The corporate wide area network (WAN) is a funny thing. Even back in my early days as a network manager in the early 90s, there was talk of finding an alternative to the tried-and-true "hub and spoke" MPLS, frame relay, or other type of network. There’s no question that this type of network, although widely deployed, is inefficient, as it routes all traffic through a single choke point (the hub). Additionally, each branch location at the end of each spoke is at risk of being down if the WAN connection fails.
So why is this model of network design still so popular? Well, as inefficient as it is, it has worked OK with client/server-based applications, as most of these were in the corporate data center, or the hub. The inefficiency I spoke of was more relevant for Internet-based applications as that traffic had to come through a single point, traverse the WAN and then “trombone” back down the same connection.
Given the rise in cloud based applications, the need for WAN change has never been higher, and more and more companies are finally evolving the WAN. One of the more notable trends has been to connect branches with direct Internet access. The direct connection provides faster access to cloud applications and can also be used as an alternative connection to the primary network, creating a hybrid network.
Mesh networks certainly increase the uptime of a network, and to help use the multiple connections more efficiently, a number of vendors offer "path control" to provide network managers better control over what traffic goes down which WAN link. So instead of having the primary network overloaded with all traffic and the secondary link idle, traffic can be balanced cross the two connections.
However, what happens when one connection becomes congested? The way most network control products work is the traffic will continue to go down the originally specified path, causing application performance problems.
To combat this, Silver Peak rolled out a new feature called Dynamic Path Control, which is a new feature in the company’s Virtual Acceleration Open Architecture (VXOA). Dynamic Path Control adds real-time network intelligence to move applications onto the fastest, least congested link. This should ensure an optimized experience and the ability to withstand congestion issues.
This feature can be particularly useful to real-time applications, such as VoIP and video, as it brings a higher level of predictability. In discussions with the company, they used the analogy that traditional path control is like having a GPS to determine fastest path. Silver Peak’s Dynamic Path Control is like having the GPS, but then adding real-time updates. If you’ve ever used a navigation system with real-time updates, you know that extra feature isn’t needed all the time. But when you do need it, the benefit is huge.
Similarly, I would expect the Dynamic Path Control feature to be something that Silver Peak customers eventually won’t be able to go without.