Is it possible to predict the end of the private WAN? The answer to this question is tied directly to the growth of mobility and cloud applications.
Mobile Is Eating The Web
The scale of the smartphone is breathtaking in terms of market size and rapid cycling of handsets. 1.5 billion smartphones were sold last year compared to less than 350 million PCs. When it comes to network design, the smartphone is much more important.
When it comes to designing public networks for the next two decades, service provider networks will be designed to support smartphones first and PCs second.
Because smartphones are being replaced at short intervals (less than five years), carrier wireless networks have been upgraded on a regular basis. In the last decade, we have moved from 2G to 3G to 4G. The speed of this innovation is very rapid compared to Enterprise IT, which took more than two decades to adopt Ethernet and WiFi.
This rapid technology cycle is a virtuous loop. Carriers are able (and forced) to iterate rapidly and roll out new technology on a continuous basis. Compare this with Enterprise IT, which takes decades to adopt new technology and decades to upgrade.
What A Private WAN Should Do
A private WAN should deliver:
- predictable application performance
- security (not shared, not public)
- lower complexity through predictability (response time, minimum bandwidth, etc.)
- better reliability
A private WAN actually delivers:
- uncertain application performance over shared backbones
- unknown security through lack of guarantees, zero transparency, no audit or certification
- restricted choice to manage complexity
- compromised reliability/predictability because of slow repairs, poor support ,and poor visibility from service providers
Service providers run vast companies with multiple business units, confusing lines of ownership, and low accountability. When a problem occurs, the carrier is often unable to identify or rectify it.
Price Disparity & Performance
The cost of private and dedicated bandwidth is currently very high (as a rule of thumb, ten times more expensive that public bandwidth). That is, a 100Mbit Internet circuit is the same cost as 10Mbits of dedicated bandwidth.
A 100Mbit circuit, even with some degree of poor performance due to packet loss, jitter, and latency, will always perform better than a 10Mbit circuit.
While this price disparity continues, the Internet will remain a highly attractive option for corporate networks. A fundamental truth in networking is that Quality of Service (QoS) is always solved by a Quantity of Service.
Service Provider Focus – Reducing Costs
The total amount of Internet bandwidth is already many times larger than private WAN bandwidth. Private WAN continues because it makes vast profits, but the cost of sustaining MPLS backbones is also literally vast. Hardware, software, design, and operations are orders of magnitude larger than a single global routing table with a lot of routes using a less complicated protocol for forwarding.
Given these conditions, it makes sense to scale back spending on private WAN infrastructure. Internet use for the WAN is growing, demand is high, and customers are keen. Meanwhile, private WAN is becoming a second-class infrastructure.
Private WAN Shrinking
Private WAN is already shrinking as public cloud platforms remove applications from the corporate network. As companies such as Salesforce have demonstrated the success of SaaS, new cloud applications for business are rapidly coming to market. Even networking vendors are turning to Internet-based cloud platforms to enable customers to configure, monitor, and operate networks.
Internet Is Everywhere
A fundamental limitation of the private WAN is that it’s not where consumption happens any more. The static branch office with desktop computers is no longer a primary use case, and is more often regarded as a cost center. By contrast, Internet access is everywhere, and that’s where consumption happens. Real, highly visible, and substantial value is extracted from mobile phones, tablets, or even laptops that use the Internet rather than the corporate WAN to access business applications.
What To Do?
Consider doing the following:
- Plan to increase you usage of “Internet as a WAN” technology. SD-WAN products are a great start.
- Don’t sign up for new carrier contracts without an option for immediate cancellation without fee.
- Start changing your security posture and policies to embrace “Internet First” for user connections, including their phones and tablets.