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How modern WAN edge services can benefit your network

Modern services could replace legacy routers at the network edge. And while individual WANs have different edge requirements, common needs include flexibility and reliability.

As WAN edge infrastructure advances, branch office routers are in danger of losing relevance and agility. By 2023, modernized edge products may replace over half of currently installed branch office routers.

According to Gartner's first WAN edge survey of over 60 vendors, routing ceased to differentiate itself from other WAN edge services, and legacy routers are increasingly unable to meet growing business demands.

Enterprises may hesitate to transition from traditional network equipment to newer, software-based technologies, due to risk considerations and the paradigm shift. But a new WAN edge market has surfaced since 2014, according to Gartner, so networking technology's future lay with these newer technologies. Investing in them now would benefit enterprises in the long run, Gartner said.

Gartner found that investing in modern edge products over branch routers could benefit organizations and redesigning legacy WAN architectures could better support modern products. These products included capabilities from software defined-WAN (SD-WAN), WAN optimization, operations, deployment, small platforms and virtual applications.

The survey also highlighted 22 vendors that provide different WAN edge products for regional, global and retail WANs. With these options, organizations are able to implement products that best support size requirements of their WAN, which also play a key role as these requirements vary by WAN.

Modern services available for WAN edge infrastructures

Modern WANs require modern WAN edge products with flexible, customizable and reliable capabilities. The following services offer various deployment and installation options, and they may operate differently for each individual organization.

Routing. Routing is used in integrations for LANs, data centers and carrier environments. While it is a major factor in the network edge, routing is no longer a deciding factor for WAN edge services in branch offices, according to the survey. Most products ranked in the survey met basic routing capability standards, with few vendors offering physical routers as their key WAN edge product.

SD-WAN. SD-WAN streamlines and simplifies the number of physical routers needed and allows for a more dynamic edge. SD-WAN includes features such as application-based policy configuration, path determination, simplified operational environments and secure provisioning.

WAN optimization. With WAN optimization, features such as TCP optimization, compression and deduplication, and application protocol optimization can improve overall application performance. Although some proponents deem WAN optimization unnecessary -- due to SD-WAN technology -- it is essential in some WAN edge applications to ensure user expectations are met.

Operations. In its survey, Gartner suggested enterprises use WAN edge services that simplify operational environments compared to the operational environments of traditional branch office routers. Gartner's basic requirements for operational efficiency highlighted configurations that are simple and supportive, use a central controller, are application- or business-centric and have zero-touch deployment capabilities.

Deployment. WAN edge services need to have flexible deployment choices -- such as hardware, software and cloud option -- because different architectures have different needs. Enterprises with distributed endpoints require reliable connectivity on a network, which leads to a necessity for flexible deployment capabilities.

Small platform and virtual applications. Small platform services need to fit scalability requirements -- in other words, the service molds to enterprise needs. Also, enterprises can automatically create customizable segments for specific network applications -- or virtual applications -- based on performance, connectivity and deployment requirements. These two environment types offer flexibility for different use cases, such as location services, guest Wi-Fi and customer loyalty applications.

Ultimate factor: The size of your WAN

Gartner noted three WAN use cases: regional, global and retail WANs. Each has varying requirements for its edge infrastructure.

The regional, or midsize, WAN typically supports 50 sites or fewer across a particular region. The global WAN is for multinational organizations that support around 250 to 1,000 different sites. The retail WAN comprises several small footprint locations, such as gas stations and convenience stores. Despite the different sizes, each WAN requires visibility across the network and control over its applications.

However, the WAN edges have their differences. For example, global WANs might require more WAN optimization to lower latency, while regional WANs may not. Global and regional WANs also have to support more sites and applications than retail WANs, so enhanced reliability weighs heavier for them.

Overall, each WAN has individual needs for its network edge, but investing in more modern products would be beneficial for any organization's future.

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