To successfully scale and secure fixed site solutions, enterprises are finding the value of hybrid WAN solutions that bring many functionalities together
As businesses expand, they establish new sites to reach growing markets, serve diverse customers, and optimize operations. For this reason, successfully networking branches such as retail stores, banks, restaurants, offices, and more, has evolved. What was once a mere link between computers is now a dynamic, ever-growing web of users, sites, and devices that fuel success and growth.
The evolution of networking branches
Driven by technological advancements and evolving enterprise needs, networking for fixed locations has significantly changed over time.
Soon after Internet and broadband technologies became popular solutions for reliable, high-speed network access, Wi-Fi and wireless networking emerged, allowing devices to connect to LANs without the need for physical cables. It was a newfound freedom to connect people, places, and things virtually anywhere. This advancement was important in the history of networking branches, as it facilitated the growth of wireless LANs (WLANs) within fixed locations, providing greater flexibility and mobility for connected devices and the employees who use them.
The subsequent rise in ultra-fast fiber optic connectivity for fixed sites bolstered the growth of cloud computing, allowing users to access remote servers and data centers over the Internet for services and storage. As branches connected to the cloud, uptime became even more essential. At the same time, more enterprises began integrating IoT devices into their day-to-day operations.
But as branch networking sprawled, the concerns for privacy and security intensified. Sites needed to ensure their connectivity was both resilient and included diverse links, while still making sure security weaknesses didn’t take them offline or pose threats to the entire business.
The elements of a successful fixed site network
Early branch networks were enthusiastically welcomed as a way to connect enterprise employees and their computers to other processing devices. Today, a successful fixed site network is built upon multiple elements that not only optimize operations, but also improve user experience, adapt to changing physical landscapes, and keep critical data safe.
Simplified network management from anywhere
Flexibility, scalability, and the ability to futureproof are key to modern networks. This means the architecture and security solutions must be simple to deploy, manage, and troubleshoot when building out branch networks. When all elements of an enterprise network can be managed from a single system or pane of glass, lean IT teams have more bandwidth to focus on larger projects.
Diverse WAN link options
Today, WAN links come in a variety of flavors. Wired links are a tried-and-true solution, but difficult to establish in new locations. They are also at risk of going down in storms, during construction, and in several other scenarios. Wireless WAN links such as 5G and LTE are simple to establish in locations where wired connections aren’t an option. These links are more reliable, and their coverage areas continue to expand.
A hybrid WAN solution is a dynamic option for business that can include any combination of wired and wireless connections, or even a diverse all-wireless solution (i.e., links from different carriers).
Modern Wi-Fi solutions
Wi-Fi 6 generates a slew of benefits compared to its predecessors. With higher data transfer speeds, increased capacity, lower latency, and better performance in dense environments, enterprises are finding the integration of Wi-Fi 6 — and the need for Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3) security — essential for their fixed site architecture.
In 2023, IDC’s Future of Connectedness Survey reported that 49% of enterprises are increasing their investment in Wi-Fi 6 hardware, software, and applications. By implementing Wi-Fi 6 early on, businesses create a foundation to support their guests, staff, and connected devices, as well as emerging technologies such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications and high-definition video streaming.
SD-WAN uses cloud-managed policies to determine the most effective routes for application traffic. When traffic is directed to the path that best suits its needs, quality of experience (QoE) improves. SD-WAN technology also plays an important role in 5G network slicing, as it recognizes, categorizes, and steers application traffic to the appropriate slice.
Blended security measures
Protecting a branch network requires a delicate balance of safeguarding the network without negatively impacting user experience. Zero trust security, ZTNA for remote access, and modern, secure Wi-Fi solutions can help.
Established on the principle of “never trust; always verify,” a zero trust security model assumes that anyone attempting to access a network or application is a bad actor. Their activity is restricted through ongoing verification, effectively safeguarding expanding branch networks. Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) builds on zero trust networks by extending secure, isolated, user-to-resource connections to third-party contractors, suppliers, and remote users.
Employee and guest Wi-Fi drive an innate need for secure web access which protects users by isolating them and their devices from Internet-based malware. Wi-Fi networks can be further protected by next-gen firewalls vs. traditional firewalls and content filtering.
How cohesive networking solutions impact branch networking
The cohesiveness of branch networking elements is essential for building a robust, efficient, and secure network. This cohesion ensures data protection, optimal performance, and a seamless user experience across sites — all while adapting to changing business needs.
In March 2023, IDC reported nearly half of organizations intend to purchase SD-WAN solutions that integrate with their existing security technologies. This indicates an increased business desire to find an all-in-one solution for networking branches.
Organizations with widely distributed sites can meet the majority of their edge networking needs through one solution by deploying a hybrid WAN routers that include cloud-managed SD-WAN features, diverse WAN links, Wi-Fi, and zero trust technologies. This is the most efficient and scalable way to support the rapid expansion of fixed sites while taking advantage of a centralized management solution.