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The WAN is dead, long live the WAN: What lies in the future of enterprise connection?


The wide area network (WAN) that companies have today is likely be the last they ever use. The race to move applications and services to the cloud, and the availability of high performance broadband, are fuelling the greatest networking revolution in a generation.

Enterprises have long struggled with connecting users to applications, and until recently there were limited options to address these needs. Most businesses turned to carriers and bought multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) private links for WAN connectivity.

While MPLS has been a reliable means to connect, it suffers from high costs, slow speeds and an antiquated design not built for today’s traffic. In layman’s terms it’s rapidly becoming obsolete.

As more apps are migrated to the cloud and SaaS services become more ubiquitous, IT organisations need a solution that provides fast and easy access to the Internet while providing a reliable and cost effective way to connect branch offices and data centres.

When WAN is not enough

As companies began the migration to SaaS-based services such as Office 365 and SalesForce.com, they quickly learned about the limitations of their legacy WAN architecture. Since SaaS services are available anywhere, users started to take the higher application performance when working from home for granted, and they began asking their IT department a very important question:

“Why is it faster for me to access applications from home than the office?”

The simple answer is that the traditional WAN infrastructure was not designed to handle externally hosted SaaS and IaaS-based services.

A user at home might have a 50Mbps Internet link, shared with a couple family members or roommates, with a direct route to the Internet. When that same user comes into the office he or she is left competing for just a few megabits of bandwidth, traditionally between 2Mbps and 10Mbps, and has to compete for bandwidth with multiple tens of other users accessing apps, surfing the Internet, running remote backups and more.

They also might not have direct Internet access, relying on that same saturated link to get them back to the data centre before going out to the Internet. The increase in distance to service requests paired with a limited amount of bandwidth is a killer for application performance. IT departments have tried to rein in non-preferred traffic and prioritise critical applications using Quality of Service (QoS), but that is cumbersome to manage and has only been a crutch to solving the real problem.

What needs to be done?

Enterprises need the ability to build a better WAN, ready to handle ever increasing demands of users, changing traffic types and new applications constantly being deployed and accessed. Broadband Internet has long seemed like a logical alternative to augment or replace MPLS, however connecting and managing more than just a few sites and effectively utilising multiple WAN links has proved challenging.

Further delaying the move to broadband are applications such as VoIP, video and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) that require high quality lossless connections to work. Software defined WAN (SD-WAN) aims to address these issues for companies looking to augment or entirely migrate their WAN to broadband.

SD-WAN allows users to use any transport, whether its Internet, LTE (a standard for high-speed wireless communication) for mobile phones and data terminals or even MPLS to connect branch and remote locations. With built-in orchestration and automation, it’s easy to connect two sites or 2,000 sites, and all traffic is secured using IPSEC Internet encryption.

Operations that would have required months of planning and preparation can now be completed in minutes, and critical applications such as VoIP, video and VDI can be run with the same QoS as private lines over the Internet. Software techniques that fix packet loss and jitter are able to condition a low cost Internet link to function just as well as a high cost private MPLS link. Software has long been the missing piece to building the next-generation WAN, and with SD-WAN there is now a solution.

The reality for IT organisations today is that the benefits of building the next-generation WAN are too great to ignore. Traffic continues to increase, user demand for bandwidth is exploding and IT continues to be asked to do more with less. SD-WAN provides organisations with the first real solution in 20 years to meet these needs, and it will ultimately bring an end to the legacy WAN as we know it.

Graham Schultz is the Sales Director Australia and New Zealand, Silver Peak

pic - Graham Schultz