The Shifting Priorities of WAN Optimization

As companies grow and deploy geographically distributed branch locations, they require the ability to connect these sites with high-performance, reliable, and secure network links. While solutions like multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) can provide these guarantees, they come with a high price tag.

WAN optimization was initially designed to address the limitations of MPLS. However, the way that businesses use and implement their corporate WAN is shifting. As businesses grow and evolve, the priorities behind WAN optimization change as well.

Meeting these needs has driven the evolution of software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), as detailed in this SD-WAN guide. As corporate WANs continue to evolve and become increasingly reliant upon cloud computing for core business operations, businesses need a networking solution that can support cloud-based corporate infrastructure.

Limitations of MPLS

Modern businesses require high-performance, reliable networking links. Network connectivity over the public Internet is unreliable, and, as organizations became increasingly reliant upon the Internet for core business activities, this lack of reliable performance had significant business impacts.

MPLS offered a solution to this problem. These dedicated lines provided networking backed by SLA guarantees, making it possible for organizations to lease the amount of reliable, high-performance bandwidth that they needed.

However, MPLS also has its limitations. Deploying a new MPLS link is expensive, meaning that organizations are largely limited to the bandwidth that they have already purchased. As companies grow and branch locations have greater need for Internet bandwidth, a cost-effective alternative to MPLS is necessary.

The Evolution of WAN Optimization

WAN optimization is designed to overcome the limitations of MPLS. By making optimal use of the infrastructure available to them, organizations could minimize the infrastructure investments needed as their businesses grew. However, the priorities of WAN optimization have shifted over time.

  • Optimizing Bandwidth Usage

The original goal of WAN optimization was to overcome the bandwidth limitations of MPLS. Many businesses had existing investments in MPLS bandwidth, which was useful for providing reliable, high-performance connectivity. However, the growing need for network bandwidth exceeded what organizations had leased from MPLS providers.

WAN optimization works by identifying and removing redundancy in network communications. Caching frequently-accessed resources and performing deduplication of network traffic helped to ensure that limited MPLS bandwidth was not wasted. Prioritization of traffic at the application level ensured that business-critical traffic was not slowed down by non-critical applications. By optimizing the usage of limited MPLS bandwidth, organizations could minimize the need for additional investment in MPLS circuits.

  • Ensuring Traffic Reliability

Cost is a major limitation of MPLS, with MPLS costing roughly 100x as much as broadband Internet. However, it is not the only one. MPLS circuits also impose geographic limitations on organizations. They can only take advantage of the benefits of MPLS if they already have MPLS infrastructure in that area.

The combination of MPLS cost and other limitations have inspired many organizations to make the shift to SD-WAN. With SD-WAN, organizations use a combination of transport media, potentially including both MPLS and broadband Internet connections, to meet their networking needs. The shift to use of the public Internet for business traffic created new priorities for WAN optimization. With broadband Internet, bandwidth is no longer a major limiting factor for networking.

In the era of SD-WAN, the focus of WAN optimization is on ensuring network reliability and performance. The public Internet is cheap but also unreliable. Using WAN optimization, organizations can prioritize and route their traffic in ways that minimize latency and packet loss of business-critical traffic. The combination of SD-WAN and WAN optimization technology enables business traffic to have the reliability and performance guarantees of MPLS at a fraction of the cost.

  • Supporting the Business Cloud Deployment

SD-WAN significantly expands an organization’s ability to expand the geographic footprint of their WAN. Unlike MPLS circuits, the public Internet touches the entire globe, making it possible for businesses to securely connect far-flung branch locations on the corporate WAN.

However, it does not solve all of the geographic challenges of the global WAN. SD-WAN requires an SD-WAN appliance at each end of the connection to perform WAN optimization and security scanning.

While this is possible when networking together branch locations, many organizations are increasingly reliant upon cloud computing. Over 96% of companies are now using cloud computing. Locating physical SD-WAN appliances in cloud datacenters can be difficult or impossible. As organizations continue to grow their cloud deployments and move business-critical processing and storage to the cloud, deployment of SD-WAN appliances and WAN optimization tools to cloud deployments will be crucial to providing the reliability and performance guarantees needed by the corporate WAN.

Next-Generation Networking with Cloud-Based SD-WAN

As business operations increasingly move to the cloud, it is essential that SD-WAN and WAN optimization solutions do as well. While, in the past, these solutions were only available as physical appliances, this is no longer the case. Cloud-native SD-WAN solutions with built-in WAN optimization functionality can enable an organization to prioritize and route their traffic to and from cloud deployments based upon business needs.

While the use of SD-WAN to optimize routing of traffic over the public Internet to cloud deployments can improve WAN performance and reliability, the existence of an established cloud-based SD-WAN solution offers additional advantages. Cloud-based SD-WAN point-of-presence (PoPs) connected by dedicated Tier-1 network links can offer high-performance, reliable, and secure connectivity for all devices on the corporate WAN, whether in the data center, at branch locations, in the cloud, or mobile devices.

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