SD-WAN vs VPN: The Comprehensive Guide

SD-WAN vs VPN: The Comprehensive Guide
SD-WAN vs VPN: The Comprehensive Guide

With digital growth and expansion, more and more companies have started embracing the remote working culture, leading to an ever-growing demand for secure, reliable, and scalable network solutions. At this juncture, the two most popular network choices among most businesses are VPN and SD-WAN.

Earlier, most companies preferred using VPN over WAN (Wide Area Network), mainly because of WAN's limited resources and higher cost. After the arrival of SD-WAN, an advanced version of traditional WAN, it has become the top networking choice.

While both SD-WAN and VPN are efficient solutions, they have unique features and limitations that must be considered when choosing the right one. Let’s examine in detail the main points of similarity and difference between SD-WAN and VPN.

SD-WAN Explained: What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN (Software Defined Wide Area Network) is a centralised networking solution that optimises and manages the performance of traditional WAN using SDN (Software Defined Networking) principles.

It allows businesses and organisations to connect their users, data, and applications securely across desired locations while providing enhanced performance, scalability, and reliability.

In simple terms, SD-WAN helps overcome the challenges associated with traditional WAN architecture. With centralised control and better visibility, it allows companies to secure and optimise WAN connectivity.

Because SD-WAN is software-oriented, it efficiently handles a variety of traffic in real time, offering enhanced adaptability and flexibility over traditional WANs

But how exactly does it work?

SD-WAN separates applications and network settings from the underlying network services provided by Internet or private data service providers. This process makes it easy to add, remove or reconfigure networking services without affecting the network.

SD-WAN also monitors the performance of WAN connections and controls traffic to maintain higher speeds and optimise network connectivity.

This approach solves traditional WAN issues such as high bandwidth cost, long deployment and reconfiguration time, and more.

SD-WAN Advantages and Disadvantages

Similar to any other networking solution, SD-WAN also has its perks and limitations. Here are the main pros and cons of SD-WAN:


  • Higher Performance: SD-WAN boosts performance and offers seamless connectivity through prioritisation and routing.
  • Centralised Management: It offers centralised management that helps in simplifying administration and reducing strain on the main network.
  • Application-Specific: One of the key SD-WAN benefits is that it enforces security and routing policies based on the underlying applications.
  • Cost Efficient: SD-WAN reduces networking costs by utilising different types of connections.


  • Requires Security Integration: SD-WAN on its own is just a networking architecture. To make it secure and reliable, it needs to be integrated with security solutions.
  • Significant Initial Investment: Deploying SD-WAN requires significant initial capital for hardware and software. However, it is a one-time investment that offers long-term cost savings.

What Is a VPN?

Virtual Private Network, or simply VPN, is a networking solution that helps establish a private and secure network between a user device and a network—across an insecure medium such as the public Internet—or between two networks.

VPN works by encrypting data transmitted between individual devices and the VPN server. This encryption ensures that confidential data remains safe from unauthorised access and security breaches.

In simple terms, a VPN provides the users with a virtual private network across an insecure or less secure public network, such as the Internet. It enables users to send and receive data over a public network while making them feel as if their devices are connected to a highly secure private network.

Since it is cost-effective and efficient, most organisations utilise VPN for providing remote access to their workers.

Pros and Cons of VPN

Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of VPN:


  • Online Privacy: One of the main VPN benefits is that it offers privacy and security when using a public network with the help of data encryption.
  • Data Protection: VPN works by creating a highly secure tunnel between the user device and the VPN server, providing a higher degree of data protection.
  • Bypass Geographic Restrictions: Advantages of VPN also include bypassing certain geo blocks. It helps you access geographically restricted content.


  • Slow Speed: Using a VPN sometimes leads to reduced internet speed. This is usually caused by factors such as server capabilities, routing mechanisms, and encryption.
  • Increased Complexity: Setting up a VPN can be challenging for non-tech-savvy users.
  • Cost: Most business VPNs are quite affordable. However, when it comes to securing connections for larger enterprises, these costs can be significant.

Difference Between SD-WAN and VPN

Coming to the main question: what is the difference between SD-WAN and VPN?

While both networking solutions offer the same benefits and functionalities to businesses, they serve different purposes. Below is an in-depth VPN vs SD-WAN comparison:

SD-WAN Vs VPN: Networking Architecture

The key objective of SD-WAN is to manage and optimise WANs with the help of software-defined protocols. It helps in establishing a centralised and scalable network architecture to direct traffic intelligently based on QoS (Quality of Service), security and business policies.

