What is a WAN network?
A wide area network (WAN) is a network, usually used for connecting sites over a large geographical area, i.e. a computer network. It connects various Local Area Networks (LAN) connections together & allows you to communicate with any sites over long distances. Implementing a Wide Area Network is done in one of two ways.
You can either use a point to point to connect the sites in question or use a packet-switched network. Packet-Switched Networks make data into small data units called packets. You can share the data path between users by breaking the data into packets. WAN’S use Frame relay or X.25 to aid the transfer of data, among other ways.
Point to point WAN’s involve either a public-switched telephone network or a dedicated Leased Line. Larger companies will go for the Point to Point Wan rather than packet-switched networks as you can send larger amounts of data more efficiently.
Leased Lines & Wide area networks
- High Speed Bandwidth – Fiber optics allow high speed transfer of data between sites on a wide area network. The faster the networks the more they are able to handle so the internet connection is a key part of having a good WAN network.
- More Secure – Leased lines are far less vulnerable than traditional broadband because they are completely uncontended, it’s also part of the reason they are often used in a point to point.
- Lower Latency – Latency is as important as bandwidth to many IT managers and a leased line has the benefit of having a lower latency than most connections.
What is a wide area network used for?
Wide Area Networks WAN connects cities, counties/states, or countries. Larger companies normally use WAN to allow the exchange of data. WAN’s allow most types of data-sharing services such as email, file transfer, to allow remote users access and data entry on a site’s database etc.
One of the best known examples of WAN is the internet – often considered the largest WAN in the world. Over the internet we transfer files from one PC to another using public networks. There are a number of protocols that can be used including FTP, HTTP and HTTPS protocols.
Virtual Private Networks VPN and WAN
Everybody uses the internet, most of us do on a daily basis – you are probably connected to the internet right now reading this article. We all know the benefits of the world wide web – information at our fingertips, fast communication across the world & cat videos on youtube. However, if you are browsing without using a VPN you are more vulnerable to hackers & the dark side of the web.
A virtual private network stops that as makes the link between two networks secure so that the traffic is completely private, hence the name. It allows that private traffic to pass over another network which may be untrustworthy or unsecured. VPN’s are often used on WAN’s, but they are not exclusive to them as you can also set up a VPN on any other network like a LAN.
Difference between WAN and SD-WAN
SD WAN (software-defined wide area network) is a virtual WAN that allows companies to transport data over a combination of services. Such as MPLS, broadband internet, cloud services, and other network services. It works by using a centralised control to securely direct traffic across a WAN, offering a better quality of service. This increases performance which results in increased productivity, reduced IT costs, and better user experience.
Whereas WAN technology uses only one data sending service, SD WAN combines multiple. Some other differences are:
- Scalability and Control- Changes to WAN are manual. This can be a lengthy process which could decrease efficiency for a business.
- Security- Security is a feature in both types of WAN. Just the way they keep your data secure is different. Data packets sent are private on traditional WAN, so it’s hard to intercept/see them, only the receiver can do this. Adding firewall and antivirus will add extra security.
- SD-WAN keeps data secure by using an end-to-end encryption over a VPN connection (Virtual Private Networks). SD-WAN also allows you to set up additional security layer such as firewalls.
- Reliability- As traditional WAN only uses one type of connection to send data if this goes down you can no longer communicate with other sites. Whereas with SD WAN it uses multiple forms of connections, so if one goes down it can automatically switch to another allowing data to still send.
- Price- SD WAN’s will often be the most cost-effective network option. This is because you can mix and match what connection you want to send the data over. Traditional WAN’s can be more expensive because it needs the use of Leased Lines (fibre optics) or packet-switched network.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a wide area network (WAN)
WAN is a revolutionary type of data sending service. But as most things it does have disadvantages as well as advantages.
- High Bandwidth- If your company can afford a Leased Line then it will allow you to send data at a much higher rate due to bandwidth increase and consistency.
- Centralised Data- It allows remote users to access (for example) a head office server. So, there is no need to have multiple data saves, all data can be in one place where everyone can access it.
- Location- A wide area network can reach anywhere within the world. So, connecting a head office in the UK and branch offices in America is easy.
- Distribute workload and decrease travel charges- Wide Area Networks allows you to distribute your work to other locations. For example, if you have an office in the UK then you can hire people from other countries and send data to them effortlessly over a wide area connection. Reduced travel costs are a plus because there is no need to travel to remote workers as you can communicate over WAN services.
- Security- Data is private so harder to intercept (but interception can still happen without proper cautions in place). You can also encrypt your data to add an extra level of security.
Guaranteed uptime- You get a specific level of uptime as stated from your ISP in their SLA.
- Adding firewalls and antivirus software- For ultimate security you would need to add an extra layer of security to your network devices. This can be costly but essential.
- Setup cost- Setting up a WAN can be extremely expensive. It requires you to buy all new equipment to be able to implement it.
- Fixing any issues – This can be troublesome, especially if the network is across two or more countries. For example, if you have a line connecting two sites and that line goes underwater, the cost and time of fixing it will be immense.
Types of Wide Area Networks
There are two key types of Wide area networks which include utilising wired or wireless technologies. Wired WAN networks are usually made up of MPLS, carrier ethernet and standard broadband internet linking. MPLS stands for multi-protocol label switching and refers to the IP routing configuration of the network.
Wireless WAN’s are less common but they generally use the same kind of data that you see on mobile devices like 4G, wi-fi or in some cases satellite. When it comes to commercial WAN’s the wireless options are far less common due to the reliability of them. However, with services like 5g coming in that could change in the future and make it more cost effective for businesses needing a wide area network.
There’re a few other types of networks associated with WAN, these are:
PAN: Personal Area Network
LAN: Local Area Network
MAN: Metropolitan Area Network (area network mans)
WLAN: Wireless Local Area Network
SAN: Storage Area Network, System Area Network, Server Area Network etc.
CAN: Campus Area Network, Controller Area Network, or sometimes Cluster Area Network
How to get the best deal on your network
The quickest and easiest way to secure the best deal on your network is to compare prices and negotiate with the network provider. If you have more than one site it puts you in a good position to try and reduce prices using economies of scale.
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