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WAN: The single highest recurring cost in your IT budget?

by Citrix
January 2016
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IT departments seem to display major risk aversion when it comes to WAN provision. This is understandable when unreliable links can be a false economy in lost productivity if they fail at a small branch even once in a year.

So the most common arrangement is to deploy Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS). With its inherent service level agreements and resiliency you can push all traffic through MPLS without worrying about lost connections.

Some IT departments choose to add extra paths from the public internet. But in most cases these are just for backup, especially when it is such an expensive arrangement. With these additional links, WAN costs are the frequently the highest recurring factor in IT budgets.

What is more, with this set up there are still plenty of other cost issues to contend with:

Wasted bandwidth

Over-provisioning resources to cope with peak demand becomes necessary because of a slow response to these dedicated (MPLS) links.

Lengthy failover times

Despite their promise (and expense), these dedicated links can fail. When this happens, the time it takes to get back up and running may be significant (and costly).

Degraded performance after failovers

Even when IT administrators are doing the best they possibly can, the performance after any failover may still be worse than before.

Costly extra capacity

For much of the time, your ‘back up’ links are not actually passing any traffic – making them an underutilised expense.

Packet loss, latency and jitter

Even if the primary (or only) link does not fail it can suffer from other well-known network issues, which serve to undermine the connection.

Complex network administration

Any failover will require manual intervention, diverting IT resources from other projects. It may also be difficult to reconfigure application traffic flows and regain your former levels of performance.

A costly but captive market

MPLS promises so much – dedicated, reliable WAN connectivity, low latency, built-in quality of service (QoS) – but that comes at a very high price.

MPLS providers are rarely challenged on their pricing model because of a lack of competitive offerings and the perception that there is no other choice. There is no incentive for MPLS providers to lower their prices or improve their alternative services. Why should they when almost every business is pushing more data across its WAN pipes year after year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future? The market for business class WAN is captive and beholden to MPLS.

Is there another way?

When you pay dearly for every piece of data put onto a WAN there is an incentive to wring every last bit out of the connection. This philosophy drove the development of WAN optimisation techniques. It was also responsible for the rise of new vendors and devices to help customers meet their business goals through technology.

And while there is still a place for WAN optimisation – especially with some applications on high latency networks – the recent growth of WAN virtualisation offers a different approach . It offers all the benefits of MPLS but at the cost of common internet connectivity.

Today, internet offerings are much more reliable with as much as 99% uptime promised. Speeds are high and, because of the plethora of providers in many areas, prices are low and set up time is quick. It is true that internet pipes are still a ‘best-effort’ service but bonding several of these links together can provide reliability similar to MPLS. Just like the way that RAID technology offers home users the sort of back-up capability previously only available to businesses at huge cost.

Of course, it is never completely straightforward and getting the best use of these bonded links requires the right technology. Links must be constantly monitored for the best path selection at any given time. Link failure must be instantly detected. And failover must be automatic.

Application requirements need to be understood so that appropriate priorities are given to real-time applications. And it is important to remember that QoS is only applicable where there is congestion. Adding sufficient bandwidth cheaply can alleviate the need for QoS almost entirely.

All of this is possible today. The technology is solid and proven. The return on investment can be surprisingly quick – even compared with WAN optimisation technologies in their prime.

So where next for your WAN?

Most carriers are likely to continue to milk their MPLS cash cow for now. After all, it is unlikely that a business will dispense with all of its MPLS links overnight. Plus, there will always be some business-critical applications that warrant the cost for guaranteed reliability.

But with the right WAN virtualisation technology, internet connectivity can be used as more than a back-up link in times of trouble. It can now dramatically reduce your reliance on MPLS and save you the cost of using other expense technologies in the future.

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