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What is SD-WAN Architecture? A Complete Guide

SD-WAN is networking technology that uses software-defined networking (SDN) principles to improve the performance, security, and flexibility of WANs.

What is SD-WAN Architecture?

SD-WAN, or Software-Defined Wide Area Network, is a type of networking technology that uses software-defined networking (SDN) principles to improve the performance, security, and flexibility of wide area networks (WANs). 

Unlike traditional WANs which use dedicated hardware devices to route network traffic, SD-WANs use software and virtualization technologies to control the routing of network traffic across multiple links, including broadband internet connections. 

This allows organizations to quickly and efficiently connect their branch office locations, remote workers, and cloud-based applications over the most optimal broadband connections while providing improved network performance and visibility.

Components of an SD-WAN Architecture

SD-WANs use a variety of different hardware and software technologies. These components break down into five categories:

Virtualized Network Functions

Virtualized network functions (VNFs) are software-based network services, such as firewalls, load balancers, and WAN optimization, that can be easily deployed and managed in a virtualized compute environment running with a public or private cloud context.

Instead of deploying discrete switches or firewalls to route and secure traffic flows, the software supporting such functionality runs within a virtual environment such as AWS, Azure, Google Cloud or some private computer environment operated by the enterprise itself. This makes maintenance and standardization considerably simpler across the network.

Network Controllers

Network controllers are responsible for various network functions, such as maintaining connections to edge devices, address management, and policy distribution. These controllers carry out commands from the management platform.

Edge Devices

Edge devices are the physical devices, such as routers and switches, located at the edge of the network and connect the various locations and devices within the SD-WAN. In a cellular network, this could include tablets, cell phones, IoT sensors, and small cells.

Management Platform

Administrators use the management platform to monitor the SD-WAN system's performance, including monitoring network traffic, configuring network policies, and providing visibility into network performance. This platform also allows businesses to enable QoS across their network. 

Cloud Services

Many SD-WAN systems integrate with cloud-based services, such as software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platforms, to provide additional functionality and scalability.

For example, enterprises can use SD-WAN architecture to provide secure access to cloud-based resources at satellite offices, disaster recovery sites, remote work areas, and pop-up shops.

SD-WAN Architecture in 5G

SD-WAN and 5G technology are primarily focused on improving WAN performance and flexibility. 5G is a next-generation cellular technology that provides faster speeds and lower latency than previous generations of mobile networks. This makes it well-suited for applications that require high-bandwidth and low-latency connectivity, such as streaming video and virtual reality.

Organizations may use both 5G and SD-WAN technology for enterprise-level reliability, coverage, and control. For example, an organization may use a private wireless network to connect their factory floor, and an SD-WAN to connect their office locations and remote workers over the most optimal broadband connections This can provide high-speed, low-latency connectivity for real-time applications with the flexibility and scalability of an SD-WAN architecture.

SD-WAN Architecture Challenges and Solutions

While SD-WAN architecture makes networks more efficient, it isn’t without its challenges. Below we’ll explore some common challenges in SD-WANs, and how you can overcome them.


Without proper planning and technical expertise, SD-WAN deployments can be more challenging than a traditional network setup, as a single compute environment is often used to run multiple network services. As a result, administrators must be careful to configure hardware hosts and virtual operating systems properly.


While building an SD-WAN network, you’ll want to ensure that your devices and network are compatible. For example, when building a private 5G network you’ll need to ensure client devices support the requisite cellular bands, such as CBRS (Band 48 in the U.S.) to connect. While SD-WANs offer more compatibility than traditional hardware-based WANs, you’ll still want to do your research. Proper planning and partnering with an experienced firm can help eliminate compatibility issues down the road.

Deploying Your Own SD-WAN

Before implementing an SD-WAN, you should carefully consider the specific use case requirements and service quality needs. This can help you to choose the right hardware and software components and ensure that your deployment is successful.

Consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • What throughput and latency requirements do my applications need?
  • Will my network choice meet my requirements? (Wi-Fi, LTE, 5G, etc.)
  • What is my coverage area, and how many devices will I need to support?
  • Given my requirements, what hardware do I need to deploy?

Tip: Consider using Celona’s Network Planner to get a visual estimate of your network's size and hardware requirements based on your location.

After you’ve acquired the necessary hardware and software, you’ll need to install and configure them according to your plan. This may involve setting up and configuring the network controllers, edge devices, infrastructure, and virtualized network functions.

Once established, administrators can enable network orchestration via the management console to automatically provision devices, provide root cause analysis, monitor SLAs, and more.

Deploying an SD-WAN can be a complex and time-consuming process, but it can provide significant benefits in terms of performance, security, and flexibility for your wide area network. Carefully plan and implement your deployment, and seek expert help if necessary.

Celona 5G LANs are an ideal complement to SD WANs

Celona partners with enterprises to plan, build, and maintain private 5G networks as a seamless turnkey solution

A Celona 5G LAN is an ideal complement to SD WAN implementations by delivering more deterministic wireless connectivity within a campus environment with the ability to automatically enforce strict application and device QoS requirements that can then be carried across the SD WAN system.

By adopting cloud networking principles, a Celona 5G LAN makes implementing private cellular wireless an out-of-box experience. With its ability to directly integrate with enterprise network security policies, its onboarding can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.

Check out our private cellular wireless network planner to estimate the size of your Celona network indoors and outdoors, or test-drive a Celona 5G LAN solution.

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