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The Evolution of the Wide Area Network

A Wide Area Network (WAN) provides secure IP connectivity between multiple office and site locations. Typically, this consists of connecting a head office to all of the regional offices and possibly also to a Data Centre. 

Historically the Wide Area Network has consisted of leased line circuits interconnecting the sites directly in a hub/spoke type topology or more recently via leased line circuits connecting into an MPLS core network. An MPLS network provides any to any connectivity and is therefore more flexible supporting the addition and removal of remote sites with minimal impact.

The Wide Area Network will typically also provide Internet access and secure remote access into the corporate network.

How have requirements changed?

The Wide Area Network (WAN) has evolved beyond just providing inter-site and internet connections for a business. Co-location, hosting and the Cloud have turned traffic flows on their head moving the business systems out into a remote Data Centre, possibly not even located in the same country. Employers are changing the way employees carry out their daily work, embracing remote working and also replacing legacy systems with more flexible methods of communicating.

The Cloud was definitely overhyped as being the cure for all your ICT troubles and woes, and some may say it failed to deliver on this promise. In actual fact we are now seeing the general acceptance and the inclusion of Cloud services as an important element of a business’ ICT strategy.  This includes a general migration towards hosted applications such as Office 365 and the relocation of business systems and storage into the Data Centre. These changes have had an impact on the WAN bandwidth demands, which historically have required a higher bandwidth into a site. We are now seeing a reversal of this with an increase in the required bandwidth from a site out to the Cloud or connected datacentre.

There is also greater adoption and acceptance of remote working with more employees working from home and out on the road. This growth has largely been driven by the availability and cost effectiveness of hosted solutions such as Office 365 and the business strategies being adopted by employers to drive efficiencies and cost savings through a reduction in their office footprint.

The majority of businesses now have their voice services delivered as IP via SIP trunks and connecting to an IP Telephony system. One of the key benefits offered by SIP trunks is much lower voice call charges. IP Telephony systems provide excellent flexibility providing users with access to an enterprise grade voice system from their computers, smartphones or any other telephone device, anywhere in the world. This mass move to IP voice has led to the replacement of legacy ISDN2 and ISDN30 voice circuits with SIP trunks delivered over dedicated IP circuits or the Internet. The use of the Internet to deliver a SIP trunk is not best practise as the required QoS (Quality of Service) cannot be guaranteed.

The increase in collaboration and partnerships between companies has driven the demand and use of IP based Unified Communications solutions to deliver simple and flexible communication via voice, video, and/or instant messaging. In our opinion, the days of standalone video conferencing systems are numbered, with video communication now available as standard from every smartphone, tablet or computer. Employees, clients and suppliers now expect to be able to readily communicate using whatever medium they want, wherever and whenever.

The Growth of the Multi-Service WAN Provider

The changing demands on the Wide Area Network outlined above has led to the growth of a new breed of WAN provider. The Wide Area Network now has to be able to cost effectively and able to support the Cloud, remote access and multi-service delivery over the same circuits whilst also providing the Quality of Service (QoS) required by the real time voice and video services.

This new breed of Multi-Service WAN Provider operates their own high capacity, resilient dark fibre core network that spans across a number of Tier 1 datacentres. Their core network has direct arrangements with all of the main telecom operators and Internet Exchange Points (IXP’s). This enables them to offer carrier agnostic Wide Area Network (WAN) services, ranging from ADSL services up to 10Gb Ethernet connections as well as optical wavelength and dark fibre options.

A Wide Area Network no longer has to be based on circuits from a single provider or a single technology. Circuits can be selected from the carrier offering the best value for that specific location. The network will typically consist of a core MPLS network but with several elements made up using other technologies such as dark fibre or point to point fixed bandwidth fibre circuits – to deliver a business with cost savings or operational benefits or both. 

In addition to now having the ability to choose which carrier or technology to use, it is also important that the range of communications services required by today’s modern business, including Internet connectivity, inter-site connections, secure remote access and the support for real time voice and video applications, can all be supported over the same Multi-Service WAN connection. The capability to securely segregate traffic and present them via separate physical ports at each site and to also be able to provide quality of service where and when required is essential in the modern WAN solution. In addition, it should also support the ability to flex the circuit bandwidth if required along with offering a range of resilience options.

As detailed earlier, the Multi-Service Provider’s network also connects to a number of datacentres. This provides the opportunity to access a comprehensive partner ecosystem, offering access to a complete range of services and solutions which can then be made available to connected client sites for no additional connection charges. These services can include SIP Trunks, Hosted IP Telephony, Office 365, offsite storage, SAN replication etc.

Take advantage of the benefits available by implementing a Multi-Service WAN solution today. Let Pinacl work with you to identify your Wide Area Network requirements and propose solutions that will deliver real operational and commercial benefits. To find out more about Wide Area Networks visit our Birmingham City University case study or call 01745 535300.