What is a Wide Area Network (WAN)?

It’s about good connections for your growing application demands.

Like your most goal-driven team members, data needs a clear path and the right clearances to cross the finish line.

A wide-area network (WAN) is your data’s highway across the digital landscape. It provides an avenue between your digital resources, such as hardware and software, and your users. Your data is like your users on the network, with things to do and places to go. If the road users take (your WAN) is pitted, narrow, gravely and single lane, the trip will be slow and possibly hazardous. If the road is a modern thoroughfare, the ride will be smoother, faster, more direct and safer.

WANs that work well are built for reliable, high-impact communications. They allow businesses to route data — efficiently and cost-effectively — to and from users and sites, near and far. Just as with roads, WANs come in many configurations. Understanding some of the architectural key points can help inform decisions about your network investments.

What does WAN mean, and what does it do?

A WAN is little more than an organized set of internet protocol (IP)-based connections that allows you to move data among distributed teams and devices.

When you send personal emails, videos, images or text, the data files are generally simple and small enough to edit, save and share electronically. But things can get complicated when the connections that move this information multiply to accommodate more employees, office locations and cloud- or server-based applications.

WANs are controlled-access telecommunications systems that are designed to efficiently transmit larger amounts of data, enabling network connectivity to a wide area. That area might be geographical, as with field offices, high-capacity in terms of processing power and users, or both.

What are the advantages of WAN over LAN, and what’s the difference?

If your business operates out of your home or a small leased space, you’ve probably linked together a couple of computers, a printer and a router/modem combination to get online. You also probably have a physical (usually Ethernet) or Wi-Fi link. This is a local area network (LAN) configuration.

As your business grows, you need more bandwidth to handle more types of files more quickly and securely across greater distances. A WAN is usually the network that ties local systems together. With a WAN, your LANs and teams can connect to companywide databases and tools that facilitate conferencing, marketing automation, customer relationship management (CRM) and other business operations — all of which are beyond the LAN’s scope.

How does WAN work?

WANs can use different types of connectivity and technologies to bridge their various parts. WAN operators often employ virtual private networks (VPNs) to interconnect locations and devices more securely. A virtual private network is important because data handled by IP-based WANs may become vulnerable as it moves across the internet.

As businesses grow, many are faced with aging network infrastructure and convoluted architectures resulting from technologies that were added over the years. To boost productivity and profitability, they may need WANs that use both wired and wireless technologies. Yet implementing both may seem impossible given available budgets and limited technology resources. And businesses may put off potentially game-changing advancements because they are fearful of the risks and costs to their network.

Hybrid, wired and wireless networks can lead to delayed or flawed security updates and implementation of business-critical applications. Think of the work involved in retrofitting equipment, alone. Settings must be changed for routers and servers. Phones, laptops and tablets may need new setups. They may even need to be replaced.

Software defined wide area network (SD WAN) technology may be the answer to these challenges.

What is SD WAN, and how can it help growing businesses?

Software-defined networks (SDNs) are gaining traction because of their usefulness in surmounting complexity and cost obstacles associated with hybrid networking and cloud computing.

To streamline disparate networks while getting the most out of pricey bandwidth, more businesses are turning to a type of SDN called SD WAN. Among its advantages, SD WAN allows businesses to control several network components and processes from a single interface or computer dashboard. SD WAN is hosted and based in the cloud, and is useful for businesses with branch offices and remote employees using a variety of networking methods.

Additionally, SD WANs can eliminate many manual operations and the need for expensive circuits to interconnect hybrid networks. At the same time, the technology makes it easier to maximize bandwidth in near-real time. This means that lower priority activity, such as web-surfing for noncritical work, can be sent through inexpensive public IP channels. More expensive circuits can be reserved for mission-critical and sensitive activity involving sales transactions and customer databases.

One way to think of SD WAN is to picture vehicles at an intersection on a divided highway. The network’s routing mechanisms are like the traffic lights. The drivers are going one way or the other, and taking turns based on the traffic signals. With SD WAN, instead of a traffic light that doesn’t respond immediately to changing conditions, you now have a sort of traffic-management genius in control. This highly trained professional uses advanced tools to evaluate traffic flow, vehicle occupancy and other qualitative factors to determine whether the light is red or green in a given direction. Like this pro traffic manager, SD WAN green-lights important, delay-sensitive payloads. Others get the red light, or are routed elsewhere. Everyone gets through the intersection efficiently and safely, relative to their situation and cargo.

Are you ready to move from a LAN to a WAN?

If so, you have plenty of options that can meet your needs. Our networking experts can help you evaluate your requirements and find a solution that fits your budget and ambitions. Our Managed Network Services can help you boost your teams’ productivity and simplify your business operations. Options include proactive performance management, customer support and fast network-restoration capabilities. For example, with Managed WAN, we can help keep your WAN running smoothly while keeping the pressure off of your IT staff. Our services are backed by strong service level agreements (SLAs).

Your growing business deserves a partner you can trust to help keep your connections reliable and secure. If SD WAN may be right for you, our Software Defined Secure Branch (SDSB) combines networking technologies such as private IP, dedicated internet and internet broadband into a hybrid SDN. SDSB can help you use your network more efficiently. The resulting design helps businesses with several locations more easily and securely control their applications and bandwidth. We’re here to help you get as much value as possible from your networking resources and budget.

    • Get started now.

  • Work with our experts.

    Tell us about your business, then meet with our professionals to ask questions, get advice, or obtain a quote.

    Request a quote