the cloud. The move to the cloud caused backlog and delays to companies that were relying on WAN-based router communication.

SD-WAN is designed for managing cloud-based services, on-premise data centers, and software as a service application.

SD-WAN is an incredibly sophisticated system capable of connecting thousands of computers. Unlike VPN, SD-WAN is not for individual use. There is simply no need. SD-WAN is on the rise, especially in the wake of COVID-19. SD-WAN saw a 25% usage increase from WAN enterprise users. MPLS is seeing a decrease in usage accordingly.  

The features of SD-WAN allow it to safely connect devices through the Internet. SD-WAN makes use of all sorts of wireless communications. It can safely and securely use 4G, LTE, and even MPLS services to connect networks.

It makes use of centralized control where the quality of service and business needs can be controlled and programmed to all connecting devices. SD-WAN creates consistent and reliable communication this way.

SD-WAN is a big umbrella that encompasses different information technology services.

How do VPN and SD-WAN Compare?

Both VPN and SD-WAN are legitimate options for companies to use for congregating their remote communication. The comparison is multifaceted ranging in issues like the scale to security. The structure of a company varies on a case-to-case basis. The needs and the type of business conducted also must be considered.


Generally, both services pride themselves on security. They are both a remedy created to communicate securely.

VPNs have a special emphasis on privacy. VPN services have become so widespread that issues relating to their security have arisen. Free VPN programs are riddled with security issues. Individual users of VPNs are especially vulnerable to security issues as they are less likely to pay for the service.

A VPN certainly does allow for private connection but what happens during data transfer leaves users vulnerable. Users of VPNs are still vulnerable to bots, malware, and compromised files.

The same can be said for SD-WAN. However, SD-WAN providers are implementing partnerships with security vendors emphasizing anti-malware software.

When operating legitimate VPN services, users are provided with genuinely secure networks. All SD-WAN networks are secure, but business-driven SD-WAN is more sophisticated than basic SD-WAN.


The scale of a company is an important factor when comparing the two services. Mid to large companies, at this point, have a plentitude of remote work. SD-WAN is the ultimate solution for remote network connectivity. The cloud-first aspect of SD-WAN makes it capable of connecting countless computers much like a service like Google Drive or Salesforce.

VPN does not have a central control system and operates point to point. This makes VPN a serviceable option to use for small-scale businesses. If a company only has a few remote workers that need to connect to the system then VPN is a nice option. The bonus is that VPN services are easy to set up.


Generally, both VPN and SD-WAN are secure. The problems with the security of a VPN are in its essence. Unbridled privacy and access have serious potential security issues. Any issues that may occur giving access to the network through a VPN are untraceable. There is no accountability through a VPN.

SD-WAN uses central management which gives companies the ability to track and monitor information history. IT workers can also troubleshoot and manage security through a central management system as opposed to having to treat any issue at the source.

SD-WAN technology comes with security features built into the software that incorporates fail-safe protection.


When considering cost, SD-WAN becomes a radical option when compared to VPN. Businesses have invested a lot into VPN and don’t see it as a viable option to replace with SD-WAN.

An SD-WAN service can be quite costly. There are a lot of factors to consider with SD-WAN. Many businesses simply don’t see the worth of making a switch to SD-WAN yet. However, there are still viable costs in switching over to SD-WAN as opposed to VPN. The cost of maintaining and managing an existing VPN is not present with an SD-WAN service.

Companies that are just starting out, or have been around for a long time will not see an immediate cost difference while they are in the SD-WAN process. However, over time the savings become evident.

The most argued point of cost is with SD-WAN-associated cloud services. If a company moves to an off-site storage system that utilizes SD-WAN technology, there will be costs associated with the service.

The cost of the service will go up as more people access it. Once a company makes the decision to move away from VPN and towards SD-WAN they will find these small costs being negligible compared to the overall savings of an SD-WAN service.


Both VPN and SD-WAN have their respective advantages and disadvantages when compared to one another. Both services have legitimate uses but with different priorities for managing remote communication systems.

It is an individual decision to make but one that is worth the time and thought. The decision that a company makes must be made with the understanding of all possible options. A company will no longer have to choose between security or speed. IT can now pick the best option for their company.

As long as businesses are not deterred from making use of VPNs, SD-WAN has yet to conquer its market share. However, with ever-developing technology, it is only a matter of time before SD-WAN takes over. SD-WAN is the future of remote business networks. It currently covers all the needs of a modern-day company. Even in a post-COVID-19 world, work continued to be conducted remotely. SD-WAN is taking over MPLS services as the go-to service for companies.

VPN still has a place in this world. Small companies and businesses can rely on a VPN for a few remote workers. However, nothing on the market can top the reliability and sophistication of the software-defined wide area network technology.

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