enterprisenetworkingmag

WAN's Inevitable Influence

By Mark Horbal, CIO & CTO, SpringBIG

Mark Horbal, CIO & CTO, SpringBIG

The Impact on WANs is Inescapable

The two most significant trends in computing today are the transformation of traditional computer applications with a footprint on a local machine to SaaS web applications and the parallel migration of computing resources to the cloud. These two trends, and their continued acceleration, are fundamentally changing the computing landscape. The impact on Wide Area Networks (WANs) is inescapable. The obvious impact is that many of the systems or LANs traditionally interconnected with WAN infrastructure are disappearing into the cloud, opening up an array of new options from cloud providers, especially Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure.

"We can assume that a number of players in the WAN space will reinvent themselves as software solutions"

While the cloud options may be available to many businesses, others such as manufacturing and retail sectors must maintain significant physical computing infrastructure. In these cases, there are also new opportunities to migrate to new Software-defined WANs (SD-WANs). A number of strong offerings in this space, from companies like Cisco, Riverbed, Silver Peak, Aryaka and others, offer a new improved availability and fault tolerance, while potentially lowering both CAPEX and OPEX.

While trends and paradigm shifts in the WAN space abound, the requirements and KPIs are really the same and can be encapsulated into one sentence: “How fast can I securely and reliably move data in my network and at what cost?” Clearly, this is highly nuanced, so a more specific list of requirements follows. Each of these is a subject unto itself:

• Guaranteed bandwidth
• Security
• Availability—Five Nines?
• Remote Monitoring/Management?
• CAPEX and OPEX
• Useful Lifetime of Hardware
• Scaling considerations

Assessing the Landscape

Clear understanding of the end game must precede any implementation. The biggest challenge when implementing new or upgrading existing WANs is that the landscape is changing rapidly, and the end game may not be clear for some of us. Nonetheless, the general approach consists of (1) Assessing the current status, (2) Defining the goal—this is the end-game, and (3) Choosing the best solutions to bridge the gap between the two. Failing to do any of these three things well usually leads to failure—so “Plan N-times, execute once.”

It’s at least somewhat useful to look at some example strategies:

• If the nature of your business forces you to have much of your computing infrastructure based on physical servers and networking, or security considerations prevent a cloud migration, you can continue with traditional WAN approaches. You also have the option to move to one the SD-WAN providers and move your encrypted traffic to the cloud. This may result in improvements to availability and lower costs, while assuring ability to scale when needed.

• If, like many business, you are in some stage of migration to the cloud, architect your solutions in a way that uses cloud-based networking as much as possible. Unless your target architecture is a hybrid physical/ virtual, limit investing in temporary WAN solutions, focusing on the end-game as much as possible. If the end-game is hybrid, choose WAN solutions that offer low cost, high availability, scaling and long lifecycles. SD-WANs should be a strong consideration.

• If the WAN requirements are new, consider SD-WANs.

Maximizing Availability and Scalability

The right cache of WAN technology and hardware is very scenario-specific. In very broad terms, organizations should seek to minimize the CAPEX outlay, especially if cloud migration is on the docket. Failure to do so can result in over-investment and poor ROI, as traffic becomes intra-cloud.

If the long-term goal is a mix of physical and cloud-based infrastructure, the WAN technology choices should favor could-based WANs, in order to maximize availability and scalability. The number of solutions that offer enhanced security is increasing, hence this issue if rapidly going away.

Reinventing WAN as Software Solutions

As the number of virtualized computing/ data centers grows, the networking associated with them will, in a large part, move as well. While opportunities for the hardware WAN vendors will likely diminish in the end user space, they will continue to exist with those businesses that operate hybrid cloud/physical data centers. We can assume that a number of players in the WAN space will reinvent themselves as software solutions.

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