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Building the Modern WAN: 4 Tips

Building the Modern WAN: 4 Tips

Multi-cloud environments pose unique integration challenges for the wide area network. An Interop ITX 2018 expert provides guidance on how to navigate them.

From a certain perspective, the history of enterprise networking seems to follow a cycle, fluctuating between computing that is widely dispersed and computing that is centralized in a primary location.

In a recent interview with Network Computing, Dane Jackson, network team lead for a large international hotel corporation, explained that a couple of decades ago, organizations were investing in wide area network (WAN) technology to connect all their disparate office locations.

Then centralization became popular, and colocation was all the rage.

Now with the advent of cloud computing, particularly multi-cloud environments, networking is coming full circle. "We're kind of going back now to that style of connectivity where we have services spread all across the globe again," said Jackson. "Only instead of offices, now it's cloud platforms, cloud locations."

He added, "What was once old is new again."

This modern WAN environment poses a lot of challenges for networking professionals, particularly when it comes to integrating all the various platforms and services that today's enterprises are using. As someone who works on overcoming these challenges on a daily basis, Jackson has several tips for other networking pros:

1. Read as much as possible

Cloud computing services can be a bit opaque, and they don't all operate in the same way. Jackson says that network admins and managers should begin by learning as much as they can about how these services work.

"There's a lot of great material that's being provided by both the providers, the solution providers, such as Microsoft, AWS, and Google Cloud," he said. Understanding how public cloud services work is critical for managing the modern WAN.

2. Expect integration with your legacy LAN to be tricky

One of his biggest networking challenges has been integration, Jackson admitted. "The legacy LAN is not going anywhere anytime soon," he said. "One of the trickiest things is making sure everything works together."

Jackson is hopeful that new products and technologies, including software-defined WAN, will be helpful for overcoming integration challenges, especially for large environments.

3. Learn by doing

The best way to understand how networking works in a multi-cloud world is to experiment on your own, advised Jackson: "Get in there and try it and do it."

He noted that the relatively low cost of cloud services makes it fairly easy for IT to convince management to let them set up a lab for research. "The beauty of it is, as long as you are not spinning up a lot of services, the cost for a personal WAN can be fairly cheap," he said.

Of course, not all modern WAN needs are inexpensive, but "where you can try something firsthand, there is no reason not to," he said.

4. End-to-end connectivity isn't always possible

IT needs to understand the tradeoffs between cost and performance with the various WAN options. "There are many forms of integration of the wide area network with cloud -- end-to-end connectivity being the utopian ideal, so things all route perfectly and IP addresses connect without issue," explained Jackson.

He noted that achieving this ideal is not always possible, so networking pros need to be aware of their other options, like overlay networks, encapsulation technologies, load balancers, proxies, and WAN accelerators. He concluded that the ultimate goal should be getting the right business value for your business cost.

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