WAN 101: The Wide Area Network and Its Cloud-Era Evolution

WAN. LAN. SD-WAN. VPN. It’s easy to get in a tangle with an acronym-loving tech industry. When it comes to networking, knowing these terms and the difference between each of them can help you develop optimized customer experiences and improved productivity through heightened application performance. It all begins with an understanding of the wide area network.

What Is a Wide Area Network, and How Is it Different from the Local Area Network? Fortunately, this particular set of terms is self-descriptive. A local area network (LAN) is usually used in a single building or a small campus to provide connectivity to a small group of people or even a single user in a small office or home. The wide area network (WAN) is used to connect multiple local area networks to provide connectivity to a larger campus through a hub-and-spoke design.

The wide area network can deliver connections through a range of transport options, including private lines, multi-protocol label switching, virtual private networks (VPNs), WiFi, or the internet. Each of these transport options differs in terms of factors like reliability, cost, and security.

WAN Limitations: The traditional design of the wide area network was not intended to handle a world of cloud solutions. Many enterprises invest in a digital transformation strategy, only to find that their wide area network has become too complex to manage effectively. The lack of visibility and limitations around traffic segmentation and bandwidth management make it difficult to provision, troubleshoot, and manage the network.

Enterprise networking teams have found some answers to managing the complexity through software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). This approach applies a virtual overlay to the wide area network, offering network teams a centralized console for network management.

Some of the most obvious benefits include removing the need to backhaul traffic to the data center for security purposes; SD-WAN solutions allow cloud traffic to transmit directly to the application. In addition, the SD-WAN approach is easily scalable and offers transport flexibility. Network teams can assign traffic to different pathways based on application or format. For instance, video conferencing can be prioritized over email transmissions.

The wide area network can get costly as enterprise networking teams attempt to handle the high bandwidth demand from cloud solutions. Rather than utilizing MPLS for every transmission – which is reliable and secure yet expensive – teams can determine which traffic requires MPLS and which can be designated for inexpensive pathway options.

The wide area network also struggles with delivering on performance goals as the bandwidth requirements of multiple cloud solutions create congestion and latency. SD-WAN helps enterprise IT deliver the user experience that provides the competitive edge with not only customers but also the best talent.

For more information about your wide area network and how SD-WAN might improve enterprise networking for your organization, contact us at One Connect.