Future of WAN Includes SDN, NFV, Multiple Connections

At the recent WAN Summit, panelists talked about the pressures being put on the WAN, how SDN and NFV will help, and the future of MPLS.

wireless networking

When Chalan Aras thinks about the future of wide-area networks, he sees an infrastructure under increasing pressure caused by everything from growing IT mobility and cloud computing to bandwidth-intensive applications like video to the Internet of things. Aras also sees organizations that want their technology vendors to come up with solutions that are easy to use and affordable.

"The apps are demanding a lot more bandwidth [and] a lot more reliability," Aras, vice president and general manager of CloudBridge marketing for Citrix Systems, told eWEEK during an interview at the recent WAN Summit 2015 in New York City. "But no one's willing to pay for that. … It's as much an economic challenge as a technological challenge. “Aras was among a number of speakers during the two-day event, where the focus was on the multiple demands being put on WANs, what enterprises will look like in the future and the technologies—such as software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV)—that will help WANs address those demands.

Cisco Systems for several years has been tracking the growth of network traffic, noting in February that by 2019, mobile traffic alone—thanks to the growth of more powerful mobile devices, the rise in machine-to-machine connects and faster WiFi networks—will hit 292 exabytes, up from 30 exabytes in 2014. Video will continue to grow as a major factor in mobile traffic. Currently accounts for 55 percent of traffic; by 2019, that figure will be 72 percent.

During the WAN Summit, Khalid Raza, CTO at network architect startup Viptela, and others noted the rapid growth of video in WAN traffic.

"That's having an impact on current bandwidth requirements," Raza said.

Citrix's Aras said that "the bulk of new loads on the network is multimedia."

Panelists during the various sessions at the summit noted a range of other factors playing into the stresses on the WAN. These include the ongoing shift to VOIP, the growth of cloud platforms such as Microsoft's Office 365, and the growing demand for cloud services.

"We can't get to some of those things fast enough," said Michael Thornton, IT senior manager for telecommunications management services for Cisco's IT Global Infrastructure Services business.

Aras also talked about the trend toward server-less remote offices, with more applications being housed in data centers and sent to the cloud. The result is an increased dependency on network access and demand for greater reliability.

Panelists also talked about technologies that will play important roles in ensuring network capacity and reliability. Unsurprisingly, SDN and NFV will be key to the future of the WAN. Both technologies hold the promise of more flexible, agile, dynamic and affordable networks by removing much of the network intelligence from the underlying gear and into software that can run on commodity hardware.

SDN and NFV both have been talked about for several years, but the technologies are still developing and adoption and deployment are just beginning to gear up at most organizations, according to some of the speakers.

"It's the early innings of what will be a long game," said Philip Olivero, CTO of Lightower Fiber Networks.

However, the trend toward the technologies is inevitable, according to David Alan Hughes, vice president of IP engineering at PCCW Global.

"I think 10 years from now we won't be talking about SDN because it will just be," Hughes said.