Change of the WAN Landscape

Cloud services are at the center of growth for many enterprises. Currently, about 80 percent of U.S. companies are considering public or private cloud according to IDC, and many are actively building out hybrid cloud strategies. This growth in cloud usage is having a transformational impact on IT resource plans. A recent IDC survey revealed a flip in how IT budgets would be allocated over time. At the time of the survey, respondents were spending 58 percent of their IT budget on non-cloud architecture and 42 percent on cloud; they anticipated that usage changing to 44 percent non-cloud and 56 percent cloud in the next 24 months.

The research company also found that enterprises already using the cloud expected to increase cloud spending by 34 percent in the subsequent 24 months. Even more importantly, cloud is driving business growth. IDC forecasts that businesses will spend $122 billion on public cloud IT services in 2018.

This investment in cloud-based applications is spawning a new set of networking needs. Traditional WAN architectures were designed for efficiency and performance when applications primarily resided in the data center. With the proliferation of cloud and software-as–a-service (SaaS) applications, traditional means of connecting branches and users to applications are in need of a change. In short, businesses must look beyond the WAN-connectivity technologies currently in place, particularly Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), to address their needs.

In addition to the need for new ways to connect users to SaaS and cloud-based applications, enterprises must also ensure the WAN delivers consistent performance across all sources of connectivity (e.g., DSL, Cable, LTE and MPLS), visibility and control for legacy and cloud-based applications, and faster service provisioning.


Times Are Changing

It’s been well over a decade since MPLS rose to prominence, replacing frame relay as the preferred WAN solution. MPLS’ reliability combined with its ability to deliver on SLAs helped drive its ascent. MPLS offered reliable access to data-center-based applications — which were predominant, provided support for branch-to-branch communication for voice and video, and could easily handle the small amount of non-critical Internet traffic that passed through the network.

However, in the past five years things have dramatically changed and continue to do so. Applications are moving to the cloud – the architecture, agility and flexibility that accompany such a transition do not favor MPLS, which is more rigid, expensive and not optimized for cloud application environments. For example, with MPLS, accessing a cloud-based application follows a very different path from accessing a data-

For example, with MPLS, accessing a cloud-based application follows a very different path from accessing a data-centerbased application. While MPLS provides branch users with direct access to an application housed in the data center, it can create a circuitous and more expensive path for branch users accessing cloud-based applications. In a cloud architecture with an MPLS-based WAN, the traffic must first travel over the MPLS network from the branch office to the data center before finally going out to the Internet, and then back the same route. This can negatively impact performance and cause costs to rise. According to IDC, 90 percent of new applications are being developed specifically for the cloud, and this gap will only continue to grow and render MPLS less effective. But

But cost isn’t the only issue. User experience has also become problematic. The challenges of using a traditional MPLS network to connect to cloud-based applications is often recognized when employees are frustrated by application performance at the office and find that accessing the same cloud-based applications from their home-based Internet connection is faster than at the office.


Looking Beyond MPLS

The questions enterprise IT consequently are asking are: Is there a way to leverage broadband for their enterprise WAN to make accessing cloud-based applications more efficient and less expensive? Can they introduce multiple sources of connectivity – MPLS, broadband, LTE and so on — without compromising the high level of reliability, security and performance they expect with their traditional WAN architecture? Finding a solution that combines the flexibility, scalability and cost of broadband with the control and reliability of MPLS seemed an impossible feat. Until now. Enterprises now have a solution called the software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). An SD-WAN resolves many of the shortcomings found in traditional WAN architectures by putting a secure, virtualized overlay on top of the WAN to enable simple, centralized provisioning, application and user visibility, and the use of multiple sources of connectivity simultaneously through dynamic multi-path control. More advanced SD-WAN solutions also deliver consistent performance regardless of the type of connectivity – all while driving down costs significantly. Essentially, an SD-WAN turns the WAN into a geographically distributed LAN, providing the enterprise with a dynamic solution that leverages multiple sources of connectivity, is faster to deploy and can be centrally managed. Gartner cites four key components of an SD-WAN solution. SDWANs:

1. Provide a lightweight replacement for traditional WAN routers and are agnostic to WAN transport (e.g., support MPLS, Internet and LTE).

2. Allow for load sharing of traffic across multiple WAN connections in an efficient and dynamic fashion that can be based on business or application policies.

3. Simplify the complexity associated with management, configuration and orchestration of WANs.

4. Must provide secure VPNs and have the ability to integrate additional network services


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