How The Internet Is Transforming The WAN

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Mike Hemes, VP sales, EMEA, Silver Peak, explains how companies can use the Internet to address their wide area network (WAN) requirements

The wide area network (WAN) has always been about connecting users to applications and moving data over long distances for greater collaboration, disaster recovery and business continuity.

However, since the explosion of cloud services and frustration surrounding the high cost and inflexibility of multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) networks, companies have been forced to rethink their networks. This is leading to a complete transformation of the enterprise WAN.

MPLS made sense for businesses over the last decade, largely because applications were only hosted in the data centre and the internet could not deliver the reliability to support user demands. With today’s cloud-based applications, however, MPLS is no longer sufficient to address today’s enterprise network requirements. With more applications offered on-demand via the internet and cloud, there is a distinct need for companies to operate at ‘cloud speed’. To operate at this pace, organisations are challenged with improving the responsiveness and agility of their business and the network, reducing costs of the network, and providing better support and performance of all their applications.

internetThe quest for responsiveness and agility

In today’s fast-paced business environment, there is an overarching need for organisations to increase their responsiveness and agility. With MPLS, if a new office needs to be opened, a branch office needs to be relocated, or IT resources need to be moved, the process often takes too long and is disruptive to the business. MPLS also fails to accommodate new methods of automation and typically requires on-site IT expertise and configuration of networking equipment.

While lower-cost internet connectivity has been available in the past, enterprises have been reluctant to use it for fear it would not provide the performance, reliability and security needed for business. We access cloud applications in our homes via broadband Internet and it works fine and costs less, so why does accessing those same applications from within the enterprise equal slower performance and wasted costs? It is largely because the transmission is being sent back over the expensive MPLS connection before connecting the cloud over the Internet.

Improving performance and gaining control

As cloud applications become more pervasive throughout today’s enterprises, organisations are losing visibility and control over the expanding application mix. For example, most CIOs and IT leaders today cannot say how many applications are running on their network, or which applications are in use across the enterprise. When performance or connectivity problems arise, an organisation is usually notified via IT trouble tickets. IT not only needs to improve the performance of this new set of applications, but also rein-in how applications are being used on the network.

While companies should be able to replace or reduce their dependency on MPLS networks, this requires using Internet connectivity in a secure, controlled and optimised manner. The internet essentially needs to operate like a private line. Previously, it hasn’t been possible to guarantee consistent and reliable performance for users connecting to applications, while keeping costs at a minimum – until today.

Making the most of broadband

Enterprises can now flexibly and securely connect users to applications via the most cost-effective source of connectivity available. This is commonly referred to as a software-defined WAN, or SD-WAN. By deploying a broadband WAN, companies can augment or replace MPLS networks with secure internet connectivity. As such, businesses can avoid lengthy procurement and deployment delays for a faster time to service at the branch. Furthermore, since it requires minimal manual intervention in terms of deployment and configuration, it also lowers operational costs and increases efficiency.

Once connected, a broadband WAN can provide visibility into both the data centre and cloud traffic, as well as the ability to centrally assign business intent policies to secure and control network traffic. It should also ensure private line performance over the internet by overcoming quality problems created by packet loss and out-of-order packets – this is especially important as more cloud applications are used in the branch. Critically, enterprises can reduce their dependency on traditional MPLS connectivity, which means they do not have to overhaul any existing network investments, and can easily mix and match carriers.

This new enterprise model requires minimal disruption and cost, but some companies may find the prospect of moving to a 100 percent broadband WAN somewhat daunting. One of the key benefits of this new SD-WAN is that organisations can move at the own pace, first deploying a hybrid network model and then moving to a full broadband WAN. Internet services can be introduced into the network without impacting application performance or the MPLS network. Ultimately, given the industry averages for bandwidth costs, companies can expect to see a dramatic return on investment for their broadband network right away.

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