Friday, March 09, 2012

Transforming the WAN Into The Smart WAN

We often think of WAN connections as dumb pipes. Perhaps even the “series of tubes” that Senator Ted Stevens envisioned as a model for the Internet. Data goes in one end and comes out the other. Does it need to be any more sophisticated than that?

These days it truly does. The move from predominately in-house data centers and simple file transfers over the LAN to cloud hosted systems, VoIP telephony and video content has changed what we need from the WAN. Level 3 calls this the Smart WAN. This short animated video illustrates the difference...

Clearly, if you’re sitting in line at the bank drive-through, watching people load their transactions into those plastic carriers and shooting them through the vacuum tubes to the tellers, and start thinking, “Hmmm. That’s not a bad model for my WAN network,” you could be in serious need of a Smart WAN upgrade.

It all starts with a smart pipe to replace dumb pipe technology. Instead of just cramming everything down the same conduit without regard to content, you need put some method into the madness. That means CoS or Class of Service. CoS recognizes that some packets are more sensitive than others to vagaries of the network. Most sensitive is anything operating two-way in real time. VoIP telephony will fail when it encounters the least blockage or delay in the WAN. Video conferencing has a similar sensitivity to network characteristics.

What CoS does is assign different classes or priorities to different packet streams. Brute force file transfers go to the bottom of the list. It is important that the files get from point A to point B intact, but a little delay here and there won’t make any difference. The same is true for email and most messaging. Interactive business applications are a step higher. If you are interacting with SaaS in the cloud and expect it be as responsive as if it were running on the servers down the hall, your network has to make these interactions transparent. Bandwidth constrictions and latency can raise employee frustrations to a fever pitch, if not kill productivity completely.

Enterprise VoIP on converged IP networks offers major cost reductions and added productivity features for businesses that can make it work. The Hosted PBX model adds another layer of sensitivity because the WAN gets involved in handling voice traffic as well as data. Latency, jitter and packet loss wreak havoc with voice communications. Just because convergence works on your LAN doesn’t mean that sending the same traffic down a dumb pipe will give an equally good result.

Now consider having the same set of services expecting the same quality for multiple business locations, including headquarters, branch offices, retail locations, warehouses and factories. Clearly, some intelligence needs to be injected to the WAN network to ensure that every location has the same connectivity and quality of service as every other.

Has your company grown beyond the capability of simple, dumb WAN connections to ensure quality and reliability of service? If so, it’s time to consider a Smart WAN upgrade for your network operations. You may even find that this improved performance comes at equal or less cost that what you have now.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

Follow Telexplainer on Twitter