Can You Future-Proof Your WAN?

“Future-proofing” is a term that can be applied to anything from home construction to public utility system design. For example, the architects of the waterworks in many American cities could have better future-proofed these infrastructures if they had used copper or plastic piping instead of lead. But by far the most common realm for future-proofing discussions is technology, whether the topic is building a gaming PC or overhauling a corporate WAN.

Future-proofing and the corporate WAN: Outlining the challenges

With enterprise networking in particular, the future-proofing battle is becoming more difficult. It used to be enough to add new cabling (e.g., upgrade to Cat6) or inject a little more capacity into your network. However, the pace of change in WAN requirements is now accelerating, thanks to big trends such as enterprises now utilizing more bandwidth for their apps, making more demands of their service providers and looking to roll out branch offices more quickly without having to jump through a lot of hoops:

  • Fueled by the rise of software-as-a-service apps, spending on enterprise software was expected to reach $150 billion in 2015, which would have represented 7 percent year-over-year growth, as per a 2015 Gartner report.
  • It’s not just the volume of apps, but also the type, that is putting new pressure on WANs everywhere. Video conferencing, for instance, requires a lot of bandwidth, while VoIP needs low latency to deliver call quality and consistent performance.
  • Setting up branch offices and connecting them to a traditional WAN is expensive and time-consuming, due to the need to buy managed VPN services, as well as the dedicated hardware to support them.
  • Similarly, the hub-and-spoke network architectures that these offices are part of are often rolled out by using manual processes, which simply cannot keep pace with the current levels of bandwidth demand and performance expectations for business-critical applications across all sites.

What is a realistic future-proofing strategy for your WAN in this context? To ensure that it can thrive just as much tomorrow as it does today while handling business-critical applications, you have to make it adaptive, flexible and scalable; in other words, you will probably need to make it software defined.

Adding extra dedicated lines, upgrading all of your switches and routers or adding WAN Op can only go so far in improving your WAN, in the same way that simply getting a new CPU only buys you a little bit of time before newer models make it obsolete (“Moore’s Law” puts the timeline at about 18 months). This approach is expensive and, in the case of the WAN, does not necessarily shield you from issues such as delayed failover and link failure that negatively impact the success of your business.

Such problems have to be accounted for during any WAN future-proofing effort. Here are three steps to consider during this process:

1) Add in broadband circuits to boost bandwidth and accelerate time to market

Many WANs are still built around MPLS services. While MPLS is reliable and attached to SLAs, their costs and ability to deploy quickly reveal the limitations of relying on MPLS alone to carry your WAN into the next generation of networking.

For starters, MPLS capacity is much more expensive per megabit than broadband. Accordingly, simply adding more of it to ease problems with network congestion is not very cost-effective. MPLS is also hard to deploy quickly. It is often rolled out only with manual processes, and is not available in some rural areas. Plus, there is the issue of enforcing the SLAs from MPLS providers. Some of these agreements may not cover brief outages (e.g., less than a 1 minute in duration) that may seem minor but can be fatal to a VoIP call or video conference session, especially for call centers, distribution centers and sales organizations that need these apps to generate revenue for the business.

Using SD-WAN technology gives you the ability to weave in broadband as a complement to or a replacement for MPLS, making your WAN more robust. In 2011, the Sno-Isle, Washington, public library system implemented Talari’s solution to aggregate inexpensive cable and DSL links and ultimately saved $400,000 over what it had been spending on MPLS. This decision not only saved them money but gave them increased capacity to have the flexibility to expand into the future.

Broadband is more cost-effective than MPLS.

Broadband is more cost-effective than MPLS and can be as reliable with a smart SD-WAN overlay

2) Get more out of the MPLS links already on your network

One advantage of an SD-WAN overlay is that it works with all-MPLS as well as hybrid WANs, providing future-proofing regardless of what infrastructure is in place. If your enterprise WAN uses MPLS and you have disaster recovery links sitting idle, SD-WAN can leverage all of your active links, no matter the link type (i.e. MPLS, cable, DSL, satellite or cellular) so the capacity you are paying for is going to good use.

Hydrite Chemical Company solved the problems with its MPLS-based WAN by using a Talari SD-WAN appliance to seamlessly failover to DSL and protect against MPLS outages. Its dual broadband connections helped it avoid costly MPLS line upgrades and ultimately save on its plan from the MPLS service provider.

3) Gain visibility into what’s happening across your WAN

Future-proofing is all about adapting to change. Traditional WANs do not excel here because they are expensive and time consuming to scale – for example, to new branch offices.  They also don’t provide the intelligence needed to make strategic decisions about the types of connectivity needed to properly support the app performance required to run the business.

“Future-proofing is all about adapting to change.”

In contrast, SD-WANs constantly monitor app performance and path quality across the network, aggregating different links to provide the best possible connection at any given moment for important real-time traffic including VoIP and video traffic. SD-WANs give you insight into what is going on with your WAN in real time so you can have the confidence in the links deployed and also the performance of the applications. A smart SD-WAN will even make adjustments, automatically, based on the current circumstances without human intervention or complicated policies, to keep apps performing and the network running without interruption.

As you plan out your future-proofing, be sure to look at some of our other case studies for real world examples of how an SD-WAN can modernize your network for years to come. Our white papers also provide in-depth details about what an SD-WAN can achieve in terms of scalability and flexibility.

Categories: Software Defined WAN (SD-WAN), IT Challenges, Network Reliability, Internet as WAN (MPLS Alternatives), Hybrid WAN