Feb 27, 2015
The topic of WAN transformation is certainly nothing new, but the shift to mobile and cloud computing is making the evolution of the WAN something businesses must make a priority.
Prior to being an analyst I ran some fairly large WANs, and for as long as I can remember there has been talk of trying to move away from the legacy hub-and-spoke model. However, despite the chatter, for a number of reasons nothing really happened.
One reason was that the majority of mission-critical traffic was client-server, so hub-and-spoke worked fine. Sure, the Internet was inefficient, but that was a small piece of overall traffic, so we lived with it. Also, configuring split tunnels and multi-path networking required a high degree of expertise. I remember the first time I tried to build a VPN-based WAN, it took me a couple of days to bring the first connection up.
The other reason that many businesses didn’t make the shift before is that the Internet has a reputation of being unreliable and can’t provide the same level of performance as MPLS or even frame-relay and ATM.
Times have changed though — cloud computing has created a scenario where the majority of our traffic is Internet-based. The old hub-and-spoke model is outdated and inefficient for the delivery of Internet traffic, and all these factors are driving the need for a new type of WAN.
One thing that hasn’t changed with the times is the idea that the Internet can’t handle mission-critical traffic. If you look at the marketing from many of the hybrid or SD-WAN vendors, the message is to keep the MPLS network for mission-critical traffic and use the Internet connection for cloud, and traffic that is deemed less important.
I believe it’s time to shed this legacy thinking, and support building all-Internet WANs that can be used for not only run-of-the-mill traffic, but also mission-critical traffic. Now, I’m not saying that there has been some fundamental re-architecting of the Internet that brings the same level of reliability to the Internet that MPLS has, but there are certain technologies that can go a long way into closing the gap and giving performance that is close to — or on par with — a much more expensive MPLS network. To do this, though, network architects must consider the following:
For those of you reading this that are on the fence regarding making the switch to an all Internet connection, perhaps try this with one or two branches and see how it goes. The key is to open your mind and understand there may be a better way to build a WAN in this era of cloud and mobile computing.