Hybrid: New Kid on the WAN Block

Peter Clarke
On: 16 Sep 2015
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Peter Clarke heralds the arrival of the hybrid WAN, and examines what it means for MPLS and the IT manager.

I’m sure every IT manager will agree that the Wide Area Network (WAN) is an essential component of an enterprise’s information infrastructure. All businesses of scale will have invested in MPLS WAN technology to benefit from reliability, quality of service, security and service level management – the bedrock of their data communications. But there is a new kid on the block – the Hybrid WAN – which according to analysts could change the dynamics of networks.

Like all new kids on the block, Hybrid WAN’s arrival has triggered both excitement and reserve among IT management. It is of course necessary to understand the risks and rewards. Essentially, Hybrid WAN is the combination of existing and legacy private MPLS with other access technologies such as the internet, mobile networks and cloud based networks.

For most organisations, the existing WAN is still their network foundation, but graduating to a hybrid approach could add benefits. One primary motivation for going hybrid is the cloud. If you are already adopting hybrid cloud services, it makes perfect sense for those services to utilise cloud based networks as well, for data transit, alongside your core MPLS network.

And with all eyes on the IT purse these days, cost is of course a factor. Modern computing demands are pushing the WAN to its limits in terms of data transfer volumes. On top, most businesses need to find ways of extending their network’s geographic reach to support mobility. But extending a traditional WAN has a relatively high price tag. Hybrid approaches – merging MPLS with internet and mobile – can be a faster and more cost effective option that also allows you to extend the return on your existing private network investment. Internet and mobile network ubiquity increase the potential availability of WAN resources too, creating `anywhere’ access points onto the network, supporting mobile and flexible working as far as it needs to go.

Is there a trade-off against these benefits in performance terms however?

MPLS network performance is predictable and consistent, offering guaranteed service for all of those mission critical applications you use. With Hybrid WAN you can be open to the vagrancies of the internet, which as we know is not always a consistent performer. So there are reconsiderations to be made around how you manage network performance and optimisation when moving to a hybrid model. Hybrid brings clear performance (and scalability) advantages too. Removing the fixed restrictions of a private WAN also eliminates some of the performance barriers. Lower cost, high speed internet and mobile networks, can be used to complement and supplement the WAN to scale up and down as the business requires. As enterprise computing and data demands ebb and flow, the hybrid WAN can do so too.

Security is obviously a critical watchword if considering the move to hybrid. Your MPLS WAN has been successful because it provides secure private data transfer for the extended business. As hybrid is across shared internet and mobile networks, and links your MPLS to it, your network could be open to possible attacks without new measures in place.

Hybrid is certainly the new kid on the WAN block, but there are striking differences between a traditional WAN and this new approach. One is about network traffic prioritisation and the other is about network expansion to deliver extra requirements. We recommend that organisations consider what these differences mean in terms of network management and optimisation and approach this new arrival with interest and caution.