The Evolution of the WAN

As the needs of the organization evolve, shouldn’t the CIO stack expand to seize new and innovative opportunities for growth? In this first of a multi-part series of “Evolution” posts, I reflect on how the network has needed to evolve in order to meet the needs of the business.

The Wide Area Network (WAN) has been evolving rapidly in the past 15 years. As organizational needs have required more bandwidth, and as business applications have matured, so has the network. The recent explosion of cloud applications, coupled with the ubiquitous broadband access and the proliferation of connection points – both fixed and mobile – have accelerated that evolution.

The 2000’s saw the rise of MPLS, replacing frame relay, ATM and point to point networks, to become the de-facto network of choice alongside the public Internet. The need to drive down costs and route traffic between source and destination logically was a big driver. Full mesh meant less management and any-to-any access. MPLS allowed support for latency sensitive applications. With the success of VoIP as a replacement of traditional voice, coupled with full adoption of Video to replace live presence, it was timely for organizations to deploy the new IP-based technology. It was also timely for carriers to start eliminating the investment in two sets of networks, and put all their investments in their new IP networks.

In the first half of this decade, the prevalence of Ethernet gave rise to Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS) and Layer 2 networks. IT organizations wanted more control and larger pipes to meet the demand for big data. Initially carriers enabled organizations to interconnect their offices in a single LATA (Local Access Transport Areas – for example, the SF Bay Area is in LATA 722). Carriers then expanded to enable them to interconnect offices across LATAs and ultimately state lines. This allowed organizations to choose whatever WAN or LAN protocols they felt comfortable managing, on this network architecture to interconnect their offices, data centers and users.

Meanwhile, alternative broadband options were becoming a reality. The Cablecos continued to make significant investment in expanding their footprint and offerings from residential to business. Traditional ISPs made big investments at the Central Office by deploying Ethernet-over-Copper equipment to leverage cheaper alternatives to fiber. And the prevalence of advanced wireless technology (LTE) made it possible for companies to leverage wireless carrier networks to more than just “road warriors”.

SD-WAN is the latest technology that has everyone abuzz with excitement. Many enterprises are starting to look at SD-WAN as the next big technology to power their traditional networks. Why? Carrier redundancy, multi-modality support, the ability to shape and load-balance traffic, and the need to better control applications, all through user-friendly interfaces, are some of the top reasons. The migration to cloud-based applications is also a big driver, as is the cost effectiveness and universality of Internet technologies. Customers can leverage multiple Internet connections (from expensive Native Ethernet to inexpensive Cable or DSL, and everything in between), and dynamically send traffic through the optimal pipe on demand. Organizations are getting more comfortable with security and traffic shaping; and deploying tools for managing the edge devices in more sophisticated, user-friendly portals. You hear words like “self-optimizing, self-healing, and self-organizing” being thrown around. You no longer need to hire CCIEs to manage intelligent routing and keep it optimized; or if you have them on staff, they can focus on more challenging problems. Large enterprises are jumping on the SD-WAN bandwagon to boost their private WANs with SD-WAN, and testing the new technology by pushing their “public” or latency-neutral traffic and applications across these new “hybrid” networks.

We will inevitably see more and more migration to this “smart” architecture. As technology solutions evolve, and IT organizations look at shifting SD-WANs from Capex to Opex, we’re starting to see the rise of SD-WAN “as a Service” service providers.

Gartner says that “by the end of 2019, 30% of enterprises will have deployed SD-WAN technology in their branches, up from less than 1% today.”

Throughout this evolution, the challenge of managing the lifecycle of these networks remains the same – whether you reside in the IT, finance or purchasing department. From making the selection between multiple vendors and deciphering sales speak from technical reality, the right tools and experts can do all of it for you. Smart organizations are leveraging cloud-based platforms that allow them to manage the entire planning and procurement, operations and expense management in one Procure to Pay system. Having a software platform that allows an enterprise to design, source, track inventory, and gain business intelligence has shifted from a nice-to-have to a necessity. As the old saying goes: “You can’t truly manage what you can’t see.”

-Written By Sameer Hilal, Co-Founder and COO

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