According to a new study from Information Week, “The Next-Gen WAN,” the biggest WAN game changer is the cloud, both public and private. Public cloud users will have to shift from the conventional WAN hub-and-spoke design to a distributed model, where services are delivered over Internet connections at each location, to reduce the load over the corporate backbone. IW found that private clouds, in contrast, bring increased focus on the hub-and-spoke model to afford IT control over latency, quality of service, circuit quality, and overall performance.
The growing dependency on data centers means growing demand for more bandwidth and more demand for high-bandwidth data center WAN connections, said the study. Almost half (44%) of the respondents must connect 16 or more branch or remote offices to headquarters or primary data centers, and more than half spend 11% or more of their IT budgets on wide area connectivity. The study found that the median percentage of the typical IT budget spent on WAN services is in the 11% to 15% range, and while 35% expect to increase the amount they spend on the WAN in the next two years, 69% expect demand for WAN bandwidth to increase. Just over half of the respondents use WAN optimization for some or most WAN links.
Cutting costs while maintaining the same levels of security and performance isn’t easy, but the study recommends a number of steps that can help.
- Audit your services: Many WANs have grown ad hoc over a number of years, even as applications and user profiles changed and services were added and deleted. Check your network monitoring system for visibility into circuit capacity and performance to decide if downgrades are possible in some areas.
- Find alternatives to local loop: Service providers are constantly upgrading their networks and may have deployed new equipment into your local exchanges. But the only sure way to locate those new services is to repeatedly request them from your provider account manager.
- Consider WAN acceleration: Although the technology is complex to use and expensive to buy, it’s common to compress your WAN traffic between two and four times using these devices. This lowers costs by delaying WAN upgrades while improving performance. However, plan on a maximum three-year ROI for acceleration.
- Improve “goodput” instead of throughput: Goodput describes the fact that not all traffic in the WAN is valuable, since some applications are consuming resources that aren’t core to the business. Before you purchase more bandwidth, consider using your WAN routers to improve network performance by implementing quality of service (QoS) and traffic shaping. By prioritizing vital traffic, you can ensure that the user experience is maximized and delay upgrades.
- Implement application performance monitoring to gain visibility: Managing QoS is complex, so look for network monitoring tools based on a Flow technology, such as NetFlow or SFlow, to measure application performance. Performance monitoring can be costly, but as with WAN acceleration, improved bandwidth utilization and the ability to delay WAN upgrades can readily justify such a project. circuits are cheap.
- Get your cloud strategy in order: Developments in the public and private cloud markets could significantly transform the WAN spending picture. Want to use lots of public cloud services? That changes your WAN from a hub-and-spoke model, where the data center is the hub, to a distributed setup where more services are delivered over public Internet connections at each location. A private cloud calls for WAN investment, while a hybrid strategy demands an approach balanced for your mix.
Looking ahead, the study said there will be a continuing trend toward Ethernet in the local mile to meet customers’ increased bandwidth requirements. The two messages that came through loud and clear from respondents is that bandwidth is always insufficient, and it’s not the service, it’s the budget. User demand is rising at a faster clip than what companies are willing to pay for.
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