What is a WAN network?
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A WAN Network (Wide Area Network) is a type of network used in telecommunications to allow individual networks in different locations to connect & transfer data and files as though its a single network.
WANs use different links to connect the networks like private leased lines, multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), public networks like The internet, and more. They have become increasingly popular in 2023.
The two main types of networks used by businesses are LAN’s and WAN’s. LANs are local area networks and connect the computers in your office together, allowing them to easily share information, data, and files. A WAN Network does the same kind of thing but on a bigger scale, connecting your offices around the country, or even the world.
They have particular appeal to businesses with multiple branch offices located in different geographical areas. This is because can be set up across different towns, counties, and even across the world to allow easy and fast data transmission over long distances. The largest wan that we have all heard of is the worldwide web.
Wide area networks can use different protocols and technologies to ensure the end-users desired network is set up in the most effective way possible. Some of the more commonly used in WAN’s include:
- Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM)
- Digital subscriber line (DSL)
- Frame Relay
- Leased line
- Packet Switching
- Synchronous optical networking
Many Wide area networks will utilise multiple technologies from the list above. Your rural office might be on a DSL line and your head office may require a fiber optics connection like a leased line for example.
While each of these will have their own place in networking and suit different businesses its important to mention one of the most popular forms which are SD-WAN (software-defined WAN). They use technology to improve a traditional WAN by simplifying the process to set up new applications and send data.
This is because SD WAN’s are faster, smarter, and can often reduce the cost. They are the latest version of WAN’s and are designed to simplify the commands that networks have to deal with and reduce time by centralising them with sets of rules.
What is a WAN Network used for?
The primary use is to allow computer networking over any geographic distance, which enables file sharing, data transfers, and uses of business intranets.
WANs can also help businesses who struggle to connect with remote sites or remote offices. A properly designed WAN can save you time and money, which is why it has such a mass appeal for multi-site businesses.
The simplest way to understand what a wide area network (WAN) does is to think of a WAN you are using right now as you are reading this – The internet. It’s the most common example of a WAN and demonstrates the basic principles – sharing information real-time with your network, no matter where you are in the world.
Some will argue the internet is not a WAN, but this example is to aid a clearer understanding. A WAN network for your business is much more complex & secure than the internet. But the internet does allow for real-time communication across any location. It also enables us to send files and data and connect with our peers to collaborate on projects or share the latest viral video.
Businesses traditionally will use them to connect their offices or connect to their colocation centre or data centre. It can be built for any place you need to send data to or from. People working from home is also a trend that is increasing in popularity and shows no signs of slowing down and a WAN network is a popular way they connect to the business network.
What is a WAN network with examples?
It’s very likely you use a WAN network most days without realising. The internet is the biggest WAN in the world and connections millions of people from all over the world. This gives them access to information, media files, communication applications, and cloud storage.
Most of us have a smartphone that uses a 4g mobile network connection to give us internet access when we are not connected to Wi-Fi. This 4g network is another common example of a wide area network. Your phone network provider will have the WAN set up to allow all its users’ internet access.
Another common example of a WAN is ATM machines at the bank. We gain access using our card and pin but that then allows the communication to the bank to see if we have the funds to withdraw or perform any other action at the cash point.
Local Area Networks (LANs) often connect to form a Wide Area Network. This is often seen in bigger schools, colleges, and universities with more than one site. WANs connect each of the sites together to allow the separate LAN’s to communicate on a single network.
Examples of WANS can be seen in our daily lives and as we become more reliant on using the internet and connecting to friends, family, and business contacts all over the world, the use, and speed of WANs will keep growing in popularity and evolving to meet our needs.
What is the difference between WAN and SD-WAN?
Traditional WANs (Wide Area Networks) are often referred to as Hybrid WAN’s and are designed to connect two or more geographically diverse LAN’s together using different technologies and a variety of private leased lines and public internet connections. They can also connect multiple WAN’s together and include direct links to data centres for more secure backup.
MPLS networks (multiprotocol label switching) are used in most Hybrid WAN’s as they allow the provider to allocate rules to ensure SLA guarantees are met, the most important to businesses is the ability to deliver any data with minimal or no delays.
