Most enterprises are quick to say that their wide area network (WAN) infrastructure has seen dramatic improvement over the past decade or so. Optimization solutions have grown so prevalent that in some cases, the WAN is starting to resemble a distributed LAN.
And yet, with data loads continuing to mount and network architectures on the path to become flattened, fabric-style infrastructures, the WAN is under mounting pressure to continue the performance gains of the past years. But the question remains, can optimization solutions keep up with the traffic demands of unified fabrics and the cloud, or is now the right time to start looking at entirely new approaches?
Aryaka Networks' Andy Gottlieb correctly notes in a recent post on Network World that you can never be "too rich, too thin or have too much bandwidth." He then goes on to say that optimization is only one option when it comes to maintaining connections to external infrastructure. In the past few years, tools like WAN virtualization, Network-as-a-Service and Next-generation Enterprise WAN (NEW) architectures have matured to the point that, in tandem, they can improve bandwidth performance for a wide range of data requirements. Note, however, that the WAN is not very adept at carrying client-server applications, so it is wise to investigate application-layer solutions like desktop virtualization as well.
To be sure, new WAN enhancement technologies are hitting the channel at a steady clip. Talari Networks recently introduced the new Mercury T5000 capable of supporting bandwidth aggregation of 3 Gbps upstream and downstream using up to eight WAN connections. The device is accompanied by an upgraded version of the Adaptive Private Networking (APN) suite that features parallel link aggregation tools for improved resiliency plus optimization for small-packet applications like VoIP, VDI and videoconferencing.
Indeed, a number of optimization appliances have been retooled to address the needs of both voice and video traffic on data networks — a nod to the maturation of the Unified Communications (UC) movement that has been playing out over the last decade. Hughes Network Systems recently unveiled the HS1200 appliance, which works with both Cisco and Fortinet routers to allow voice, video and real-time application performance over existing broadband networks. The system employs Hughes' ActiveQoS and ActiveCompression technologies to provide dynamic bandwidth management techniques that the company claims can reduce utilization by 99 percent.
Optimization is not the only way to improve UC traffic on the WAN. As Ipanema Techologies' David White notes, improved governance is also a crucial aspect. Proper governance can not only improve visibility of traffic flows and resource utilization, but can provide for real-time control and prioritization, as well as intelligent routing to ensure data experiences are meeting expectations. Most importantly, governance can significantly improve the ROI of both optimization and overall UC deployments.
Advancements in wide area infrastructure point up the fact that the enterprise is less and less a bricks-and-mortar operation and is moving rapidly toward a distributed, even global, presence. We will probably never reach the point at which bandwidth and network resources reach a satisfactory level. But at least with a steady stream of optimization and utilization technologies, costs devoted to actually buying bandwidth from carrier providers can be kept to a minimum.