The Benefits of Wide Area Networks (WANs)

Posted on
May 25, 2022
ATSI Content Team
ATSI Content Team
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Wide area networks or WANs may not be in the everyday vocabulary of non-IT folks, but it is hard to imagine life in today’s digital-first world without the benefit of evolving WAN technology.

“WANs have become an essential part of human communication and business relations,” according to CompTia.

We work, socialize, shop, and play online and the internet, that crucial link that can connect nearly 8 billion people around the globe in a blink of an eye, is essentially the largest WAN in the world.

“If it weren’t for wide area networks (WAN) it wouldn’t be possible to telecommute, to create unified networks for organizations with far-flung locations, or to do anything online,” says Network World. “But WANs do exist, constantly evolving to carry more and more traffic faster as demands increase and technology becomes more powerful.”

What are Wide Area Networks (WANs)?

WANs are what keeps business humming and data flowing as they can connect corporate headquarters, satellite offices, remote workers, cloud-based applications, vendors, and clients together as a seamless network.

Unlike a local area network (LAN) which requires connected devices to be in a limited area such as a single building or on a campus, WANs can facilitate fast and secure communication between remote stakeholders.

At its core, WANs are:

  • A network type made up of LAN and/or metropolitan area network (MAN) combinations

  • A network type that provides transmission of data, voice, images and videos over a large geographical area

  • A network that traditionally makes use of modems, routers, hubs, and switches.

“A WAN is a computer network that uses various links – private lines, multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), virtual private networks (VPNs), wireless (cellular), the internet – to connect smaller campus and metropolitan area networks in diverse locations into a single, distributed network covering a large geographical area,” says Network World. “The sites could be a few miles apart or halfway around the globe. Enterprise uses of a wide area network include connecting regional and branch offices and individual remote workers with centralized resources.”

CompTIA says that the networks are often established by service providers that then lease their WAN to businesses, schools, governments, or the public.

“Employees from anywhere can use a business’s WAN to share data, communicate with coworkers or simply stay connected to the greater data resource center for that organization,” says CompTIA.

That critical data, once housed in a centralized location at headquarters or in a dedicated data center, can now often be found in the cloud.

History and Evolution of Wide Area Networks (WANs)

WANs have come a long way from the early days of circuit-switched telephone lines and dial-up modems with “speeds” of 2400 bps to today’s 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps connectivity.

The first WAN – based on phone lines, telephones, and modems – was created by the U.S. Air Force in the late 1950s to connect its radar defense system.

Apcela describes the evolution of WANs:

  • 1970s: WANs connected locations in the same city or even locations across the street from each other as high-speed networks were just 9.6 Kbps. Soon, leased lines were making use of T3 connections, increasing speeds to 45 Mbps and packet-switching networks were created to help access remote mainframe terminals. ARPANET, the first network to implement TCP/IP protocol suite, connected UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, the Stanford Research Institute, and the University of Utah.

  • 1990s: Frame Relay technology was in use and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) was introduced. MPLS revolutionized WANs as the technology made it possible for companies to move their network traffic over a long distance on dedicated bandwidth.

  • In 2009, software-defined WAN or SD-WAN was introduced. SD-WAN allows companies to leverage a combination of transport services to connect users securely to applications. SD-WAN is helping companies create complex WANs that take advantage of cutting-edge cloud capabilities.

Advantages of Utilizing Wide Area Networks (WANs)

The growth of businesses today, certainly the globalization of commerce, would not be possible without WANs.

“If WAN connections didn’t exist, organizations would be isolated to restricted areas or specific geographic regions. LANs would allow organizations to work within their building, but growth to outside areas — either different cities or even different countries — would not be possible because the associated infrastructure would be cost prohibitive for most organizations,” says CompTIA.

Some of the advantage of WANs:

  • Large, intricate networks can be designed

  • Increased bandwidth capabilities

  • Assured uptime via SLAs

  • Not limited by distance: Allows Businesses to stay connected and share information and applications between branches or headquarters no matter where they are located

  • Employees when travelling or working remotely have access to information and resources to do their job. Files accessed across the network will be updated from central servers

  • Businesses can share information with stakeholders such as B2B clients

“A wide area network (WAN) is your data’s highway across the digital landscape,” says Verizon. “It provides an avenue between your digital resources, such as hardware and software, and your users.”

Making use of a WAN allows a business to have resources in a centralized location, eliminating duplicate servers and expenses. Examples include:

  • Phone systems
  • Email servers
  • Databases
  • Websites
  • Payroll systems
  • Point of Sale (POS) systems

The cloud-based and secure global SD-WAN, such as that offered by Cato Networks, adds other WAN advantages such as:

  • Increased Flexibility: SD-WAN orchestrators make it easier to introduce new cloud-based services and new connectivity options across the network

  • Higher Efficiency: SD-WAN software can facilitate that less important data is routed across slower connectivity channels and that mission critical data gets priority.

  • Higher Availability: Connectivity options abound for WANs now with everything from ethernet over fiber to consumer-grade broadband to mobile (cellular) to dedicated ethernet. Data can be rerouted automatically by another source if a particular channel is unavailable, making downtime less likely.

  • Better Control: SD-WAN gives businesses more control over how their data is being routed across the network, something that will become more and more important as emerging IoT devices create exponentially more data.

Topics: IT, Internet