"The network is slow today," your customer service call center rep explains. "So sorry, I can't access that information right now. Our network is down."

If your company is plagued with a slow, inefficient network, it's time to start thinking about the next generation of communication connectivity: Software defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN). SD-WAN creates a powerful network that is flexible and adaptable to changing user needs. Telecommunication providers are making significant strides to advance this emerging networking solution.

A great deal of enthusiasm is building for SD-WAN as technology research firm Gartner predicts in a 2015 research study that SD-WAN will account for 10 percent of the wide-area network market by year-end 2018. By year-end 2017, at least five global carriers will have incorporated SD-WAN as a key component of their managed network service designs offering businesses a reliable, cost-efficient connectivity option.

For any company that relies on optimal performance from its cloud-based applications — such as SalesForce, Office365 and hosted voice or e-commerce business — any improvement in network performance can be a significant benefit.

More than an inconvenience, a sluggish network connection costs businesses time and money. They rely on WAN router-based technology to physically connect branch offices, remote employees, point-of-sale transaction terminals and critical cloud-based applications. These systems are designed on an old paradigm that provides network services from hardware located in a centralized corporate data center that connects to hardware located in remote locations.

Combined with larger digital files, the demands of new cloud-based applications and the increased use of video-conferencing technologies, the appetite for bandwidth and speed has grown beyond the capacity of a traditional corporate WAN.

Most companies' network infrastructure consists of a complicated assortment of hardware that is expensive to buy, manage and maintain. WAN connectivity is controlled by black boxes with mysterious names: routers, path controllers, optimizers and firewalls. This hardware routes communication across existing, predetermined channels that vary in bandwidth size: T1, fiber and cable lines.

A slow network connection is the result of too much communication traffic on a single channel, and the WAN isn't smart or flexible enough to reroute traffic to another channel.

In contrast, SD-WAN is optimized for cloud-based business activity by simplifying network management through path-forwarding software that works like a smart traffic controller. Bandwidth is allocated where it's most needed, and network traffic can be controlled from a single, centralized location.

Important considerations for companies evaluating SD-WAN revolve around how it can improve network performance and operational efficiency. In a comparison of total expenses over a three-year period, the Gartner study found that a router-based WAN costs three times more than a path-forwarding SD-WAN to install, operate and maintain.

SD-WAN's lower financial investment makes it an enticing option for both small and large businesses looking to better align IT budget with increased efficiencies. Setup, management and equipment maintenance is lower than a traditional WAN installation.

IT headcount expenses can be reduced as a smaller number of personnel is needed to manage a centralized network for a single interface. The need for IT staff in branch offices is reduced or eliminated. Operational expenses are better controlled by paying for bandwidth based on usage.

SD-WAN improves visibility into network performance and allows IT to manage and increase network availability to end users during times of high demand. For example, an e-commerce company running a holiday sale needs all the bandwidth available to provide a fast and seamless customer experience. A happy end-user experience translates into increased operational efficiency and improved customer satisfaction.

Maintaining a secure network that can mitigate cyberattacks is an ongoing process. SD-WAN provides increased security and visibility into network performance. Greater visibility helps businesses maintain proper security measures by enabling users to monitor traffic and quickly identify a potential cyberattack.

SD-WAN brings scalability, speed and security. The future is now. SD-WAN is poised to transform corporate network connectivity, lower costs and improve performance.