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The Future of WANs: How will their performance improve?

Going back to the latter months of last year, it would have been incomprehensible to know what effect Covid-19 was going to have on the way we work. Some say it will continue, with staff working from home and the way we use and now rely heavily on wide area networks (WANs), internet and the cloud. This has created a major shift in the use and management of WANs. By David Trossell, CEO and CTO of Bridgeworks.

Indeed, the increase in remote working has seen a renewed interest in cloud services as the key tool for promoting the facilitation of cloud services, says Bruce Reid, Head of Service Provider Partnerships at Vertel in his article for Security Brief Australia. Cloud-based applications offer a high level of flexibility, enabling people to work from almost anywhere on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

However, these benefits can be hindered by poor wide area network (WAN) performance caused by latency, packet loss and poor bandwidth utilisation. Downtime, network security and privacy are all factors that can also cause significant issues. For example, poor network security and data privacy can lead to some significant financial penalties as a result of data security breaches and, therefore, a failure to comply with regulations, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Application downtime Continuity Central reports that the Efficient iP sponsored IDC 2020 Global DNS Threat Report says, “59 percent of financial services companies suffered application downtime as a result of a DNS attack over the past year”.

Continuity Central adds: “Efficient iP has published survey results that show that organisations in the financial services sector suffer the highest cost per DNS attack, compared to organisations in other industries. Financial services respondents to the 2020 Global DNS Threat Report survey experienced DNS attacks that cost on average $1.275 million per attack, compared to $924,000 per attack across all sectors. While overall costs for DNS attacks in the financial sector have slightly gone down in the past year, financial organisations continue to be an attractive target for DNS attacks.”

Reid is therefore right to suggest that organisations should take a fresh look at how they manage wide area networks, particularly as it’s worth remembering that downtime has a burdensome financial cost to it. These costs include lost revenue, lost profits, lost reputation, lower productivity and loss customers.

He adds: “Resilience and availability of the WAN is critical for businesses. Every minute of downtime can cost businesses profits, customers, and productivity. A WAN that can’t adequately manage and direct traffic, one drops out at critical moments or causes video conferencing and other collaboration tools to freeze up, is useless for businesses trying to compete effectively in a new business landscape where connectivity is more important than ever.”

Future-proofing WANs

Organisations, he argues, must therefore future-proof their WANs to “improve network performance and address security vulnerabilities.” His answer to improving, like that of many vendors, is to promote software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs). He describes them as being, “overlay management technology that provides businesses with dramatically increased visibility and control.”

He also claims: “This improves the speed and connectivity of the network while giving businesses the ability to dictate and prioritise network traffic, delivering performance and price advantages, greater

flexibility and easier management to optimise application functions.” He also finds that SD-WANs can simplify organisations’ relationships with their telecommunications carriers by, “making carrier network migration and multi-supplier network management simpler and lower-risk.”

Industry standards

As with all new technologies, SD-WAN has gone through the Wild West days of competing technologies and diverse management features, which to all mature data centres was a little bit of a worry when trying to compare and manage different products. However, we’re now approaching a level of maturity in the industry, which is now standardising many of the features’ functionalities and management through industry standards. The MEF 3.0 standard is a major step forward to creating, testing and managing SD-WAN products. “The standard aims to provide businesses with confidence that certified MEF3.0 SD-WAN services meet a set of fundamental requirements based on business connectivity and performance”, explains Reid. With the move of many companies to remote working and to enable them to continue trading, this has heaped considerable pressure not only on the infrastructure staff, but also the WAN infrastructure.

Improving connectivity

So, what are the best ways to provide connectivity to the remote user? Where possible, many organisations have taken this opportunity to move applications to the cloud. This pushes the emphasis for providing the bandwidth and infrastructure for security and connectivity from the organisation to the cloud provider, leaving the organisation to manage only the traffic to and from the cloud.

Where there is a higher level of functionality, reliability and security required that cannot be satisfied via the cloud strategy, there is a growing industry of SD-WAN products coming to the market that have been specifically designed for the remote user. Through the use of SD-WAN and its ability to quickly set global policies, this is a massive step forward in allaying many security fears.

