What is a Hybrid WAN?

A hybrid WAN (wide area network) connects two geographically separate sites, by combining two or more network links with dynamically engineered traffic. One connection may be a private MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) circuit. Another connection might be some type of broadband Internet link (e.g. DIA Internet, cable, DSL, LTE, etc.).

Traditional WAN architecture vs. hybrid WAN architecture

Traditional WAN architectures and routing protocols do not natively provide application-aware networking for granular control of application flows across different paths. Trying to implement policies to engineer traffic for granular control, even in a small-scale environment, will only further complicate the management and maintenance of traditional WAN infrastructure.

A hybrid WAN is considered an improvement over a traditional WAN architecture. Technology advancements have caused a shift toward hybrid IT, where organizations leverage a mix of hardware and software systems alongside different avenues of connectivity, making it the new normal for many businesses. A network that combines MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) and other broadband links is a hybrid WAN.

Why Implement a hybrid WAN?

When an organization needs to meet expanding capacity and reliability demands, a hybrid WAN is a good option. A hybrid WAN utilizes all bandwidth for every link, so no bandwidth will be inactive. By using commodity Internet links in addition to MPLS circuits, organizations can improve app reliability and performance, while lowering costs.

A hybrid WAN allows IT to maintain private circuits for mission-critical applications, while sending lower-priority traffic over less expensive Internet links. Routing traffic over multiple links allows IT to utilize bandwidth as required, while reducing the adverse impact distance can have on application performance.

Is a hybrid WAN the same as SD-WAN?

While some use the terms hybrid WAN and SD-WAN (software-defined WAN) interchangeably, they are not the same. An SD-WAN is an application of software-defined networking (SDN). SD-WAN simplifies the management of a hybrid WAN by decoupling network configuration from individual WAN links and hardware components. SD-WAN is centrally managed and provides policy-based orchestration and visibility into the entire WAN.