This becomes particularly important for real-time business applications to function – cloud-based VoIP phone systems, for example, are heavily reliant on a fast and stable internet connection. If the network doesn’t connect you straight away your customers would hear lots of delay on the line and it makes it extremely difficult to have a conversation.
MPLS is one of the most common techniques used on enterprise WANs and with good reason. They eliminate the need as much human intervention and ensure that packets are routed using the best route possible. Some of their advantages include:
- Improved Network Performance – Prioritising some packets means the bandwidth can be utilised more effectively, which also means you get more uptime.
- Reduced Network Congestion – Sometimes the shortest route isn’t the best and can be the most congested. MPLS understands this and sets paths with the least congestion.
- Security – MPLS is often used to create virtual private lines which aid the security. Some would argue they are more private than secure. However, most networks are only as secure as the core network which is why it is so important to pick the right provider.
- Quality of Service – This has the most impact on time-sensitive data. VoIP calls are probably the most common example in business because if they are not delivered within a set time the call would disconnect.
MPLS services on wide area networks (WAN) work extremely well for most businesses and allow for great quality of service and cost savings. However, that’s not to say it doesn’t come without its issues for some in enterprise networking:
- Failover – Designed so that if a connection on your network goes down then it would automatically switch to a back up so you get no loss of service, compared to the line failing altogether.
- Management is not centralised – Adding a new application has to be done manually at each device – This can be time-consuming and leaves space for human error.
- Cost – MPLs is a technique rather than a service so depending on how it’s deployed it can come with large costs attached.
However, if there is one thing you can almost certainly guarantee in telecoms, it’s that someone will always invent a new way of doing something. Which is where SD-WAN comes into the conversation. The SD stands for software-defined and was designed with Hybrid WAN optimization in mind.
Software-defined WANs (SD-WAN) evolved to create a smarter and quicker way to manage and deploy large networks, with key changes being managed centrally instead of at each individual location. Some of the key benefits compared to using MPLS techniques include:
- Performance – SD WAN’s use the internet to create high-performance connections, eliminating the backhaul penalties that can occur on traditional MPLS networks. This allows SD-WANs to deliver business applications while optimizing Software as a Service (SaaS) and other business cloud services.
- Cost – One of the key benefits is the reduction in cost compared to traditional network services
- Security – SD-WAN includes encrypting traffic as standard & it does this as it moves from one connection to the other. This means if there is ever a breach the impact is greatly minimized for it to impact all branch offices.
- Centralised Management – When deploying a new application for your business it can take months to do on a traditional wide area network. However, with software-defined, it’s handled centrally so you can roll out new updates or installs from one location, which also reduces human error risks.
Software defined networks have some great features, especially for the modern business that uses and relies on cloud-based applications. However, as with any class of service, it has its limitations. Some of which include:
Internet-based – Although this is seen as an advantage to many it does mean that there are no on-site security features with SD-WAN, which is a concern for some businesses.
Manual set up and maintenance – To manually set up and deploy any network takes a solid and reliable core IT team. The knowledge must be expert level on networking to deploy the best version and fix any breaches or problems that occur. Many companies will work around this by using a provider instead, which can have additional costs attached.
Many companies will use MPLS and SD-WAN on the same network to get the best of both worlds. As with most business needs, it will be different for different companies. However, the world is becoming more cloud-based and companies are no exception. SD-WAN is designed specifically for the evolving business world with a strong focus on the ease of integrating cloud applications.
What is the difference between WAN and MPLS?
WAN is a wide area network that connects multiple computers or local area networks together using wan technology. It’s used by businesses and educational facilities to allow easier and more communication between the sites or data centers.
MPLS is a routing technique that can be used on WANs, it simply allows data to direct from one destination to another based on short path labels, as opposed to long network addresses. WAN architectures may use MPLS on their WAN. This ensures the quickest path is selected, which saves time for the company using MPLS.
You are also able to have Hybrid WANs which can use multiple techniques to deliver the best network for your requirements.