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.
Future of WAN Includes SDN, NFV, Multiple Connections
A lot of the debate during the sessions was around the future of the multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) transport protocol, which was been at the center of networks. However, there are other connections—from 3G and 4G WiFi to broadband to satellite—that are available and that have differing levels of cost and latency to consider.
Several panelists noted the high cost of MPLS connections, but added that the reliability would make it difficult for other technologies to displace it completely.
“I think MPLS will stay around, augmented by broadband,” Aras said. “We believe in co-existence. … Everyone loves MPLS. It works really well.”
What will happen is that other connections will find roles within the WAN, and it will be up to the technology vendors to figure ways to make it work best, he said. Citrix took a step in that direction earlier in the month when it expanded its CloudBridge offerings with the release of the CloudBridge Virtual WAN Edition. Aras said in an interview that the technology is designed to help businesses manage the multiple connections in their networks, scale bandwidth and create “always-on” remote office availability at a time when branch locations are becoming increasingly server-less.
Other vendors have technologies that—like CloudBridge Virtual WAN—enable organizations to address multiple connections in their WAN, according to Aras. However, what differentiates the Citrix technology is its ability to dynamically manage the applications running over the various connections to ensure the best performance, he said. It essentially bonds the various connections, which not only leads to higher performance but also lower costs.
For example, an organization may have a broadband connection (which offers mid-level latency and low cost), MPLS (low latency and mid-level costs), and LTE 4G (mid-latency and high costs). The technology determines the best path for the various applications—video, for example—based on policies that look at such metrics as performance and cost.
However, if traffic on one connection becomes congested or a failure occurs, the CloudBridge Virtual WAN will automatically and dynamically move applications to other avenues to ensure the best performance, Aras said. It also takes the burden of dealing with WAN traffic off of the enterprise.
Businesses want product providers or service providers to take care of all of that, he said. “They don’t want to have to worry about it.”