Implementing the new low-cost enterprise WAN

A year ago, the enterprise WAN was under great pressure. Many companies felt that if they did not quickly extend their WANs to a range of customers, suppliers and distributors, they would be at a severe competitive disadvantage. Today, the enterprise WAN is still under great pressure, but of a different kind.

While companies still feel the need to extend their WAN infrastructures to stay competitive, the urgency of that requirement has somewhat subsided. Today, enterprise managers are feeling pressured to redesign their WAN infrastructures primarily to save money. However, the unstoppable force that is the corporate mandate to make fundamental changes in the WAN is running into an immovable object: severe budget and personnel constraints.

In terms of enterprise WAN technologies, most enterprise network departments are not excited about making major new deployments of frame relay or ATM because of their cost structure and relative lack of flexibility. However, many companies are interested in making at least a modest deployment of newer technologies, such as voice over IP and IP-based VPNs.

Over time, voice over IP will offer most companies significant benefits, including the ability to more easily deploy new applications and run a more streamlined, integrated network organization. Unfortunately, many firms considering voice over IP are motivated primarily to cut cost. While saving money is a possibility, any network professional looking at voice over IP purely to save money needs to do a careful analysis of the potential savings.

I am extremely bullish on the use of dial-up IP VPNs to support remote-access requirements. In particular, it’s common for companies to spend US$4 or US$5 per hour to support remote workers via toll-free numbers or the public switched telephone network. In most cases, a dial-up IP VPN will lower these costs to about US$1 per hour.

Site-to-site IP VPNs are more problematic. A year ago, many companies were looking at site-to-site IP VPNs, given the mandate to rapidly extend their WAN infrastructures to customers, suppliers and distributors. However, because site-to-site VPNs are not always the low-cost solution, many of these companies are taking a second look at that strategy.

Given the current pressure to cut costs in the WAN, the best strategy is to use the most cost-effective technology, from the most appropriate vendor, in each part of the network. But implementing that strategy will put tremendous pressure on the network department to better manage a range of technologies and service providers.

Metzler is vice president of Ashton, Metzler & Associates, a consultancy in Newton, Mass. He can be reached at