Working Toward the Wide Area LAN

Increasing reliance on the cloud is making the WAN critical to enterprise connectivity. Vendors are stepping up to deliver LAN-like functionality for the WANs of the future.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Aug 22, 2014
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Long before the cloud arrived on the IT scene, enterprises of all stripes were ramping up their wide area capabilities in anticipation of broadly distributed architectures. And even though today’s cloud is largely used for backup and archiving, a robust WAN is key to keeping throughput high and costs low.

But now that the cloud is set to take on a greater role in the enterprise by supporting higher-level applications and data loads, the hunt is on to provide wide area connectivity capable of supporting the kind of chaotic data flows that typical enterprise production networks deal with every day. Essentially, to build a WAN that behaves like a LAN.

While that level of functionality is not quite ready yet, the IT industry continues to see gains in the way WAN architectures deal with broadening data requirements.

Earlier this month, Silver Peak released its new Unity WAN fabric, described as an intelligent solution to the problem of running multiple cloud services across an increasingly congested Internet. The system is deployed in the data center, providing visibility across the entire cloud architecture as well as management tools that help optimize connectivity and maintain security while data is in transit. As an added bonus, the platform offers built-in support for Salesforce, Office 365, Dropbox and other leading cloud services.

At the same time, a start-up called VeloCloud is out with a new cloud-based subscription service that seeks to optimize cloud performance through highly detailed analysis of the applications themselves. The system works on both broadband and Wi-Fi networks, providing for enterprise-class connectivity without specialized hardware or dedicated MPLS capabilities. Describing VeloCloud as a WAN optimization solution is a bit of misnomer, given that the focus is to improve application navigation through the wide area, not improvement of the WAN itself.  But company execs say this gives the system an edge when it comes to adapting cloud workloads to legacy networking infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Citrix is turning its attention to IPv6 and Exchange 2013 workloads with the newest CloudBridge bundle. The new Ver. 7.3 provides a centralized management console that allows admins to remotely update legacy branch appliances and then provide regular updates as the platform evolves. The system provides an easy way to migrate XenApp and XenDesktop environments to Amazon and other clouds using tools like HDX optimization and NetScaler to troubleshoot performance issues and adjust network resources before degradations become noticeable to the user. There is also a video caching component that offers scheduled pre-population and support for CLI commands and SNMP.

On a more fundamental level, however, it may be that optical networking is the future of the WAN. AT&T, IBM and Applied Communication Sciences (ACS) recently showed off a proof-of-concept network that enables sub-second provisioning of multicloud architectures while still providing OpenStack-based elastic bandwidth capabilities to adjust for varying connection rates. The system was developed under the DARPA CORONET program, which seeks to foster rapid configuration of terabit networks. It uses a mix of high-speed bandwidth-on-demand (BoD), cloud orchestration and optical-layer routing to scale workloads and resources in ways that don’t hamper overall network functionality. AT&T is hoping to commercialize the system under its NetBond solution, although company execs have not said how quickly that would happen.

It seems likely that as the need to provision one’s own infrastructure will diminish with the rise of the cloud, the need to maintain a robust and flexible connection to the outside world will grow in importance. Fortunately, development of a high-speed, high-performance WAN will be a lot less complicated than building traditional data center infrastructure.

In the future, someone else will worry about servers and storage, but the enterprise will still be responsible for connectivity.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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