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WAN outlook 2011: 4G and iPads drive mobile VPN, branch offices grow

WAN pros will see more demand for mobile VPNs on a broader range of devices, continued growth of branch offices and improvements to branch office VPN products in 2011.

In the third part of a series of New Year's analyst predictions for wide-area networks (WAN), spoke with Johna Till Johnson, president and senior founding partner of Nemertes Research, about what 2011 will bring to virtual private networks (VPN) and remote access technology. She says that WAN pros will see more demand for mobile VPNs on a broader range of devices, continued growth of branch offices and improvements to branch office VPN products in 2011. To read part one of the WAN outlook 2011 series see how MPLS networks become a luxury while WAN op-as-a-service emerges or read part two of the series: Virtual WAN optimization matures and consolidates.

Mobile VPNs -- not just for iPhones and BlackBerrys anymore: With the dawn of 4G networks and the onslaught of new mobile devices on the market, WAN managers will have to support a more numerous and diverse range of endpoints with mobile VPNs this year.

"I'm not saying people will only [demand mobile VPN access] on smartphones," Johnson said. "[Users] may be coming in on the iPad or a very lightweight [Research in Motion] PlayBook or the [Samsung] Galaxy Tab."

AT&T has had a managed service for wireless multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) access for some time. But the next-generation mobile networks may make such services more widespread among carriers and ease the burden of WAN managers who are struggling to support mobile VPNs on devices other than laptops, Johnson said.

Users grow more distributed: Branch office growth has been on a steep upward trajectory for years, and that growth has traditionally driven a corresponding demand for remote network access. The number of branch offices an average enterprise adds has historically grown 9% each per year, Johnson said; however, the recession led to zero growth in 2009 and a meager 1% growth in 2010. Branch office growth should rebound to 5% this year, and WAN managers must be prepared to support broader remote access, Johnson said.

"It's not because [enterprises] have more employees but because they're getting more distributed," she said.

Businesses are trying to save money by pushing employees out of major metropolitan areas, where Johnson said the annual overhead for supporting an employee is $20,000 -- not including salary. Moving those employees to a regional or branch office in the suburbs reduces those support costs to $5,000 or $10,000 per employee and costs nothing if the user works from home, she said. Meanwhile, collaboration and social networking tools have enabled users to interact in this dispersed environment, Johnson said.

Branch VPN hardware and software improve: Network engineers are looking for ways to reduce the number of appliances to manage at far-flung branches, but few devices can truly do it all. Expect vendors to do a better job in 2011 of integrating VPN services with other features in the same branch box, Johnson said.

"We'll see an increased concentration in functionality in branch office devices so [that there is] more all-in-one stuff," she said. "It's not [going to have] just security and encryption, but it's also [going to support] application acceleration."

More network engineers will also be adopting managed VPN services that address more of the day-to-day equipment management, Johnson said.  Service provider-managed VPNs will continue to grow in popularity, she said.

"People are saying, 'Why do I have to babysit a bunch of routers? That's stupid,'" Johnson said.

Look back at the top 10 in 2010 most popular WAN questions answered, tips on wide area network technology, WAN feature stories and most notable WAN news

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

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