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Cutting-edge WAN: The challenges and the hype

Whether working below sea level or in the International Space Station, we can exchange information faster and more easily than ever before. Yet, the pandemic pressure-tested our infrastructures. Businesses cried out for secure, remote-first capabilities that could keep them afloat. 

This period has proven that a superior network doesn’t just enable file and device sharing from home. It enables our teams to work, full stop. It shone light on the unique layers that form a Wide Area Network (WAN) – each tier a player with its own critical mission to offer the best possible performance. A bit like Squid Game.   

Except the seismic shift to remote working caused the office and routine we knew so well to fade from memory faster than our latest Netflix series binge.  

As we move away from remote working as a contingency, how do we continue to optimise our network layers and combat new challenges that lie ahead? 

How do we ultimately ensure transparency of service when stacking those foundations? After all, that stack needs to climb us all the way to the cloud.   

Optimising WAN infrastructure

Over the last two years, network access has transformed out working lives. WAN features centre stage in this biopic. This telecommunications and computer networking setup can extend across a wide geographical region, empowering your cloud communications and collaboration.   

Just like a network of cash points or your firm’s multiple offices, data can be shared between many devices globally, through one provider. 

WAN has been developing in the background for decades. It’s something we rely upon without even realising. Connecting can be so seamless, we no longer ask how it is made possible. Until it breaks.  

That’s the only time one might question the integrity of a network, which makes it a rare opportunity to consider the benefits of a more robust, integrated solution. 

The modern workplace needs a modern WAN, but this idea extends far beyond the right network foundations or correct cloud support services.  

WAN and Cloud transition

Did you know that, as of 2020, only 20% of enterprise businesses stored their workload in the cloud? This is expected to grow to 40% by 2023.  

These businesses still have a lot of legacy assets on their books, concerned processes might be difficult to virtualise or eradicate. There’s also the upheaval of the ‘lift and shift’ – the task of migrating all that on-premises technology to the cloud.  

We must get out of the mindset that this technology is solely IT-driven. Focus should draw on the advantages a cloud solution can bring to a wider business; how it benefits multiple departments and improves productivity. Cloud technology can ultimately shape work ethic and customer experience.  

We might work across different sectors but, when you boil it down, the challenges we face are the same. We all want to improve customer service, deliver efficiencies, and reduce costs.  

The cloud is at the heart of these strategies and can mould business outcomes, but we can’t ignore the challenging external trends that impact the way in which we communicate and collaborate. The three trends reshaping connectivity 

The pandemic

A wake-up call for businesses, the pandemic served as a powerful reminder of the importance of system agility and scalability, seeing many go ‘all in’ on wireless WAN. By March 2021, 43% of businesses had installed SD-WAN (compared to 18% in 2018).  

Key motivators behind this acceleration included a need to increase site capacity and the use of alternative access solutions. All the while, businesses also faced further challenges that shook infrastructures to their core.  

At the beginning of the pandemic a huge spike in remote users created something of a WAN traffic jam, with IT managers battling congestion at their internet gateways.  

Prior to the pandemic, just 14% of employees were regularly working from home. That number has since risen to 65%. In fact, over 90% of Enterprises have seen an increase in the number of employees working from home. 

Suddenly, the way in which networks were managed by departments fundamentally changed, and the security of transmitted data and connections were put under intense IT scrutiny.  

SD-WAN provided users with end-to-end network visibility and understanding. The software allowed teams to safely host essential network services in the cloud, making critical applications available for employees based remotely. 

Newly applied infrastructures were put to the test quickly. 95% of businesses observed increased real time application traffic on their WAN during the pandemic, as staff turned to voice and video to compensate for a lack of face time. 

Prior to the correct setup being implemented, IT managers faced complaints around dropped calls, poor audio and video quality.  

Now, new usage patterns have required administrators to ensure and maintain top level performance in the cloud as well as on premises with the help of a sophisticated WAN. Monitoring bandwidth and anticipating usage has become a top priority for network teams, ensuring processes run smoothly. Assessing new firewall technology kept things secure.  

Once the government allowed teams to return to the office, businesses had a choice to stay on this digital transformation track or return to old habits. In fact, only 3% of businesses have cancelled an SD-WAN project since the pandemic began. More than half are continuing to accelerate these innovative network plans.  

But some business leaders still consider remote working a contingency plan, not the standard. It’s a backup, gathering dust until the next on-premises breakdown. While it may seem easier to revert to old habits, there’s another challenge afoot. 

The big switch off

Putting the pandemic to one side, 2020 and 2021 were big years for the PSTN switch off and, in turn, WAN and SD-WAN. That’s right, it’s the inevitable ‘Silence of the LAN’, but what does it mean for businesses? 

