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Understanding WAN – A Comprehensive Guide

Every time you connect to your home Wi-Fi, office network, smartwatch, car, or cellphone via Internet access or a cellular radio signal, you are using a WAN. These networks are essential for business and everyday functions.

The largest WAN is the Internet, but many organizations build private WANs. This guide will help you understand WAN topologies, security, and management types.

What is a WAN?

It is essential to understand what is WAN and what are its benefits. A WAN network enables communication and data sharing across a wide geographic area. It allows offices and other locations to act as a unified network, regardless of distance or location. WANs allow businesses to create secure connections and facilitate information sharing between employees, branches, customers, and other devices worldwide.

WANs differ from local area networks, or LANs, because they operate over a much broader and more diverse range of technologies that enable them to transmit data over long distances. LANs use networking technologies designed for physically proximal networks, which cannot easily be used over a significant distance.

The entire Internet is considered a massive WAN encompassing connections from circuit-switched telephone lines and 2400 baud modems to Ethernet cables, Wi-Fi, satellite networks, cellular radio signals, and optical fiber. As data demands grow, new WAN connections will be needed to handle these ever-increasing requirements.

A WAN may be a private network built with routers that connect LANs via leased lines or an internet-based WAN that connects to the public Internet through an Internet Service Provider. An internet-based WAN can offer advantages over leased lines, including lower costs and more flexibility for traffic shaping. For example, traffic can be shaped through Quality of Service settings to prioritize time-sensitive applications over less urgent ones.

WAN Topologies

A WAN topology is the arrangement or relative positioning of links and nodes. Although WANs can appear complex, the majority are built upon one of several basic topologies. Understanding these topologies will help better understand how WANs function and may even aid in the design of your network.

The point-to-point WAN topology connects two sites using a dedicated circuit. This type of WAN is commonly used when high bandwidth is required between sites. It also offers increased fault tolerance compared to other WAN networks because each site is directly connected, so a single failure cannot affect the entire network. A drawback to the point-to-point WAN is that it requires a significant investment in hardware, such as a dedicated WAN interface card.

Another common WAN topology is the star network configuration which connects sites to a central hub, a little like spokes on a wheel. This WAN topology utilizes a concentrator router to ensure data is sent to the correct destination. A benefit of this topology is that new sites can be added to the network quickly, though it may be more expensive than other WANs.

A more scalable option is the tiered WAN which sees many star-type WANs connected to a central network by concentrator routers. This WAN architecture can be used for international operations as it allows companies to establish regional points of concentration for more efficient communication across their WAN network.

WAN Security

The WAN connects to public networks such as the Internet, making it more vulnerable to threats than a LAN. Consequently, security is a crucial consideration when selecting an SD-WAN.

A business-driven SD-WAN has integrated security capabilities, ensuring that a high level of security is always in place and proactively adapted to the enterprise’s needs. It also automates policy-based frameworks propagated across a unified control and management interface from a single pane of glass. Visibility is enhanced, giving IT better insights into applications and devices used at branches, data centers, and cloud/SaaS.

Security elements include virtual private network (VPN) tunnels, next-generation firewalls, and granular micro-segmentation of application traffic. Unlike a basic SD-WAN, which only provides VPN services, a leading solution will orchestrate end-to-end segmentation spanning the LAN-WAN-Data and WAN-Data center-Cloud. This ensures consistent policies are configured and enforced, avoiding human errors when different teams manage a network device-by-device basis. Moreover, it will allow for better performance by establishing symmetric speed allocations for real-time upload and download tasks, as opposed to the unbalanced asymmetric speed typical of many WAN connections. This leads to better quality of service, particularly for mission-critical applications. In addition, a leading solution will provide centralized, automated re-configurations to 10s of thousands of nodes, minimizing the impact of changes in the network’s configuration.

WAN Management

WAN technologies allow businesses to expand their local area networks (LANs) to connect across regions, cities, and the globe. As WAN technology evolves, so will the way that enterprises use it to meet growing data demands.

A WAN is generally considered a network that uses leased lines, MPLS, VPN, and wireless to connect LANs in multiple locations to one another and a private corporate network. WAN connections may also be public, such as the Internet.

Businesses should examine its components first to scale a WAN and keep it performing as expected. Then, they can strengthen localized security measures, create a unified portal that’s accessible by only authorized users and implement network access control to prevent unauthorized or malicious activity.

In addition, it’s critical to ensure that your WAN infrastructure is carrier agnostic. This will help ensure that your business can quickly scale without interruption in adverse market conditions, regulatory changes, or acts of god. You should also choose a WAN provider that provides managed services so you can get support for your infrastructure from a single point of contact. This can help reduce the time your staff spends on maintenance and troubleshooting. This can also lower your operational costs.