Few areas of the enterprise are as ripe for change as the wide area network. And there are plenty of technologies — from hybrid WAN services and software defined networking to better management tools — lining up to push such a makeover closer to reality.
"There is about as much turmoil in the WAN arena as possible," said Steve Taylor, senior research fellow with Webtorials.com.
You can get the sense of the tumult by taking a look at the vendor activity in all aspects of the WAN. A ton of startups including vendors such as CloudGenix, Glue Networks, Viptela and Velocloud are offering new WAN services and products. Established vendors such as Cisco, Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent and Riverbed are also scrambling to address WAN issues with new software and hardware.
"The venture capital investment in WAN startups has been tremendous," said Cliff Grossner, research director data center, cloud and SDN with Infonetics. "For example, in the last six months 10 or more new companies have sprung up bringing SDN technology to the WAN. The growth in cloud services has made the WAN that much more strategic."
SDN may be the elixir that cures a number of WAN ills. Its proponents say SDN is quite capable of simplifying the way big companies turn up new links to branch offices, better manage the way those links are utilized — for data, voice or video and potentially save lots of costs in the process.
"The WAN is no longer a single pipe, it's a fabric of multiple types of links, everything from 4G LTE, DSL, cable...and the [software-defined WAN] SD WAN will offer customers much more intelligence allowing them to prioritize traffic and apps based on policies they just couldn't do before," said Jason Rolleston, Cisco's senior director of product management for WAN enterprise networking. "The WAN has always been a bottleneck and a problem area in terms of complexity — software defined networking can take away a lot of those issues."
Such complexity is only exacerbated by developing technologies such as private and public clouds, BYOD and mobility issues, observers said.
Closely associated with the upsurge of SDN is the deployment of hybrid WANs, which is the exploitation of multiple access technologies to the Internet, which then could become the WAN backbone for those adventurous enough to invest in such a strategy.
"With so many enterprises looking to move WAN traffic onto the Internet, how that traffic is handled by the service providers becomes an issue," Taylor said. He notes the recently FCC vote on net neutrality could end up impacting enterprise WANs down the line. "There are lots of companies that would pay to have their traffic prioritized on the Internet."
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