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WAN outlook 2011: MPLS networks become a luxury, WAN op-as-a-service

Industry analysts predict what changes WAN pros will see this year in WAN optimization, VPNs and carrier services, such as multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) networks.

With the new year upon us, asked three industry analysts to predict what changes network engineers might see in the world of wide area networks in 2011.  First we spoke to Ted Chamberlin, research director at Gartner Inc., about 2011 carrier services trends. He said that budget pressure will inspire WAN managers to look for affordable alternatives to multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) networks.

Ted ChamberlinTed Chamberlin
Research Director, Gartner Inc.

MPLS networks are so last decade… well, sort of: MPLS prices won't fall much more than they have, so what you pay now is about as good as it's going to get, Chamberlin said. With most enterprise network budgets seeing only modest increases this year, WAN pros with 100 to 1,000 sites to manage will view MPLS networks as a luxury they cannot afford at every branch office, he said.

To make their budgets work, many networking pros will swap out MPLS links for encrypted broadband WAN connections -- what Chamberlin calls "the poor man's MPLS" -- using technologies such as Secure Sockets Layer virtual private networks (SSL VPNs). But expect deployments only at sites where they make sense, such as those with a small handful of users who don't require site-to-site voice over IP (VoIP) or video conferencing.

"We're starting to see a little bit of backlash away from MPLS, which as we know is supposed to do everything -- it could do taxes and slice bread," Chamberlin said. "Even as prices for MPLS [networks] have declined, it's flattening out, and there are some enterprises [that] are finally saying, 'You know what? There are certain remote sites … [where] the premium of MPLS over broadband is not worth it."

Performance to become a managed service: Does your carrier guarantee uptime and mean time to repair (MTTR) and nothing else? Yawn. WAN managers waited this year for carriers to offer some kind of managed WAN or application performance service but to no avail. A few established service providers and startups, such as Aryaka, experimented with managed WAN performance services last year, but most carriers stuck with managing expensive premise-based equipment.

As more service providers deploy WAN optimization tools in their own environments, WAN pros will likely see something akin to WAN optimization-as-a-Service in 2011, Chamberlin said. The capital investment for deploying WAN optimization -- $3,000 to $4,000 for branch appliances and $10,000 to $20,000 for data center controllers -- put it out of reach for many IT organizations over the past two years, he said.

"[Enterprises] clamor for [WAN performance] as a managed service, but the carriers do a really poor job at making it available," Chamberlin said. "Carriers are going to get a lot more intuitive about [how to] better offer and understand WAN performance services."

The implications of Net neutrality on the WAN: The FCC, Google and other content providers continue to butt heads with service providers on Net neutrality, otherwise known as the idea that all packets are created equal. Carriers such as Verizon and AT&T want to make some packets more equal than others. Ordinarily this wouldn't faze WAN managers; however, network engineers are increasingly relying on the public Internet for remote access and Web-based applications, Chamberlin said.

"If your VPN cannot overcome a carrier's traffic shaping, it will potentially hamstring remote workers," he said. "And for companies who want to embrace social media, it'll be another impediment."

Although the latest FCC ruling on Net neutrality bars wireline Internet service providers (ISPs) from accelerating or throttling traffic to specific websites, service providers are expected to reignite the soap opera with appeals this year. The FCC was less stringent on wireless ISPs and allowed for some discriminatory traffic management, which will likely affect enterprises using wireless WANs.

Continue reading WAN outlook 2011: Virtual WAN optimization matures, consolidates.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.

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