Unlimited Free WAN!


By Ephraim Baron

Okay, maybe bandwidth isn’t free.

But if you could get cheap, reliable, high-bandwidth connectivity, how would it change your consumption? That’s the question I examine in this article.

The Changing Home Network

Before talking about corporate IT, let’s first look at what’s happened in our homes.

Back in the days of dial-up, the idea of streaming high-definition movies to your house would have sounded like science fiction. If you wanted to watch a movie at home, you went to your local Blockbuster Video store and picked from what was on the shelf. (Remember “Be kind, rewind”?)

But with residential broadband came new things to consume over the network. Now 5+ Mbps home bandwidth is common, with 50-100Mbps either available or just around the corner. Video on demand is a reality, and Blockbuster stores are all but gone.

In fact, home users are consuming so much content that Comcast just had to increase their 250GB/month usage limit. Think about it.

That much consumption is equivalent to:

  • 760kbps
  • Or roughly half a T1
  • Or nearly fourteen 56k dial-up lines

… fully utilized, all day, every day. Simply put, cheap connectivity has changed how home users use their network.

Hold that thought, and let’s switch our context.

The Corporate WAN

In the not-so-distant past – or perhaps in the present – many businesses made do with a T1 circuit (1.544 Mbps) for all their WAN traffic. And because it was expensive, they were very careful about what traveled over the network.

Most businesses today still have a “WAN is expensive/minimize WAN traffic” mindset. As a result, they try to do as much computing as they can within the walls of their buildings and data centers.

But what if, as my teaser title suggests, WAN were unlimited and free? Or at least, what if you could get an inexpensive high-speed network – say, a gigabit WAN?

How would your enterprise architecture change? In what ways could your business make use of this resource? How might this change your consumption patterns?

The following are a few possibilities that come to mind:

  • Online data backup [Home users are doing it, why not businesses?]
  • Geographically dispersed delivery and load-balancing of applications
  • Disaster recovery with drastically lower recovery time/recovery point objectives (RTO/RPO)
  • Cloud-based capacity augmentation [own the base, rent the spike]
  • Supply chain interconnection and automation
  • Greater use of data exchanges (e.g., health information exchanges, community clouds, etc.)
  • Increased consumption of SaaS applications
  • Faster and higher resolution imaging
  • Global multimedia collaboration
  • Enhanced VoIP telephony and video conferencing

In short, fatter pipes enable greater flow of information.

Fat and Cheap

If you find yourself saying “I want me some of that!” there’s good news. Wide area network circuits are steadily getting faster and cheaper. If you’re still paying $25-$50/Mb of WAN capacity, you should know that in many cases you can get connectivity that is less expensive by an order of magnitude.

“Maybe so,” you say, “but to get those savings you have to buy a lot more of it.” And that’s just the point. Instead of asking “how much money can I save on WAN costs?” the real question you should ask is “what could I do with lots more WAN capacity?”

Let’s look at an example. Suppose you have a company with operations on both east and west coasts of the U.S. Assume each serves as the failover site for the other. Because you’ve been told that network is expensive, though, you’re only providing DR for your most critical applications and you’re only replicating off-hours. This means your recovery point objective (RPO) – the amount of data you’re willing to lose – could be as much as a full day.

Now suppose you’re able to get a gigabit connection for, let’s say, $5K/month. (That’s $5/Mb if you’re keeping score at home.) Assume that’s dedicated bandwidth, not some CIR+burst scheme where you end up paying way more than you expected.

This means your WAN capacity is:

  • 1 Gbps (note: gigabits)
  • = 450 GB/hr (note: gigabytes)
  • = 10.8 TB/day
  • = 328 TB/month

If you need even greater capacity, 10Gbps circuits are available. (That’s > 3PB/month, and the per-Mb price is even lower!) Now you can replicate throughout the day, meaning your RPO just dropped dramatically. And you can replicate all your data, not just a subset.

Notice, at this point the conversation isn’t just about IT costs; it’s about applications and business value. (Isn’t it nice to move up the food chain?)

From Concept to Reality

So what’s the catch? Well, for one thing bandwidth alone doesn’t address latency issues [at least until someone comes up with a speed-of-light accelerator]. But it does allow you to drive a much larger truck down the highway.

And if latency is important, Equinix’s global platform of over 100 data centers allows you to deploy close to your users. For another, you will probably need to undertake a comprehensive review and possible redesign of your network. The good news is we have a team of expert Solutions Architects who can help you through the process as well as over 700 network providers to choose from.

Finally, you probably already have a long-term contract with your telco written in so much legalese that you’re loath to contemplate breaking it (lest you find yourself fitted for an orange jumpsuit – or perhaps cement overshoes). Sorry to say, we don’t have a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. But we can help you prepare before your next renewal comes around.

The key is to start planning today. Visualize the possibilities, and put together a plan to make them reality. Most importantly, begin looking at the network as a strategic enabler rather than something to be carefully rationed.