The end is near for the corporate wide area network. In the same way that we now live in the post-PC era, we are entering the post-WAN era. The Internet is your new WAN.

As someone who in my distant past spent 18 years designing and selling WANs, I’m ready to admit that all of the arguments the telco industry has used to convince you that private wide area networks are the only safe way to run a business are now defunct. For years the industry claimed that running your office branches over a public Internet connection would be akin to playing naked tennis in a glass house. Insecure, likely to break at any second, and rather embarrassing if anyone saw you doing it.

That’s all changing, and its changing fast on two fronts. Firstly on the most important front our people expect to be able to work anywhere, so long as they can connect to the Internet they expect to be able to work. The concept of needing to go into an office and connect to a physical network doesn’t sit well with the new generation of employees. Secondly, technology has changed, the applications we use no longer need dedicated, secure and deterministic private networks, they work just fine over the Internet.

You’ve no doubt heard the term “digital native generation”, these are the generation of people that were born into the Internet era, or more specifically the Web 2.0 era. These are the people you ask to fix your iPhone. I’d like to introduce a similar term, the “digital native application”, these are the applications designed from the ground up to work over the Internet. What makes them special is that they don’t assume the network is reliable, or has a predicable latency, or is secure. In fact they assume the opposite. The most famous of these digital native apps are Skype, Facebook, Google Mail, and Dropbox.

These may sound like apps that teenagers use at home, but don’t be fooled, there are just as many digital native business applications. Think of Xero, Salesforce.com, and Office365. These are core business applications that many businesses use in production, over unsecure, unreliable, variable latency networks, and they work just fine.

I put to you that the majority of your users, and therefore the majority of your corporate branches no longer need a dedicated private WAN. As users become ever more mobile, and the new generation of digital native applications takes over, the role of the corporate WAN is consolidated back to connecting your large head offices and your data centres. Your branches become a common meeting place for your people, a place to foster face to face interaction and collaboration, not a prison where your staff are forced to work while physically connected to your network.

So as you do your annual review of your ISSP (Information System Strategic Plan), think about what the future of your WAN is, and consider the following principles:

  • Design your applications to work over the internet
  • Assume all traffic is public, secure the applications and the data, not the network
  • Canibalise your WAN budget to enable mobility
  • Don’t trust devices or physical connections, trust user credentials
  • Select digital native applications over legacy “walled garden” applications
  • View your branches as a place for human interaction, not as a secure fortress to protect your corporate information

Welcome to WAN 2.0, the Internet.

Posted by Mike Bullock

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