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Posts Tagged ‘WAN’

Happy Cinco De Mayo to all, and I hope everyone had a great Star Wars weekend (May the 4th be with all of you!). It appears that, while many of us were watching Star Wars movies (2-6 I hope, as everyone hates 1) or planning a big Mexican feast, the folks over at Viptela were also busy. Monday morning, like a Jedi in the shadows, Viptela came out of stealth mode a week after CloudGenix launched, to add to the WAN disruption frenzy. I’m guessing CloudGenix launched last week so the executives could have a rich, fun-filled Star Wars weekend.

Like CloudGenix, Viptela is focused on building a more dynamic, agile WAN. Viptela this week announced what it is calling the Viptela Secure Extensible Network (SEN), which enables companies to deploy, manage and secure WANs easily and cost effectively. Also, just as importantly, the company brings a high level of simplification to the ongoing operations and change management to the WAN. The agility of the WAN becomes increasingly important as business applications continue to evolve, requiring rapid changes to optimize the performance of the WAN.

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The network industry has largely been focused on network transformation over the past few years. Most of the vendors, though, have been geared towards the evolution of the data center network. It’s time that businesses started looking at evolving the wide area network (WAN) as this is often where the biggest pain points is for application performance.

The WAN fundamentally hasn’t changed at all in the past 30 years, as most companies still use the traditional “hub and spoke” design with a private network technology, such as MPLS. Often the WAN has a backup connection that becomes active when the primary fails. This model has worked well for decades now, so living by the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” credo has meant that most companies just leave well enough alone and haven’t done anything to evolve the WAN.

I think it’s fair to say that most network managers understand why this architecture is inefficient. It was really designed for client/server traffic, and all Internet traffic is backhauled through a central location. Also, much of the traffic “trombones” up and down the WAN links through a central hub, moving from branch to branch or even Internet to branch. This is one of the reasons we’ve been talking about WAN re-design for years now. In my opinion, though, I think it’s time to take this seriously.

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Software Defined Networking (SDNs) has been the hottest topic in networking over the past few years, and will likely continue to be over the next couple. It’s certainly dominated the traffic on this site and others.

Despite the high interest levels from network managers and the media, SDN adoption remains somewhat light. While the concepts of automation, centralized control, and programmability make sense to most network managers, where to deploy an SDN first isn’t really that obvious. From a utopian perspective, one would want to apply the principals of SDNs to the entire network all at once. Bringing in a dose of reality, though, most organizations simply can’t be that aggressive with network changes without putting the business at risk. For many companies, the network is the business, and this radical a shift, if not deployed correctly, could seriously jeopardize the business.

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The current, dominant architecture for enterprise Wi-Fi networks is to have a bunch of “thin” access points (APs) deployed for coverage with a number of controllers used as the “brains” of the deployment. The APs provide the connectivity to the devices and the controller acts as a central point of control for configuration, security and policy. This model is very common and has been in place now for about a decade.

However, the IT environment has changed and Wi-Fi architectures need to change along with it. The controller-AP model works in some scenarios, like deploying in large facilities with lots of people in them. But how many companies are like that now? My research shows that over 80% of employees now work outside the corporate headquarters, primarily in branch offices, and that’s where the main problems are for the current controller led model.

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Tablet computing, smartphones and the current BYOD craze have put a significant emphasis on the corporate wireless LAN network. Even in this current macro where IT spending seems to be in a bit of a lull, one of the few areas of enterprise networking spend that’s growing is Wi-Fi. A recent ZK Research survey shows Wi-Fi being the No. 1 area of spend for network infrastructure over the next 12 months. This should come as no surprise, considering the majority of devices coming into the enterprise are wireless-only.

All of this activity has given credibility to the notion that the wireless network, in many organizations, will become the primary access network, instead of an augmentation to the wired network. The question I pose is whether the Wi-Fi network is really ready to assume this role. As Peter Parker’s uncle said before he died, “with great power comes great responsibility.” I’m not convinced, at this point in time, that wireless LAN is really up to the task of operating as the primary network.

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