New Year’s Resolutions for WAN Managers

Chicken and EggHappy New Year!  It’s hard to believe, but 2014 is already here, so it’s time for all of us to make a bunch of resolutions that we have no intention of keeping!  For the WAN manager, though, I believe it’s time for change, and I’ve outlined a few New Year’s resolutions that should be taken seriously.

  • Change the architecture of the WAN.  There’s no WAN design more popular than the tried and true “hub and spoke” model.   With hub and spoke, all branches are connected to a central “hub” location that then has a connection to the Internet.  This model has never been optimal but was adequate when best-effort traffic and client-server applications were the norm.  Today, with the rise of cloud computing, mobility, and peer-to-peer traffic, hub and spoke just doesn’t cut it.  Network managers should seek an architecture with a higher degree of meshing and direct Internet access.
  • Make WAN optimization a core network service.  Improving WAN performance is a continual struggle as newer, higher-bandwidth-consuming applications are always on the horizon.  Towards the end of 2013, I ran a survey with ZK Research media partner, Tech Target, and asked a question regarding how companies will attempt to improve WAN performance this year. The number one answer was… (dramatic pause)… buy more bandwidth.  Trouble is, in most cases, bandwidth isn’t really the problem. and the net result will be equally poorly-performing applications on a more expensive network.  The answer should be to leverage WAN optimization to both reduce traffic and improve performance.  I’ve interviewed a number of network managers that have deployed WAN optimization and they tell me that they’ll never run a non-optimized network again.  If you haven’t deployed WAN optimization, you’re missing out, and it should be considered as core to a network as the router is.
  • Embrace network function virtualization (NFV).  Is there a bigger hassle in IT today than implementing new services in branch offices?  It typically requires a visit to the branch, deployment of yet another appliance into an already crowded “closet” (which is often branch speak for “under the receptionists desk” or “on the shelf in the back”).  What if there was a better way?  Well, there is — use NFV to deploy network services such as firewalls and WAN optimization remotely, and then be able to manage them centrally.  In the past, virtual appliances didn’t performance as well as physical ones but that isn’t the case today.  In most cases, NFV will prove to be as good or better than physical appliances.
  • Consider Ethernet a WAN technology.  Ethernet services have become increasingly popular as a metro or data center connection but have yet to make their way into branch offices.  Today, though, there are a number of service providers that offer Ethernet for local connections and can bring gig speeds to the WAN at a fraction of the cost of traditional WAN connectivity.  You may need to do some homework here and move from your incumbent to someone like Comcast Business, but in general you’ll get more for less.
  • Consider dumping your incumbent for an all IP network provider.  I’ve posed this question to many network managers: If you’re building a next generation IT environment, why are you still using your legacy provider?  Maybe because of footprint or some other reason it might make sense to stay with your incumbent, but do yourself a favor and take a look at one of the many alternative providers such as West IPC, Virtela, Level 3, XO. or Windstream.  I think you’ll find you’ll get more features, a better customer portal, and superior service for many of your upcoming initiatives.  For example, Level 3 has, in my opinion, the best E-911 network capabilities for Microsoft Lync deployments of any operator today.   This wasn’t a consideration for network services even two years ago, but it should be today.

I know changing the WAN can be a painful task, but many of the changes in IT — such as cloud and mobility — have significantly altered compute and application strategies, so why not make 2014 the year of change for the WAN?

Image credit: ruben alexander (flickr) – CC-BY-2.0