The cloud's capacity to upend long-standing IT practices -- and vendor business models -- knows no bounds. Having changed the way IT organizations deliver applications and infrastructure, cloud services are now changing the way they design, deploy, and manage wide area networks.
That change is coming none too soon for respondents to the InformationWeek 2014 Next-Generation WAN Survey. Though 68% of respondents see demand for WAN bandwidth increasing (versus 34% who said so in our 2012 survey), just 15% are bringing new services or more capacity online now. Given the lead time to provision WAN links, we wonder just why they're waiting.
Enter a new wave of vendors, from newcomers such as Aryaka, Glue Networks, and Pertino to titans such as Cisco, all looking to the cloud to transform your WAN. By using a new generation of services built in co-located hubs and delivered over the Internet, they aim to do for networks what Amazon Web Services and Salesforce.com have done for computing and packaged applications: add speed and flexibility and, just maybe, cut costs.
That's key; when we asked about satisfaction with a dozen features of their WAN services, respondents rated cost dead last, as usual. One respondent last year asked: "Shouldn't there be a Moore's Law of WAN connectivity?" A network analyst responding to our latest survey said his local government finally got fed up and built its own WAN. "Incumbents were unwilling to either build it or collaborate with us to build it on a split-cost basis."
"Service providers in our area -- AT&T, TWC, CenturyLink -- are all insensitive to our needs." Most organizations don't have that DIY option. Fortunately, cloud-based WANs can piggyback on ubiquitous, inexpensive ISP circuits. Some offerings automate configuration and administration of all manner of WAN equipment, from branch office routers to security appliances. Other products go even further by letting IT organizations replace complex and expensive MPLS, T1, or optical (DWDM) circuits with an Internet-based private WAN. Another new network service category builds a multiparty VPN in the cloud, eliminating the setup headaches of conventional SSL, L2TP, or IPsec VPNs while letting remote clients (soon to include mobile devices) simultaneously join multiple private clouds.
If you're not investigating those offerings, you should be.
Also on the rise is the percentage of respondents using WAN optimization or traffic shaping on some or most connections. That four points this year to 55%. Most are looking to improve the performance of web applications. Others use WAN optimization to improve bulk file transfers or break WAN bottlenecks, reduce total bandwidth consumption, and improve uptime.
Of those who'd like to upgrade their WANs but can't, 26% say it's a matter of budget, while 54% say their organization has other priorities. WANs are one area where we tend not to mess around once they're built and working acceptably -- something carriers count on.
But changes are coming. Nearly half (46%) of IT organizations surveyed by Nemertes Research say they have begun or plan to replace expensive dedicated WAN circuits with Internet alternatives. In our own survey, 25% of respondents said they're already using cloud-based enterprise WAN services over public Internet connections. Another 37% said they're interested. Economies of scale let companies such as Google deliver symmetric Gigabit Ethernet for $70 per month. Why wouldn't you be curious?
Cloud Networking 101
The cloud is changing WANs in two important ways: how distributed networks are managed and how they're delivered.
The first change amounts to a software-as-a-service approach to network administration, whereby management consoles and device configuration screens sit in a cloud service, are accessed via browsers, and use web APIs to push changes to remote network equipment. This approach, described as cloud-enabled networks, was pioneered by wireless LAN vendors trying to streamline the configuration and administration of thousands of distributed access points, but it's also applied to branch office routers, VPN gateways, and other security appliances.
The second change entails delivering private network services over a public utility. Though cloud services inherently rely on the Internet, they're obviously not all public services. Companies have tunneled private traffic over the Internet using VPNs for years. Much as Salesforce and Workday use the cloud to deliver dedicated instances of enterprise applications, companies such as Aryaka and Pertino now deliver network-as-a-service offerings. The backbone of those offerings is the Internet, not private point-to-point or MPLS circuits, but with capabilities similar to conventional private WANs.
As with all online services, the chief NaaS bugaboo is data security. It's a top concern of 78% of the respondents to our survey, followed by service availability and reliability, at 48%. (Respondents were allowed to pick more than one option.) Maybe reports of the NSA snooping on traffic moving between Google and Yahoo datacenters nudged that number up, but our take is that "Not secure" is a Pavlovian IT pro response to the word "cloud." When we asked in our survey which three features are most attractive in a WAN service, only 21% cited end-to-end data encryption. What's considered far more important than encryption, client VPNs, and edge redundancy? Lower capital and operational costs and ease and speed of deployment.
Our takeaway: Money and convenience trump security and reliability every time, lip service notwithstanding. So let's start being honest with ourselves.
To read the rest of this story,
download the Dec. 2 issue of InformationWeek distributed in an all-digital format (registration required).