WAN transformation: Follow the cloud to pervasive and elastic networks

The trifecta of cloud, wireless connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT), along with big data, are the technical underpinnings of digital transformation and are being deployed by IT organisations around the world today. The one thing these technologies all have in common is the profound impact they have on the enterprise wide-area network (WAN).

While just about everything in IT has changed significantly, enterprise WANs have remained relatively static over the last couple of decades. They remain biased towards branch networking and wired connectivity — commonly IP virtual private networks (VPNs) like Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) — using hub and spoke architectures where all traffic routes through a private data centre regardless of the destination.

>See also: Forget self-driving cars: make way for the self-driving WAN

Moreover, the planning and provisioning cycle to deploy a new site is still measures in months, not days. For companies to continue to roll-out digital transformation initiatives, the WAN must be transformed.

WAN transformation

The need to connect more ‘things’—like kiosks, surveillance cameras, digital signage, sensors, beacons, and even robots—in more places—like branches, vehicles, industrial plants, temporary sites, and remote field locations—is fuelling the need for pervasive wireless connectivity.

As field workforces become more automated, they require always-on access to critical business applications and systems from anywhere. All of these new people, places and things being connected to the network are driving a massive amount of data that needs to be transported, processed and stored.

As a result, many of the new supporting applications and workloads are being deployed in the public cloud, causing a shift in traffic from private WANs and data centres to the public Internet and cloud.

>See also: The elevator to cloud IT: SD-WAN is crucial

For WANs to meet the needs of today’s connected enterprises, they must be transformed to become more pervasive, agile and elastic. In other words, they must become more wireless, software-driven and cloud-delivered.

Luckily, there are several advances in network technology that are enabling WAN transformation. They include new next generation 4G and 5G cellular networks; Software-defined Networking (SDN) and security; and cloud-based management, orchestration, and even packaging and pricing models.

Wireless WAN with a pathway to gigabit LTE and 5G

Today’s 4G LTE cellular networks are far more pervasive then their wired counterparts, and are quickly surpassing them in speed as well, thanks to ever-increasing consumer demand for faster web and video content. And there is no slow-down in sight. As cellular carriers continue to deploy LTE Advanced Pro services throughout 2018, Gigabit LTE will become a reality followed by commercial 5G deployments in 2019.

4G LTE has always been the WAN of choice for connecting remote IoT devices and mobile networks, and for failover at critical branch sites, but it’s now coming into its own as a primary WAN for highly distributed branch networks.

>See also: Accelerating branch office operations with SD-WANs

As companies shift from MPLS to Internet broadband, they can deploy a nationwide, high-speed wireless WAN with just a couple of carriers, rather than stitching together a branch WAN with dozens—even hundreds—of wired Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Software-defined networking for connecting people, places and things

Next generation WANs require multiple software-defined architectures to span all of the connectivity and security requirements of branch, mobile and IoT networking.

SD-WAN addresses the needs of branch and mobile (in-vehicle) networks and combines multiple wired and/or wireless WAN links (e.g. MPLS, Internet broadband and 4G LTE) into a hybrid WAN with prescriptive and dynamic policy controls that steer traffic across links to deliver optimal performance and availability for all applications.

By leveraging centralised control and management planes, SD-WAN simplifies common management functions and utilises orchestration to enable zero-touch deployments, automated configuration of VPN overlays and enact business-oriented network policies.

>See also: The elastic edge of the new age network

Software-defined perimeter (SDP) is a cloud-based security service that connects and protects discrete mobile and IoT devices over the Internet to data centre and cloud applications using one or more perimeter-secured, private overlay networks.

Each overlay has its own private IP address space to obscure it from the underlying Internet—you can’t attack what you can’t see. SDP also utilises centralised control and management planes to automatically maintain the service and to provide self-healing and self-optimisation properties.

Cloud management and orchestration

IT organisations have always spent a significant amount of time deploying new network endpoints and dealing with network outages, access problems, asset and security monitoring, and application performance issues. This management challenge is being exacerbated as more sites, users, vehicles, and mobile and IoT devices are being connected to the WAN every day.

To deal with the volume, variety and velocity of endpoints brought about by digital transformation, and do so without dramatically increasing staff, adoption of a cloud-based management and orchestration paradigm for networking is essential.

By applying the inherent data aggregation and orchestration capabilities of cloud infrastructures to network management, the process of configuring, deploying, monitoring and managing can be streamlined and automated. Allowing WANs to scale up dramatically without scaling out operational staff.

From DIY networks to consume-as-a-service

Achieving WAN transformation goes beyond the deploying a modern pervasive, software-driven and cloud-delivered infrastructure, it also requires a different approach to buying, building, managing, and evolving that infrastructure.

The traditional do-it-yourself (DIY) model—buying stacks of hardware with a myriad of software and support options and maintaining a deep bench of network engineers with PhD’s in TCP/IP that can put it all together and keep it running—just doesn’t scale in the world of digital transformation. Nor can it provide the business agility that is needed by today’s connected enterprise.

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It should be of no surprise that, as WANs become more software-driven and cloud-like, customer want to buy and ‘consume’ them more like a cloud service. Eschewing the hardware-first mentality of the DIY era for simplicity, flexibility and customer success-oriented model of ‘as-a-service’ offerings, which are proliferating across IT from computing and applications to data storage and analytics.

New packaging and pricing models are needed that roll software, hardware and support into subscription-based solutions that are tailored for branch, mobile and IoT networking and delivered as cloud services.

Start transforming today

Digital transformation is not a bright, shiny object on the business horizon, it’s already unlocking new opportunities and efficiencies for some and challenging the very existence of others.

Traditional enterprise WANs cannot keep up with the demand for pervasive connectivity for people, places and things, and the need for new security, management and procurement paradigms.

A new generation of wirelessly-connected, software-driven and cloud-delivered network technologies have arrived that can help enterprises transform their WANs to provide pervasive and elastic connectivity for branch, mobile and IoT networking — just follow the path that other IT infrastructures have taken through the cloud.


Sourced by Todd Krautkremer, CMO at Cradlepoint

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...