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Practical Network Transformation with Hybrid WAN

9 Minutes Read

As multinational companies expand, geographically distributed satellite offices, data centers, and cloud-based applications stretch the capabilities of dedicated MPLS circuits, aging routers, and classic WANs.

Network planners have to balance competing data interests and needs throughout the network.  Being able to integrate multiple network elements without degrading app performance is critical.

Business leaders are looking to find technology solutions that will achieve or maintain competitive dominance in their industry.  To do this they are increasingly reliant on network-heavy applications, especially SaaS apps in the Cloud.  They also find themselves stretching capacity limits at their branch locations due to aging hardware and network limitations, further decreasing productivity.  Cloud storage, internet-based software not addressed in earlier WAN implementations, and mobile connectivity, all exacerbate the problem.

So they look for options that address these issues.  That’s where the hybrid WAN comes in.

What is a hybrid WAN?

A hybrid WAN is a wide area network that routes traffic over two or more connection types.  Typically that’s a dedicated multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) circuit along with a broadband connection to the internet or VPN to a data center.

The hybrid WAN is a step up from the traditional WAN for several reasons.  You can optimize traffic between the MPLS link and internet in order to keep the traffic flowing. Override paths based on real time monitoring – bypassing links with latency, jitter or packet loss.  Prioritize certain mission-critical data to run through the MPLS circuit and choose the internet for lower priority traffic.

By having multiple options for routing traffic, The hybrid WAN solution provides significant benefits.

  • Rather than implementing high cost and lengthy MPLS implementations to accommodate larger traffic volumes and support high-bandwidth data needs, the hybrid WAN can utilize cheaper broadband internet services to replace or support existing MPLS paths.
  • Optimize traffic with straightforward traffic orchestration software tools instead of constantly patching up existing technology to keep up with the business need.
  • Gain better traffic visibility so you can adjust traffic at will, in real time.
  • Scale with VPN for improved security.

While connecting data centers via MPLS makes good sense for the core data backbone, as organizations increase their Software as a Service (SaaS) subscriptions and shift more data to the Cloud, they are finding it no longer useful to backhaul all traffic from branch offices to headquarters solely via MPLS circuit.  Alternative traffic routing methodologies need to be explored.

It all starts with SDN.

Software-defined networking (SDN) separates the control plane from the data plane.  By separating the two, management of the network can be centralized and policy-based programmatic rules established.  The SDN approach can work with both integrated hardware/software as well as software that controls commodity routers.

The results of the SDN approach are datacenter and application data flows are optimized through automated provisioning, strategic network management, visibility to applications traffic, and direct alignment with cloud platforms.

SDN technology is most used for Enterprise Data Centers that require network architectures that are adaptable to the business need and not tied down by physical appliance limitations.

The promise of SDN is reduced network complexity, network function automation, straightforward provisioning and network resource management.  This includes all aspects from the data center to the satellite office to the wide area network.

IDC estimates the SDN market worldwide will grow to over $12 billion in 2022 (was at $5 billion in 2017).

In 2020, the global software-defined networking (SDN) market reached 8 billion U.S. dollars in size…Geographical regions within this market projected to experience growth are China, Japan, Canada, and Germany. – Statistica

Once you separate out the control plane from the data, equipment choice no longer becomes a limit to network function.

Equipment flexibility with NFV.

Network Function Virtualization (NFV) replaces traditional telecommunications network hardware (routers, firewalls) with software that can run off-the-shelf commodity servers.  This enables operators to deploy new functionality at will, without having to change out or add expensive hardware.

By shifting away from customized black box equipment (high-volume servers, switches and storage), the NFV software-based solution provides significant benefits.

  • Cost reduction. Utilizing software to run commodity-priced standard servers and reduce reliance on expensive servers with integrated software/software.
  • Efficiency.  Leveraging appliances through software allows for better hardware choices.  Equipment can be selected to optimize space, reduce power consumption and cooling requirements, and data center space utilization can be improved.
  • Speed.  Avoiding time consuming equipment replacement and additions, software, separated from the hardware, improves agility and rapid deployment opportunities.
  • Flexibility. Scale up or scale down quickly based on traffic patterns and business need without being limited by hardware selection.
  • Access.  Leverage open-source software products and the independent software development community for further flexibility in network design and operation.

NFV becomes the method-of-choice as organizations continue to move towards high-volume, large bandwidth data traffic management needs such as video, SD-WAN, IoT, and 5G.

While SDN opens up traffic management opportunities, and NFV further improves options at the equipment level, you still need a technology to pull all this together.

That’s where SD-WAN comes in.

A Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is a virtual WAN architecture that allows enterprises to leverage any combination of transport services (MPSL, Broadband, LTE, 5G) to connect users, data centers and cloud-based apps.

While traditional WANs shuttle all traffic back and forth between branch offices and the headquarters hub, the SD-WAN supports data center hosted, on-premises applications, cloud-based apps, data storage solutions, SaaS services (Salesforce, Microsoft 365, Dropbox), and mobile device connectivity.

It does this by separating out the control plane from the data plane.  The software controls connectivity, management and services between data centers, branch offices and the cloud.  SD-WAN deployments often include a mixture of legacy routers, switches, and virtualized customer premises equipment (vCPE) all controlled by software that dictates policy, security, networking functions, and various other tools based on the configuration.

The strength of the SD-WAN is its ability to juggle multiple connection options from MPLS to broadband internet to LTE and ultimately 5G.  Additionally it can isolate and secure traffic types differently based on business requirements.

Big companies benefit from SD-WAN because they can quickly bring up new branch office connections, handle the varied data types (video, voice ,data) they are increasingly challenged with, and keep costs down, all at the same time.

In Summary.

Ever-increasing reliance on technology advancements to stay competitive in today’s global economy means networks have to keep up.  That shows up as companies leverage cloud-based apps and SaaS subscriptions and start to tie in mobility requirements (5G) as well.  Networks managers require network tools that keep up with these changes and allow for real-time adjustments without expensive rollouts and inflexible data management and routing support systems.

The Hybrid WAN is that solution.  And leveraging SDN, NFV and SD-WAN to do the job is the current method of choice by forward-thinking organizations.

China Telecom Americas’ unique and cost-effective IT infrastructure management and MPLS + SD-WAN hybrid solution helps global organizations achieve high quality application performance that improves end-user experience, while helping them build and expand their operations simply and effectively.