Main Change Drivers in the WAN
Another Blog in the Series by Dr. Jim Metzler
After years in which the WAN was relatively staid, we are now in a period in which there is significant investment in the development and deployment of new WAN products and services, most of which come under the broad umbrella of Software Defined WANs (SD-WANs). The providers of these products and services promise that they offer a number of benefits, including increased agility and reduced cost. While it is difficult to argue that benefits such as these aren’t valuable, a couple of obvious questions emerge. How satisfied are network organizations with their current WAN architecture and what would drive organizations to change its current architecture?
To answer questions such as these, earlier this year I surveyed 110 network professionals. One of the survey questions asked the respondents to indicate how satisfied their organization was with their current WAN architecture. Only a third of the respondents indicated that their organization was either very satisfied or completely satisfied with their current architecture. I interpret those results as indicating that a large number of network organizations would be willing to at least consider a new WAN architecture.
Another one of the survey questions presented the respondents with fifteen factors and asked them to choose the three factors that would likely have the most impact on their WAN over the next twelve months. The five factors that were the most important are shown in Figure 1.
There are few surprises in Table 1. For years providing effective security has been a top of mind issue for both network and IT professionals. In addition, when Target’s CEO was fired after a major intrusion, security emerged as also being a CEO and board level issue. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that supporting real time applications and prioritizing business critical applications are two of the top five factors driving change in the WAN. This follows because there is growing acceptance that like all of the components of the IT infrastructure, the value of the WAN is centered on its ability to support acceptable application delivery.
Reducing cost is important across all components of the IT infrastructure, but it has a special importance in the WAN. To demonstrate why that is the case, consider a company whose branch office WAN connects 100 branch offices and assume that each office has the same WAN connectivity and that it costs $500/month. To get the three year cost of the branch office WAN requires multiplying the monthly WAN cost for a single branch by a factor of 3,600 (100 branches times 36 months). If the company had 200 branches the factor would be 7,200. In either case, it is easy to see that either a relatively small increase or decrease in the monthly cost has a very large impact.
If there is a surprise in Table 1 it is that a third of the survey respondents indicated that providing access to public cloud services is one of the top factors driving change in their WAN. This is a bit of a surprise only because unlike the other factors in Table 1, until recently providing access to public cloud services was seldom mentioned as a factor driving change in the WAN.
So I believe we are going to see some changes in WAN architecture that has been long in coming. My next blogs will focus on the trends and needs that will likely drive this in the coming years.