Any company that has more than one location will benefit from WAN connectivity. There are multiple techniques to connecting a WAN ranging from full service to do-it-yourself.
WAN Connectivity Techniques
You just sent the last email of the day – an important one too. It was to your boss who works at the corporate building across town. You hit send and head out for the weekend. First thing Monday morning, your boss calls you and screams, ”Where is that email? You were supposed to have sent it to me on Friday!”Unfortunately for you, your remote office was connected to the corporate building by a poorly designed Wide Area Network (WAN) that offered no redundancy. Little did you know, on Friday the WAN connection to your building went down. Not your fault, but you get the blame! If only your IT networking team had used a fully meshed WAN network connection technique.
You may already know that a Wide Area Network, or WAN, is used to connect physically separated locations on a network.
WANs can connect buildings that are across town or across the world on the same network. There are various techniques to do this, but two of the most common are hub and spoke and full mesh networks topologies. Let’s take a closer look.
WAN Design Basics
Hub and Spoke
A hub and spoke WAN is a design technique where remote or branch office locations are all connected to the main location using a single point-to-point connection. This is a very simple and inexpensive design, but offers little in terms of resiliency.If two remote offices want to communicate with each other, they would first have to connect to the main site, which would in turn relay the information to the other remote office. The main site would always act as a bridge between sites. If there was a network issue somewhere between a particular remote office and the main site, that remote site would become unconnected from the rest of the WAN, including both main site and all other remote offices.
Full Mesh Network Topology
To remedy the deficiencies of the hub and spoke WAN technique, a fully meshed WAN topology was introduced.
A topology is simply a representation of the design or layout of the network. ‘Full mesh’ means that every site is connected to every other site.Essentially, this turns any remote office, in addition to the main site, into a possible bridge to communicate with any other office. So if there is a network problem between a remote office and the main site, there’s no problem. The network can automatically use another remote office as a relay to the main site.
Just think, if your WAN would have been designed with a full mesh technique, that email you sent would have gotten to your boss even if your WAN connection to corporate was broken!
There are other variations of the mesh technique, but essentially the concept is the same. Admittedly, WAN connectivity can be somewhat intimidating.However, carriers provide options and flavors for all types of situations.
Carriers, or the company you purchase WAN connectivity from, are normally your telecommunication or internet service providers who can help.
Some carrier options are very easy to implement, in fact the service provider may do all the work for you. Unfortunately, service providers come up with a myriad of colorful marketing names for the various types of WAN services, making it confusing. What are you really getting?In general, things to consider when evaluating these options are:
- Cost – easy enough to figure out.
- Performance – the speed of the connection that you will get between your locations.
- Reliability – the ‘service level agreement (SLA)’, which is the guarantee of uptime that the carrier promises.
- Resiliency – how your WAN reacts to outages or problems in the network.
Equally important is the level of management. Most carriers provide a managed WAN option, where they are responsible for the management and configuration of the WAN. Unmanaged options are available, but in those cases a highly skilled IT network team would be needed to manage and configure the WAN.
Some common carrier methods for connecting a WAN network are:
- Dedicated Lines
- Frame Relay (discontinued)
- Dark Fiber
MPLS is by far considered the most used option, with 74% of companies surveyed claiming to use some form of MPLS for their WAN.MPLS offers a type of full mesh solution called any-to-any. MPLS has the potential to have value-added carrier services added in to the WAN, such as network security services.
However, more companies are looking at Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) as a viable option.
The Future of WAN Connectivity
SD-WANs are less expensive because they can use regular internet connections, instead of private WAN-type connections.
Special equipment and software is used to increase the reliability and security of the internet connection. A secure connection is established over the internet with each remote office, and a full mesh design is achieved.SD-WANs are gaining ground as the next generation for WAN connectivity techniques. The downside is that this is a newer concept and is still abstract to many IT professionals. However, with proper IT talent, an SD-WAN can be properly implemented and save organizations money.
A Wide Area Network (WAN) connects physically separated locations on a network. A hub and spoke WAN connects remote or branch office locations to the main location via a single point-to-point connection. Resiliency is a problem with this design. To improve it, the fully meshed WAN topology was introduced that connects every site to every other site.
Most carriers provide a fully managed WAN service. In general, things to consider when evaluating these options are cost, performance, reliability, and resiliency.
- Cost is easy enough to figure out.
- Performance refers to the speed of the connection that you will get between your locations.
- Reliability often refers to the ‘service level agreement (SLA)’, which is the guarantee of uptime that the carrier promises.
- Resiliency relates to how your WAN reacts to outages or problems in the network.
MPLS offers a type of full mesh design and is the most commonly used provider. However, Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) is less expensive and gaining ground in the industry.