While many consider SD-WAN to be a newer technology designed to replace VPN, there are many other factors that play a big role in the topic of SD-WAN vs VPN. Here we break them down, and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each for an organization.

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The Case for Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a solution commonly used by organizations wishing to securely connect two corporate networks or a remote worker to the company network. VPNs create a secure tunnel between two parties that protects their traffic against eavesdropping and provides a user experience similar to a direct network connection.


VPNs are a point-to-point traffic encryption solution. At each end of the connection, a VPN solution – whether VPN client software or a VPN endpoint appliance – encrypts all outbound traffic and decrypts all inbound traffic. Since at least one end of a VPN connection is located within a corporate network, any traffic sent over the VPN tunnel essentially originates within that network, which is useful for access to internal systems or for performing security scanning before Internet-bound traffic is permitted to leave the corporate network.


VPNs can be implemented in a few different ways. A couple of common examples are IPsec and SSL VPNs. An IPsec VPN requires client software but is designed to carry any type of traffic from the client to the server. An SSL VPN, on the other hand, runs within a web browser and provides secure, web-based access to the enterprise network.

VPN Pros and Cons

VPNs are the most commonly used solution for providing secure remote access to an organization’s network, but, like SD-WAN, they have their pros and cons. On one hand, their primary advantage is their ease of usethey can be implemented with or without client software on a remote user’s machine.


Their downsides, on the other hand, include the following:


  • Scalability: As a point-to-point solution, every pair of parties wishing to communicate directly requires its own VPN link. The number of VPN links required for a fully-connected network scales exponentially with the number of communicating parties.
  • Security Integration: A simple VPN only provides an encrypted connection between two endpoints, requiring additional solutions for security inspection. A secure VPN solution is necessary if an organization wishes to take advantage of a VPN with integrated security.
  • Visibility: Each VPN connection is independent of every other one. This can make it challenging to maintain complete visibility into an organization’s network traffic unless these capabilities are built into a VPN solution.

The Case for Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN)

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is a networking solution designed to provide reliable, high-performance network connectivity while using multiple different transport media, such as broadband Internet, mobile networks, and multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) links.


SD-WAN is designed to optimally route traffic over multiple different transport links while providing a single network pipe to applications using it. SD-WAN automatically identifies the application that generated certain traffic and selects a route for it based upon configured policies and priorities. This ensures that high-priority and latency sensitive applications receive the network performance that they require while making sure that less-critical application traffic does not consume valuable network bandwidth.


While SD-WAN is primarily a networking solution, secure SD-WAN offerings include integrated security. By combining networking and security solutions in a single appliance, an organization can move this functionality to the network edge, removing the centralization of traditional, perimeter-focused networks.

SD-WAN Pros and Cons

SD-WAN is designed to move network routing and security functionality to the edge, which brings several benefits to an organization:


  • Performance: Traffic is optimally routed through the organization’s network, providing high-performance and reliable network connectivity.
  • Application-Specific Policies: SD-WAN identifies traffic based upon the application that generated it, enabling enforcement of routing and security policies on a per-application basis.
  • Decentralization: SD-WAN appliances deployed throughout the organization’s network reduce the strain on the headquarters network to inspect and secure all inbound and outbound network traffic.


However, SD-WAN is not a perfect solution to an organization’s networking and security challenges:


  • Appliance-Dependent: All traffic must be routed through an SD-WAN appliance in order to be routed through the corporate WAN.
  • Security Integration: SD-WAN by itself is just a networking solution. Secure SD-WAN is necessary to take advantage of all of the benefits of SD-WAN without compromising security.

SD-WAN vs VPN - Differences in Detail

SD-WAN and VPNs are designed to achieve the same goal in very different ways. Both are solutions for providing an encrypted network connection with the option to add on security functionality. Some of the major differences between the two options include:


  • Network Architecture: SD-WAN solutions act as gateways to a fully-connected network of SD-WAN appliances, while VPNs implement point-to-point connectivity.
  • Transport Media: SD-WAN enables optimized traffic routing over multiple transport media, while VPNs are typically designed to send all traffic over a single network link.

Achieving Secure Remote Access

Secure remote access is a priority for any organization, especially with the surge in remote work in the wake of COVID-19. Both VPNs and SD-WAN have their advantages and disadvantages for an organization.


Check Point provides options for both secure SD-WAN and VPN connectivity. Check Point’s Remote Access VPN offers secure point-to-point connectivity for employees working away from the office with support for both IPsec and SSL VPNs and full visibility of VPN connections within a single console. Check Point also partners with a number of SD-WAN providers to offer a complete secure SD-WAN solution.


To learn more about implementing secure remote access with Check Point, check out this solution brief on our SD-WAN security solutions. You’re also welcome to contact us for more information, request a demo or sign up for an assessment to better understand how our remote access solutions can work in your network environment.

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