The big switch off is a project run by Openreach, who announced its plans to no longer sell or support PSTN services. The organisation is currently working through its exchanges in tranches and plans to complete the switch off by 2025. With more than 100 UK exchanges set to receive over 75% FTTP coverage by June 2021, work is truly underway. 

The completion date of 2025 may seem like a long way away, but Openreach has set some important milestones before its final deadline such as National stop sell of PSTN services. 

Stop sell – a term used by Openreach to signify stopping the sale of specific products – is being initiated in 2023. In fact, Salisbury announced its official stop sell back in December 2020. Since this date, businesses in the area have been unable to add new legacy phone lines or channels to existing setups.  

From 2023, businesses within the UK will need to opt for a solution that uses an internet line such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or hosted voice.  

Replacement all IP products such as FTTP and SoGEA are more cost effective and will facilitate cloud connectivity.  

Essentially, SD-WAN will become crucial to businesses forced to migrate away from PSTN. A solid, modern network is the backbone to any well-run organisation. It can offer reliability, scalability and flexibility that is unparalleled. The switch off may seem daunting, but it’s long overdue.  

Cutting-edge WAN

We then welcome the redistribution of the ‘WAN edge’: the network and security infrastructure that connects distributed workplaces to their cloud-hosted applications and services. This is a niche topic, but one in which we’re seeing a lot of movement.  

Traditionally, WAN edge technology was made up of dedicated hardware such as edge routers and security software. Each piece managed its own function. The introduction of software-defined WANS has enabled next-level management of cloud application traffic, evolving WAN edge technology. 

SD-WAN identifies applications before routing them over the best possible paths on the WAN. This improves application performance, reach and security. This smart routing provides IT managers with more granular reporting, revealing your networks’ virtual tunnels and highlighting insights around devices, users, and application performance.  

In the meantime, SD-WAN is still maintaining the running of tasks managed by those former, standalone WAN edge products.  

This type of technology is dependent on use cases. For example, if you own a small branch with 10-15 employees, a simple connection is required. As the branch and user size grows, you begin contracting into the larger global WAN edge– a network spread across continents.  

Cloud-first, a business can maintain its workload securely in the cloud. Data is shareable between branches and fewer work is saved, and stuck, onsite. Remote workers are as clued in as your onsite staff, connected to the cloud across different locations and on multiple devices. Perfect for those businesses taking advantage of the many benefits of hybrid and remote working. 

The technology is complex and, unfortunately, there’s still a lot of confusion in the market space. Namely due to a spike in vendors competing to reach the cloud. This spike is breeding a range of disconnected services, all offering multiple applications and varying SLAs. Shopping for the right provider and solution becomes a minefield.  

Building transparency

When it comes to networking, businesses want the confidence of delivering great service and continuity both internally and externally. 

Many are considering a DIY approach to the WAN but trying to recruit cloud specialists in a sea of competitors is no easy feat. 

Some have reverted to a 1960s approach, adopting a technology or hardware-first attitude. Although WAN is highly technical, its benefits lie in the experience it gives its users (your people, their processes, and your customers).  

The PSTN switch off will be another, long-overdue, nail in the coffin for legacy infrastructures. Cloud technology isn’t just cost-effective, it’s sought-after.  

There’s a shift in how we’re managing and using network technology. Processes have become automated, network changes that used to take weeks to implement can now be completed in a fraction of the time.  

Once an experienced managed service provider has central orchestration of your WAN connectivity, enabling you to reach the cloud seamlessly, you’ll notice a change in application and staff efficiencies at home, in the office and on the go. 

Looking to the future

Globally, network models are changing. The post-pandemic WAN has seen more businesses readjusting their network architectures and operations to reflect the realities of how we work today.  

But what’s the role of your operator in this new era of working? Enabling phone calls? Pushing through emails or webchat messages? 

Most likely, it’s all the above. A suitable network must be implemented by a provider that understands your culture and values; one that understands your unique business challenges and how technology can solve them. Only then can any benefits shine through each layer of a robust, high-performance network.  

Let’s also not forget the importance of service breadth. Does the provider you’ve chosen have the breadth of platforms, tools, and technology to build a bridge across all your key network foundations?  

In today’s climate, businesses need to evolve. The new working world demands improved network security, unshakeable application performance and reliable multi-WAN opportunities.  

A suitable provider will monitor changes and trends in the environment, moulding your service to combat any challenges and your changing requirements. 

We’ve given you the questions (and some of the answers), but only you can take the next step towards a brighter network and discover the true benefits of a managed service provider.  

Contact our team today to discover more about the benefits of SD-WAN.