Looking ahead to 2022, Patrick MeLampy, Juniper fellow, Juniper Networks, sees one major trend on the networking horizon, the convergence of WAN networks. Let’s look at the reasons why.Â
By convergence, in this instance, it means the bringing together of Wi-Fi, wired, switches, WAN edges and other key elements into one single, easy-to-manage pane of glass. This is what’s called a â€œclient to cloudâ€ strategy and is aimed at providing an optimal experience for users and operators alike.
In my opinion, this convergence has been a long time coming. WANs come with a great deal of complexity already baked in, they have decades of additions and tweaks layered upon older technologies and, frankly, many of these additions were to solve problems that simply no longer exist. As WANs converge next year, there is a real opportunity to drop those layers.
Benefits of Convergence
Put simply, eliminating complexity and supporting ease-of-use makes networks easier to operate and service. This is keenly important because the pandemic-driven work environment has highlighted how technology and connectivity drive every aspect of the business world. Without a solid, reliable connection, businesses will fail. Success relies upon high-performing, always-available network connections.
Supporting Strong Experiences
Taking this line of thinking a step further, the networks of the future will need to be experience-based. This means two things: (1) companies deliver a positive experience to users; and (2) the team managing and maintaining the network have an improved experience doing so.Â
- Delivering a positive experience: The customer experience is always critical to any service provider. As a part of the convergence of the operations around the network, it’s important to change approaches. As the transition is made, begin to define success around the end-user experience. Are connections strong and lasting, or are there several interruptions each workday? Are important conference calls dropped? Is the video quality spotty? Thinking in terms of the user’s experience instead of uptime or throughput â€“ and what needs to be done to fix issues â€“ will improve the way connectivity is provided in the years to come.Â
- Improving IT’s experience: Experience also includes the way that an organization’s IT team interacts with the network and the tools that support it. IT has often been thought of as a role with several mundane, thankless tasks â€“ checking each machine for connectivity problems. Walking around an office and manually testing Wi-Fi. Ensuring software updates are made by employees. The list goes on. Convergence can help them too. By having all the tools needed to understand network traffic and how it is promoting or hurting user experiences â€“ in the same place, the experience of uncovering problems and maintaining the network is improved.
Making Next-Generation Support Possible
Convergence â€“ and the resulting change in thinking to a more experience-based way of thinking also makes the next evolution of network management possible. For example, imagine not only being alerted to a problematic network experience, but being directed to its exact location and being given the direction needed to fix it. As converged tools become more commonplace, they will provide this level of detail to teams, allowing them to ignore (or put off) less important issues and concentrate first on those that directly impact the user experience.
- Artificial intelligence: Converged WAN networks also make the use of artificial intelligence (AI) possible. AI can solidify the experience provided to end-users and the IT team. With the addition of AI, network troubleshooting can become less of finding a needle in a haystack and more of skipping the discovery process and moving directly to addressing a problem, improving the experience.
- AI can also be used to provide direction on how to fix an issue, something of growing importance as companies continue to face labor and experience shortages amongst their IT teams. By bringing the networks together, AI can fill the role of the experienced, long-time employee that’s seen it all and fixed it all.
- Security: Security is another element where convergence will drive greater results. As network endpoints expand exponentially, it becomes harder and harder to stop an attack from spreading. Traditional techniques that break networks into smaller pieces â€“ and thereby make them easier to secure â€“ fail to take into account the mobility of today’s users and servers.
- By providing a single control interface to allow teams to protect critical data, applications and services through WAN convergence, security teams can make sure that only known, allowed traffic and applications have access to the assets being protected, establishing a zero-trust network.
With these benefits in mind, the trend to WAN convergence is an obvious one. Instead of continuing to support discrete products with thousands of knobs, and/or several products that need to be integrated with one another again and again, a single, cloud-based approach is where the industry is heading next year. Converged WANs will offer a single cloud control infrastructure covering Wi-Fi, switching, SD-WAN and security.Â
In 2022, WAN convergence will take hold, redefine the network in terms of experience, and deliver simpler, more efficient and effective operations.