By Mike Hemes, VP of Sales EMEA, Silver Peak

A transformation of the enterprise wide area network (WAN) is upon us. While the WAN has always been about connecting users to applications and moving data over long distances – for example, for greater collaboration, disaster recovery and business continuity – the explosion of cloud services and frustration surrounding the high cost and inflexibility of MPLS networks has forced companies to rethink their WAN.

Over the last decade, multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) networks made sense for business because applications were only hosted in the data centre, and the internet could not deliver the reliability to support user demands. With today’s cloud-based applications, MPLS is no longer sufficient to address today’s enterprise network requirements. With more applications offered on-demand via the internet and cloud, there is a distinct need for companies to operate at “cloud speed”. To operate at this pace, organisations are challenged with improving the responsiveness and agility of their business and the network, reducing costs of the network, and providing better support and performance of all their applications.

Improving business agility

There is an overarching need for businesses to increase their responsiveness and agility. With MPLS, if a new office needs to be opened, a branch office needs to be relocated, or IT resources need to be moved, the process to add, move or change takes too long and is often too disruptive to the business. MPLS also does not accommodate new methods of automation and typically requires on-site IT expertise and configuration of networking equipment.

While lower-cost internet connectivity has been available, enterprises have been reluctant to use it for fear it would not provide the performance, reliability and security needed for business. We access cloud applications in our homes via broadband internet and it works fine and costs less, so why does accessing those same applications from within the enter-prise equal slower performance and wasted costs. This is because the transmission is being sent back over the expensive MPLS connection before connecting the cloud over the internet.

Gaining control, improving performance

As cloud applications become more pervasive throughout today’s enterprises, organisations are losing visibility and control over the expanding application mix. For example, most CIOs and IT leaders today cannot say how many applications are running on their network, or which applications are in use across the enterprise. When performance or connectivity problems arise, an organisation is usually notified via IT trouble tickets. IT not only needs to improve the performance of this new set of applications, but also rein in how applications are being used on the network.

While companies should be able to replace or reduce their dependency on MPLS networks, this requires using internet connectivity in a secure, controlled and optimised manner. The internet essentially needs to operate like a private line. It just hasn’t been possible to guarantee consistent and reliable performance for users connecting to applications, while keeping costs at a minimum – until today.

Moving to a broadband WAN

Enterprises can now flexibly and securely connect users to applications via the most cost-effective source of connectivity available – the internet. By deploying a broadband WAN, often referred to as a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN), companies can augment or replace MPLS networks with secure broadband internet connectivity. As such, businesses can avoid lengthy procurement and deployment delays for a faster time to service at the branch. Furthermore, since it requires minimal manual intervention in terms of deployment and configuration, it also lowers operational costs and increases efficiency.

Once connected, a broadband WAN should provide visibility into both the data centre and cloud traffic, as well as the ability to centrally assign business intent policies to secure and control network traffic. It should also ensure private line performance over the internet by over¬coming quality problems created by packet loss and out-of-order packets – this is especially important as more cloud applications are used in the branch. Critically, enterprises can reduce their dependency on traditional MPLS connectivity, which means they do not have to overhaul any existing network investments, and can easily mix and match carriers by access technology and geography.

Ultimately, transitioning to this new enterprise network model requires minimal disruption or cost. One of the key benefits of this model is that enterprises can move at their own pace. They can begin their journey with a hybrid network model before moving 100 percent to a broadband WAN. Internet services can, therefore, be introduced into the network without impact on application performance or the MPLS network. And given the industry averages for bandwidth costs, payback for a broadband network investment starts immediately.