Man behind a computer covering his face in frustration

It’s Time To Stop The ‘WANSanity’

One of the quotes that Albert Einstein is credited with is: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If that is indeed how insanity is defined then there is no part of IT that is more insane than the corporate WAN. I’ll explain why I say that below.

Improving WAN Performance

In the 2015 ZK Research/Tech Target Network Purchase Intention Study we asked the question: “What initiatives will you invest in to improve your WAN performance in the next 12 months?” While there are many ways of performance of the enterprise WAN, it appears that most organizations are continuing to do the same things over and over, the very definition of insanity.

The top response in the survey was “add more bandwidth” followed by “improve WAN security” and “buy new routers”. Down at the bottom of the list of responses are initiatives such as migrating to a mesh network, WAN aggregation, SDN, and WAN virtualization. Improving WAN security makes sense, given the number of high-profile attacks the industry has seen over the past two years. However, the other top responses around purchasing more bandwidth and new routers are things that companies have done for years and which have not displayed any appreciable improvement.

I recall a customer I did some work with a few years ago who told me about the WAN issues his organization was having. After having many discussions with his telecom provider, he decided to take their advice and upgrade all of his circuits. The net result? The same WAN problems with a more expensive network.

Same Actions, Same Results

All of this raises the question: if upgrading bandwidth and buying new hardware hasn’t worked in the past two decades, why do organizations continue to do the same thing over and over? I believe the reason is because these initiatives are easy to understand, and as well as being low-risk. In some ways it’s also somewhat logical if you’re not network savvy. If a road is congested and adding more lanes speeds up traffic, then adding more bandwidth must alleviate network problems.

But network problems aren’t as simple as cars on a road. There are many causes of WAN performance issues including application protocols, configuration issues, and inefficient use of bandwidth. Before businesses open up their wallets and spend more on increasing the size of that overpriced MPLS pipe, they should ensure that bandwidth is indeed the problem.

How To REALLY Help Your WAN

A few relatively easy things to do before spending more on bandwidth and routers are listed below:

  • Deploy WAN optimization. I know there’s some industry chatter that WAN optimization is a technology for an era of network that is long gone by. That’s not true at all. Originally, WAN optimization was solely for private networks, but almost all the vendors now have solutions that extend to the cloud. WAN optimization should be a no-brainer for any organization looking to improve the performance of the network.
  • Enable branch offices to directly connect to the Internet. So much of todays network traffic is Internet access to cloud applications. Routing this traffic through a single Internet point and backhauling it over the WAN is a huge waste of bandwidth. Instead of adding more bandwidth, get rid of traffic that doesn’t need to pass over the WAN.
  • Evolve to a multi-path configuration. Most enterprise WANs use an “active-passive” architecture. This means that even though a branch office may have multiple WAN connections, only one can be active at a time. Multi-path solutions are widely available today and much simpler to deploy than trying to configure it through a command line on a router. There’s no reason to add more bandwidth if the company is only using half the bandwidth it is paying for.

The concept of a broadband WAN or SD-WAN may seem intimidating to many IT departments, and I get that. However, businesses can’t continue to throw more money at bandwidth and new routers. That would be, by definition, insane. Instead, do a few of the easy things I listed above. That will provide much greater bang for the WAN buck spent.