Human evolution

The Need to Plan for WAN Evolution

Human evolutionIn a previous entry here on the WAN Speak blog I discussed some of the differences between the LAN and the WAN.  I also pointed out that there are not any fundamentally new WAN technologies under development, and that as a result, IT organizations need to plan for WAN evolution based on the assumption that, at least for the next few years, their WAN will be comprised primarily of intelligence added on top of two WAN services:  MPLS and the Internet.

One of the primary reasons why IT organizations need to plan for the evolution of their WAN is because, unlike other components of IT such as storage, the WAN doesn’t follow Moore’s Law.  In fact, not only does the price/performance of the WAN not double every two years, it typically only increases by 10 or 15%.  That means that if the volume of traffic that transits the WAN increases significantly, so does the cost of the WAN.

Improving the price/performance of the WAN is only one reason why IT organizations need to develop a plan for the evolution of their WAN.  Another reason is that, as pointed out in my previous blog entitled “The Return of the Mainframe”, the WAN needs to become more intelligent in order to support trends such as the centralization of computing resources and virtualized desktops.

In a recent survey, I explored whether or not IT organizations shared my belief that the WAN needs to become more intelligent.  As part of that survey, the survey respondents were asked, “As your organization evolves its WAN over the next two years, which of the following describes the expectations that your organization will have for the functionality that the WAN will provide?”  The question listed seven classes of WAN functionality, and the survey respondents were asked to indicate all of the classes that applied in their environment.

Fifty percent of the survey respondents indicated that their organization expected that over the next two years their WAN would provide high-level functionality such as security and optimization.  When I looked at just the responses from large organizations (i.e., companies that have 10,000 or more employees), that percentage increased to sixty-two percent.  The survey respondents also expressed strong interest in having their WAN support QoS functionality and to be aware of the applications and the end-points which it supports, and to be able to adjust accordingly.

I asked the survey respondents two additional questions.  One of those questions was, “Does your organization have an architecture or strategy document that outlines the current state and likely evolution of your WAN?”  The other was, “Does the document have a significant influence on decision making around issues such as the choice of technologies, services and vendors (a.k.a., is it effective)?”  The net result of those two questions revealed that slightly over a third of all companies, and slightly over a half of large companies have an effective WAN strategy.

Few IT organizations will be successful going forward if the cost of their WAN increases significantly on an annual basis.  In similar fashion, few IT organizations will be successful going forward if their WAN doesn’t provide the type of functionality that their companies expect.  In order to be successful, IT organizations need to develop a plan for the evolution of their WAN and that plan has to drive decision making.

Image credit: Tkgd2007 (WikiMedia Commons)

About the author
Jim Metzler
Jim has a broad background in the IT industry. This includes serving as a software engineer, an engineering manager for high-speed data services for a major network service provider, a product manager for network hardware, a network manager at two Fortune 500 companies, and the principal of a consulting organization. In addition, Jim has created software tools for designing customer networks for a major network service provider and directed and performed market research at a major industry analyst firm. Jim’s current interests include both cloud networking and application and service delivery. Jim has a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Boston University.