Latency and packet loss

How will artificial intelligence and machine learning play an increasing role in WAN magazine, including to mitigate the impact of latency and packet loss? Moving the focus out to the more traditional WAN infrastructure; it’s good to see many vendors implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning in their products, offering the ability for their solutions to learn and configure as they analyse the data traffic from and to the destination. AI and ML will be invaluable to network engineers as they come under increasing pressure to maximise the performance over the WAN.

However, one myth that surrounds SD-WANs is their ability to reduce latency – they do not. Latency can have a dramatic effect on performance. Just 20ms of latency can reduce your throughput by 80% - even more if you have packet loss as well as latency. The only way you can reduce latency is to move the two end points closer or you employ latency mitigation techniques.

WAN Optimisation

Many organisations turn to WAN Optimisation as their go-to solution and many SD-WAN products have some WAN-OP inbuilt. However, we now include many other types of file, such as compressed or deduplicated or encrypted data file such as backups videos, images etc. Rather than your typical “office product” files, this technology struggles to dedupe these files and starts to plateau out at around 1Gb/s which, with many companies implementing 10Gb/s and above WAN, maximising the performance becomes a problem.

On their own SD-WANs that use AI and ML go some way to improve WAN performance, but they can achieve more performance than on their own with WAN Acceleration, which more efficiently mitigates latency and packet loss while increasing bandwidth utilisation.

Adding an overlay

SD-WANs can benefit from a SD-WAN overlay, enabling organisations to exploit the full bandwidth of their WANs, as well as increase the throughput of files that include compressed or deduplicated images, video and encrypted data that scales up to 40Gb/s WANs. This takes a different approach to maximising the throughput of the WAN by using parallelisation techniques and AI to manage the process. It is not untypical for users to see 98% WAN utilisation with these products.

With the ability to maximise the data flow across the WAN or SD-WAN, WAN Acceleration opens up many opportunities to achieve higher service levels, reduce downtime, ensure regulatory compliance and data protection. Cloud has some issues with availability. Having a dual or triple cloud strategy could therefore pay dividends for remote users and customers alike. To forestall cyber-attacks, it is also advisable to have an offsite, air-gapped remote backup of sensitive data, which could be a life saver.

Tips: Improve your WANs

To help organisations achieve service continuity, here are Bridgeworks’ top 5 tips on how to improve WAN performance:

· SD-WANs: Segment the non-urgent traffic to the most appropriate connections, saving contention with the more important traffic.

· Use inbuild WAN-Op facilities for “Office” data.

· Avoid sending compressed, deduplicated and encrypted traffic through WAN-OP products, as this will increase storage usage and add no benefit to throughput.

· Use SD-WAN and WAN Acceleration technology for the long-distance, high capacity WAN connections.

· As bandwidth performance is increasing as bandwidth cost decreases, ensure your WAN-Op and SD-WAN have the capacity to grow in line with the bandwidth.

Ever-changing needs

Bruce Reid, Head of Service Provider Partnerships at Vertel, concludes: “The future will be characterised by ever-changing needs of workers and businesses and a greater demand for services that can cater to disparate teams and remote working arrangements. SD-WAN will be a critical component for businesses to operate via a resilient and available network.”

In addition to SD-WANs, organisations should consider WAN Acceleration overlays to further improve WAN performance. Together, SD-WAN and WAN Acceleration will be key to maintaining a competitive advantage. They will bring benefits to operational performance, customer experiences and the digital transformation efforts of businesses. As for latency and packet loss, even if WAN technology does improve over the course of time, they will still need to be mitigated.

So, the future of the WAN may require more than one technology to work together to improve egress (bandwidth utilisation) and to mitigate the effects of latency and packet loss. WAN Acceleration, which is also known as WAN Data Acceleration, can also help to improve regulatory compliance, as in the case of Investec Private Bank, which used the technology to ensure compliance to GDPR by ensuring that its databases were fully synchronised. This technology, as well as having the ability to improve

SD-WAN performance as an overlay, can also enhance data security as encrypted data can be transmitted at speed. Arguably, then, WAN Acceleration is a must-have when considering the future of WANs. Without it, even the performance of traditional WANs can’t improve.

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