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The Evolution of the Enterprise WAN

By: Greg Butler, Director of Product Management, WANs

The Wide Area Network (WAN) is the nerve center for today’s enterprises, and all vital day-to-day operations and processes depend on it to function properly. Supporting a range of remote and mobile workforces steeped in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), the enterprise network must offer increasingly more capabilities and connectivity than ever before. In its brief but dynamic history over the past 30 years, the enterprise WAN has evolved at a rapid pace to meet emerging demands.

As we move toward cloud-based infrastructures, IP networks and SD-WANs, the buzzwords of today’s era, let’s look at how much has changed since the first public WAN was deployed in the early 1980s. From Local Area Networks (LANs), server rooms and simple dial-up connections of the 1980s to today’s diverse Bring Your Own Access (BYOA) infrastructure solutions, the enterprise network continues to evolve.

1980s – 1990s: Enabling the First Clouds – LANs to Frame Relay

In the early 1980s point-to-point circuits offered dizzying speeds of up to 56 Kbps via DS0 but by the mid-80s faster but more expensive connections through T1/E1 and T3/E3 were adopted. To connect multiple sites, you needed a lot of expensive circuits. These connections were initially made through remote bridges that eventually evolved into new devices called routers, which Cisco first shipped in 1987.

In the early 1990s Frame Relay services were introduced, using the same DS0 or T1 and T3 connections to a “cloud” from a service provider. The Frame Relay cloud gave enterprises the ability to have multiple point-to-point connections sharing a single “pipe” into a location and a lower cost option. The cost savings and reduced IT management disrupted the status quo for enterprise IT organizations, making Frame Relay the fastest adopted WAN service in history.

In the mid-to-late 90s, IPSec Virtual Private Networks (VPN) enabled secure site-to-site connections over the internet. Despite some early popularity, very few large enterprises used it for their site-to-site connections. However, as security concerns have become a priority, IPSec VPN has since become the preferred method for connecting remote employees.

2000s: The Dawn of Convergence – MPLS Succeeds Frame Relay

The early 2000s saw the introduction of integrated IP and Ethernet-based technologies offering better performance, greater capacity, and cost-savings. One of these new technologies was Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS), an IP-based solution designed for customers to enable converged voice, video and data into a single network. MPLS created a full-mesh, and eliminated the need for all of the point-to-point circuits or Frame Relay connections needed to create a WAN. It quickly became the hot network technology of the mid-2000s. With new benefits that included more control for Quality of Service (QoS) and traffic prioritization, plus slightly lower pricing than Frame Relay, MPLS became the new successor for enterprise networking.

2018 & Beyond: SD-WAN Adoption Increases with Dynamic Business Requirements

With the growth of the internet and public cloud services, enterprises have seen an explosive demand for bandwidth and network capabilities. Enterprises have also expanded globally, increasing pressure on IT to deliver solutions that support connecting employees and customers through a variety of devices across geographically diverse locations. Managing the enterprise WAN is now more challenging, complex and costly. Upgrading legacy WANs is also becoming a priority as flexibility and security become bigger issues.

To address these challenges, enterprises are migrating to a new technology, Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) which leverages Network Function Virtualization to achieve an agile and cost-effective network architecture. While SD-WAN adoption is currently estimated at just 5% of the market, Gartner predicts that adoption will grow to up to 30% by the end of 2019.

SD-WAN also enables a mix of underlying access technologies such as IP-VPN and DIA as part of a unified WAN solution. Since SD-WAN offers end-to-end visibility, cost savings and capabilities to help IT manage the demands of the multi-cloud world, it’s being adopted quickly.

Zayo has more than a decade of experience serving the infrastructure needs of some of the largest enterprises in the world, and we’ve built an extensive portfolio of solutions based on our dense global fiber network. Zayo’s offerings encompass a range of dark fiber, lit fiber-based solutions, including wavelengths, Ethernet and IP. As enterprises transform, we offer WAN connectivity solutions that include E-LAN (VPLS), IP-VPN (MPLS), E-Line, SD-WAN, Dedicated Internet Access (DIA), CloudLink and FlexConnect.

Greg Butler is Zayo’s Director of Product Management for the WANs group. In five years at Zayo, Greg has spent time in several Layer 2/Layer 3 solutions roles ranging from commercial support and pricing, to new product deployments, to large scale integrations. Before moving into his current role with WANs business, Greg ran the carrier ethernet business for Zayo. He studied business at the University of Colorado, is a licensed CPA, and worked in public accounting prior to making the transition to telecommunications and product management.   

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