VPN architecture, on the other hand, involves setting up a tunnel between the endpoints, ensuring a secure data transmission. It essentially works by turning a public connection into a private one via strong encryption capabilities, ensuring the data remains confidential.

SD-WAN Vs VPN: Traffic Management

SD-WAN comes with smart and efficient traffic management capabilities. It routes the traffic over a range of connections such as LTE, broadband, MPLS, and so on. It chooses the best path after taking into account factors like network conditions, type and volume of traffic, etc., to ensure enhanced performance.

On the contrary, VPN routes all the data over a single link, which can often lead to performance issues. However, modern VPNs use multiple connections simultaneously to help address issues with speed.


The cost of a VPN as well as SD-WAN architecture varies based on several factors such as number of users, location, service provider, etc.

VPN is usually more cost-effective and offers a straightforward pricing structure. On the other hand, SD-WAN is slightly pricey because it is a more complex yet comprehensive networking architecture.

With VPN, you can either use free VPN services or get paid services from a service provider on a monthly subscription.

In the case of SD-WAN, you have two options: you can either purchase an SD-WAN solution from a managed service provider (MSP) or build your own SD-WAN architecture. However, the latter option requires significant investment and higher technical expertise.

SD-WAN Vs VPN: Configuration Management

When it comes to configuration management, both SD-WAN and VPN have different approaches.

SD-WAN offers streamlined management via centralised control. It enables the network admins to define their rules and policies for routing and prioritisation. It also enables them to customise their security features using a centralised platform.

On the other hand, VPN configuration involves utilising a tunnelling protocol to set up end-to-end tunnels between the user devices and the server. Moreover, VPN configuration is more complex and takes more effort than SD-WAN configuration.

SD-WAN Vs VPN: Performance

SD-WAN solutions offer various features to enhance the performance of businesses. These include dynamic path selection, application-specific routing, QoS (quality of service), and more. Additionally, a cloud-based solution also helps in eliminating latency problems.

On the contrary, VPN solutions are influenced by the performance issues of the public Internet. This mainly includes a sudden spike in traffic volume that leads to latency problems and reduced speed.

SD-WAN Vs VPN: Security

Both SD-WAN and VPN are secure networking solutions. However, the main purpose of VPN is to provide security. On the other hand, SD-WAN is primarily used for managing and optimising network traffic across multiple locations.

A VPN network works by encrypting the outbound traffic and making data unreadable for unauthorised users. It is widely used by remote workers to securely connect to their business network from a remote location.

Conversely, SD-WAN is not primarily designed to offer security. However, it can offer security benefits to businesses by integrating with security technologies such as data encryption, point-to-point VPN, and so on.

SD-WAN Vs VPN: Scalability

SD-WAN is designed to cater to the needs of large businesses and organisations. These solutions are highly flexible and easily accommodate growing numbers of users, multiple locations, and cloud-based applications.

Because of its centralised management, SD-WAN swiftly handles increasing traffic and makes it easier to add more remote users and websites. Thus, it is a great solution for organisations that are looking forward to expanding their infrastructure without compromising on performance.

Although VPN can also be designed to handle the growing demands, it is not primarily designed for large enterprises. In other words, it may not be an efficient solution for organisations experiencing rapid growth or large-scale enterprises.

SD-WAN Vs VPN: Implementation

The implementation of SD-WAN and VPN is completely different from each other.

Deployment of SD-WAN involves setting up hardware and virtual appliances at the headquarter branch, alongside a centralised management system. This setup helps in establishing a secure connection between the individual devices, data centres and other virtual resources leveraging several useful technologies.

On the other hand, VPN implementation involves setting up server software and hardware at the main headquarters and VPN client software and routers/user devices at remote locations.

Are There Any Similarities Between SD-WAN and VPN?

While SD-WAN and VPN are designed to serve different purposes, they offer some overlapping benefits.

To begin with, both solutions help in establishing secure connections ensuring data confidentiality and security. In addition, they also allow users to access the network remotely from any location.

Furthermore, both VPN and SD-WAN boast routing mechanisms that ensure secure data transmission without increasing bandwidth costs.

Finally, both of them are versatile solutions and can comfortably adapt to a variety of networking landscapes.

