Next-generation wide area network services on the rise

Next-generation wide area network (WAN) services are on the rise as companies begin to migrate away from frame relay and ATM to services like MPLS and Ethernet VPN, according to recent research by analyst firm In-Stat. Drivers include the convergence of data, voice and video, and decentralized access to enterprise applications.

Although most U.S. businesses are still using legacy wide area network (WAN) services, they are steadily migrating to next-generation services like MPLS and Ethernet VPN .

New research from analyst firm In-Stat found that 62% of 810 surveyed businesses reported that they are still using legacy WAN services such as frame relay and asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) networks. However, In-Stat senior analyst Steve Hansen said the majority of those companies using legacy WAN services plan to switch a portion -- or all -- of their networks to next-generation WAN services.

In its research, In-Stat defined next-generation WAN services as technologies such as MPLS and Ethernet- and IP-based VPN technology. These WAN technologies allow organizations to build more resilient and robust network topologies.

"We see that legacy services have served the business world well, but the times are changing, and people are in the process of moving on to these other services," Hansen said.

Most of the wide area network migration tends to be gradual, he said. Companies with multiple sites are moving their smaller sites first because those are more manageable.

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The legacy WAN services most in decline are frame relay, ATM and private leased lines, Hansen said. Companies are migrating to MPLS and other services to support network convergence and improve reliability.

"Things that tend to drive it are those such as convergence, where you're integrating things like voice, data and video," Hansen said. Companies also want to move away from the hub-and-spoke approach of legacy WAN services and adopt a mesh approach.

"The network is not a utility anymore," he said. "It's a strategic tool that businesses use to remain competitive. And what's happening is there's a trend toward a more anywhere, anytime connectivity. The new WAN services tend to accommodate that more than legacy services, so people are transitioning to them."

Respondents to In-Stat's survey identified business direct Internet (37%), Ethernet VPN (36%) and MPLS (30%) as the services to which they plan to migrate over the next year. (Respondents were allowed to select more than one option.)

The Education Corporation of America, an operator of for-profit universities, migrated its entire company to MPLS last year, according to Ron Maillette, executive vice president and CIO.

"Before that, we were using hubs and spokes, coming back to our primary Birmingham location," he said. "And we did it simply because of its effect on scalability and to get rid of a single point of failure."

Maillette's company has 17 different sites on the corporate WAN, and it plans to add multiple new campuses per year, so scalability was a major issue. Adding a new campus to the new MPLS network was just a matter of connecting the site into the network cloud, he said.

"Another real advantage we got with MPLS is we put in a new phone system in two locations, Birmingham and Tampa, and to fully enable that switch for one location, we needed to do Voice over IP [VoIP]," Maillette said. "We put it in using MPLS. It allows you to do VoIP and implement it with quality of service."

Sam Lamonica, CIO of engineering and construction contractor Rudolph and Sletten, said he transitioned to a private IP network three years ago to connect his headquarters with his three regional offices. Before that, he was using a basic "spider" network with T1 connections going from each office to the headquarters, and it was becoming cumbersome and unmanageable.

"We had a relatively standard WAN solution in place, and it just wasn't working," Lamonica said. "All of the typical bottlenecks that a company like ours runs into with such a diverse networking requirement. We transitioned to a private IP network about three years ago, and we haven't looked back."

Lamonica said he has seen dramatic changes in performance and access to and from the company's regional office, which had been sporadic in the past.

"It's also forced us to look at possibly decentralizing some of our applications to be able to better provide support and not clog up regional office pipes," he said. "We've also distributed our Exchange environment, but that plays into our disaster recovery as well. The transition allows you to really take a holistic look at your environment and come up with a much better set of solutions in terms of accessibility, recoverability and performance."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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