Arrow pointing ahead

What’s Ahead For The WAN?

Arrow pointing aheadMost of the discussion about networking in the industry tends to focus primarily on the LAN.  That makes sense because that’s where most of the network innovation is focused.  However, that leaves open a very important question:  What’s up with the WAN?

In an attempt to understand the dynamics that are impacting the WAN I recently surveyed over 200 IT professionals and used that survey data as the basis for writing The 2014 State of the WAN Report.  I kicked the survey off by asking the survey respondents to indicate the factors that would likely have the most impact on their WAN over the next 12 months.  The factor that was mentioned the most was improving application performance.  In fact, that factor was mentioned twice as often as increasing security.  I am torn in my reaction to this.  On the one hand, this result doesn’t surprise me because a company’s business managers typically care much more about the performance of the applications they use to run their business than they do about any other component of IT, including security.  On the other hand, this does surprise me a bit given all the functionality that has been around for a long time that can be used to improve application performance.

The factor that came in second in terms of having the most impact on the WAN was supporting real-time applications such as voice and/or video.  Based on a different survey question I asked, I am sure that part of the reason that this factor was so important is because the volume of voice and video traffic is growing substantially.  I also suspect, however, that another part of the reason for the importance of this factor is because a lot of IT organizations haven’t yet cracked the code on how to ensure acceptable performance for their voice and video traffic.

I followed up that question by asking the survey respondents to identify the two primary ramifications to their company if one or more of their business-critical applications isn’t performing well.   The most frequently mentioned ramification was that the CIO gets pressure from their boss or from the related business unit manager.  That’s clearly not a good thing.  Even worse, well over a third of the survey respondents indicated that if one or more of their business-critical applications aren’t performing well the company loses revenue.

I asked the survey respondents to indicate the primary concerns that they have relative to using MPLS, as well as the primary concerns they have relative to using the Internet.  In the case of MPLS, the top three were cost, uptime, and latency.  In the case of the Internet, it was security, uptime, and latency.

The cost of the WAN is a huge factor in terms of how a WAN is designed and utilized.  With that in mind, I asked the survey respondents to indicate how they expected that their WAN budgets would change over the next year.  I was not surprised that roughly a third of the respondents indicated that they expected little if any change in their WAN budget.  I was, however, pleasantly surprised that the number of survey respondents who indicated that their WAN budget would increase was roughly three times that of those indicating it would decrease.

So coming back to my original question of “What’s up with the WAN?”, the quick answer is: quite a bit.  There is clear pressure on WAN organizations to improve application performance in general, and the performance of business critical applications and real-time applications in particular.  This pressure comes in many forms, perhaps the strongest and most straightforward being that all too often the company loses revenue when a business critical application performs poorly.  The survey respondents identified a number of challenges they have with WAN services; e.g., cost, security, latency, and uptime.  The good news coming out of the survey is that many WAN organizations appear to have the budget to increase the functionality of the WAN in response to those challenges.