How to Choose Between SD-WAN and VPN?

Understanding the difference between SD-WAN and VPN is not enough to select the right solution.

When choosing between SD-WAN and VPN, organisations must evaluate their requirements before making the final decision.

Below are the main factors to take into consideration when choosing between the two options:


Before exploring the best networking solutions, it is critical to evaluate the unique requirements of the organisation.

Small businesses and startups with a limited number of users may find VPN solutions feasible due to their reasonable cost and simplicity.

On the other hand, large organisations and enterprises with an increasing number of users can opt for SD-WAN due to its scalability and flexibility.


SD-WAN has an edge over VPN in terms of real-time traffic routing based on specific applications and network health.

It also offers a streamlined approach by combining multiple functionalities like WAN, LAN, network configuration, application performance, etc. into a single platform.

VPN on the contrary, follows a simple approach without involving a lot of functionalities. For this reason, a VPN is desirable for small-scale and simple operations.

  • Security Aspects

Security is another critical deciding factor to look into when choosing between a VPN and SD-WAN. While VPNs offer a secure framework, they are not immune to security breaches.

SD-WANs, on the other hand, might seem to be exposed to security threats due to multipoint architecture. However, SD-WAN security can be achieved by integrating third-party security solutions.

  • Scalability

Scalability is among the main SD-WAN benefits. It is a great solution for businesses and organisations planning to expand their operations. Those with limited operations and minimum growth potential can opt for VPNs.

  • Cost

Although SD-WAN cost is initially higher, it offers an excellent ROI and long-term cost savings. Conversely, VPNs are cheaper and ideal for those looking for budget-friendly solutions.

How Can Instasafe Help?

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, using a VPN or SD-WAN alone is not enough to ensure the security of your business operations. The reason behind this is simple: no networking solution is completely immune to cybersecurity attacks and data breaches.

While VPNs are known for their vulnerabilities, SD-WANs can also be exploited due to their increased dependence on internet circuits. This can increase your organisation’s attack surface and encourage the lateral movement of threats.

Simply put, large parts of your confidential data and applications can be compromised in case of an attack if you rely solely on SD-WANs or VPNs to secure your data and network connections.

At this point, it becomes critical to integrate with trusted and reliable security partners like Instasafe. With our Zero Trust Network Access, you can ensure a higher level of security and flexibility across your networks.

From the elimination of latency and higher visibility to enhanced scalability and better control, Instasafe security solutions can completely revolutionise your business operations.

For more information, contact us!

Final Thoughts

By understanding the similarities and differences between SD-WAN and VPN, you can choose an efficient solution for your business and ensure a seamless and smooth performance.

Whether you opt for SD-WAN or VPN, make sure that your chosen solution aligns with your current and future demands.

In addition, avoid relying solely on networking solutions to secure your framework. Instead, consider integrating with dedicated cyber security solutions from reputed providers like Instasafe.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is SD-WAN better than VPN?

Yes. SD-WAN is definitely better than VPN in terms of higher performance and better features. It is also more reliable than a VPN, making it a great option for those looking for smooth and consistent performance with negligible latency. Most importantly, SD-WAN is highly scalable whereas VPN lacks scalability.

  • Does SD-WAN use a VPN?

Yes. SD-WAN supports a variety of connection types, including VPN. In general, large organisations deploy SD-WAN for centralised management and optimisation and use VPN to securely connect remote users to their networks.

  • In what situations is it ideal to use SD-WAN instead of VPN?

SD-WAN is an ideal solution when you need higher flexibility and better control over your network using a single platform. It is also desirable for future growth and expansion.

  • What is IPsec?

IPsec stands for Internet Protocol security. It is a set of protocols that are used to secure internet communication by means of data encryption and authentication of IP packets. IPsec is commonly used in VPNs to establish secure peer-to-peer connections.

  • What are the benefits of migrating to SD-WAN?

There are multiple advantages of migrating to SD-WAN from any other networking solutions. These include higher security, centralised control, enhanced performance, long-term cost efficiency, higher reliability and scalability.

  • What is the difference between IPsec and SSL VPNs?

The main difference between IPsec and SSL VPNs lies in their layers of operations and protocols. While IPsec works at the network layer (Layer-3), SSL VPNs operate at the application layer (Layer-7).

In addition, IPsec is ideal for point-to-point remote access, SSL-VPNs are desirable to offer remote access to various services or applications through a web browser.

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