image of a frayed cord, close to breaking

Cord-Cutting Comes to the Enterprise WAN

The advent of low cost, high-speed Internet connections to the home paired with online streaming services such as Netflix has started a trend known to many as cord-cutting. Cord-cutters — those who choose to eliminate their subscription to expensive cable TV services — have quickly realized that they can reduce costs and still maintain high quality service. A similar trend has begun to spread to the enterprise WAN.

Many businesses today choose to connect their sites together across a carrier-managed MPLS network. MPLS has been the primary means of connectivity for some time, but changes in applications on the enterprise WAN, high cost, and performance limitations are driving many companies to look at ways of reducing their dependence on, or eliminating MPLS altogether. What’s interesting about the enterprise, when compared to a home user, is that they are both looking for many of the same things: reductions in cost, increased performance, and the ability to run cloud-based applications. The solution to their problems is also the same: low-cost, high-speed access to the Internet.

Like the home user subscribing to Netflix in place of an expensive Cable TV subscription, more businesses rely on applications that run on cloud-based SaaS services such as Office365 and What they are quickly realizing is that their expensive MPLS links are no longer providing any gains, and in many ways, are holding back users from fully realizing the benefits of these services. Traffic that is destined for the Internet doesn’t need expensive carrier-run circuits to operate effectively, they just need enough bandwidth. As more applications are migrated to SaaS based services the reliance on MPLS links will continue to diminish.

While this transition happens, many enterprises are choosing to take a hybrid approach that reduces reliance on the MPLS network by introducing a site-to-site Internet VPN for increased performance at a substantially lower cost. However there is one big problem, hybrid WANs have traditionally been difficult to configure and manage. Limitations in network protocols, and the inability to pick and choose how specific applications are routed has been nearly impossible. The cord cutting movement for the enterprise WAN, known more specifically as Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN), aims to change that.

SD-WAN solutions offer enterprises the ability to start leveraging lower cost circuits while selectively choosing which applications should use a specific type of WAN link. In most cases traffic will work just as well, if not better, across an Internet link. Other applications such as VoIP and video conferencing, which can still leverage some of the additional features MPLS offers, such as reliable delivery of packets, can be configured to leverage the MPLS network. The hybrid WAN offers a model in which customers can quickly begin to realize the benefits of moving to Internet, beginning to sever the cord, without making the full jump. As more applications are transitioned to use Internet links, businesses can start to reduce the size of their MPLS network or eliminate it altogether for even greater cost savings.

As with any monumental shift, the move to an all-Internet WAN will take some time, but the benefits for introducing even the most basic hybrid WAN are substantial. Bringing a second link into the branch office can provide higher availability in case of link failure, reduced brownouts when a network is experiencing degraded performance and additional bandwidth for deploying more robust applications to end users. As applications place even more demand on the WAN enterprises are going to continue to rely on Internet links more until eventually, one day, they decided to fully cut the cord from their MPLS provider.