Make sure yours is a WAN with a plan

Now is an excellent time to be reevaluating your WAN strategy. New technologies such as carrier Ethernet and Session Initiation Protocol trunking can help cut costs and increase availability. WAN and application optimization technologies can make better use of existing facilities. And many companies are experiencing a (likely temporary) pause in the unrelenting expansion of branch offices -- making this the perfect time to take a few steps back and revisit the overall networking strategy.

Let's start with trends: If you're like most folks I work with, your long-term strategy probably includes both MPLS and carrier Ethernet. In 2009, 84% of organizations have deployed up from MPLS. No surprise there -- MPLS deployments have been mainstream for a while now -- 76% of organizations deployed it in 2008. Carrier Ethernet deployments, however, have been ratcheting up rapidly: 73% of companies say they're using carrier Ethernet in 2009 -- up from 53% in 2008.

There are two fundamental drivers for deployment of both MPLS and carrier Ethernet. First is bandwidth demand. Most companies say that even during the recession, with employee counts flat to declining, bandwidth needs continue to climb an average of 34%. Second is the need to support converged, multimedia applications (particularly VoIP and video). And take note: regardless of whether you're doing VoIP to the desktop (or planning to), you should think about rolling out SIP trunking across the WAN. SIP trunking has grown by 58% from 2008 to 2009 -- and we expect more growth to come.

Which technology is right for you? As I've written previously, the answer is probably "both." Carrier Ethernet tends to interconnect large, bandwidth-intensive sites such as data centers, contact centers, and large administrative headquarters. MPLS links these sites with branch offices.

Speaking of branch offices, there are two noteworthy trends. First is that overall, the number of branch offices tends to increase: from 2004 through 2008, the average annual growth in the number of branch offices was 9.2%. However, that number actually decreased this year by 3%. But folks say that 2010 is poised to be the rebound year, with an average predicted growth of 17%.

The second trend is that companies are increasingly turning to WAN optimization technologies to contain bandwidth growth. Nearly three-quarters of companies -- 72.7% -- say they're deploying WAN optimization (with about half saying they're "fully deployed").

Wrapping up the discussion of trends, the vast majority (81%) of companies are using some flavor of IP tunneling (SSL or IPsec) to connect remote sites and users. In many cases, they're relying on managed services providers to oversee public VPNs -- no surprise, given that the use of managed services is on the rise overall.

So what should you do? First, if you haven't already deployed MPLS or carrier Ethernet, consider including both in your next telecom RFP. Plan for SIP trunking (whether or not you're ready to roll out VoIP to the desktop). Consider launching or expanding your WAN optimization implementation. And see where managed services can help you improve service quality (particularly in managing public Internet services).

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