Wide-area networks: What WANs are and where they’re headed


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

What is a WAN?

A WAN is a network that uses various links – private lines, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), virtual private networks (VPNs), wireless (cellular), the Internet – to connect smaller metropolitan and campus networks in diverse locations into a single, distributed network. The sites they connect could be a few miles apart or halfway around the globe. In an enterprise, the purposes of a WAN could include connecting branch offices or even individual remote workers with headquarters or the data center, in order to share corporate resources and communications.

+ALSO on Network World: IPv6 deployment guide; Why 2018 will be the year of the WAN; SD-WAN: What is it and why you’ll use it one day+

WAN architecture

Initially, WANs were built with meshed webs of private lines bought from telecommunications carriers, but WAN architectures have advanced to include packet-switched services such as frame relay, ATM and MPLS. With these services, a single connection to a site can be connected to many others via switching within service-provider networks. For certain types of traffic, the Internet can also be woven into the mix to provide less expensive WAN connections.

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