The birth of Wide Area Networks

A wide area network (WAN) is a massive network that can use different types of links to relay, store and communicate data no matter the location through a WAN provider. The evolution of WAN corresponded with the change of enterprises: WAN was adapting to the constantly changing business requirements as an attempt to meet its needs. The U.S. Air Force first created WAN in the late 1950s to interconnect sites in the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) radar defense system. At the time, it was a massive network of phone lines, telephones, and modems linking the sites together.  

The 1970s

In the late 1970s, WAN was designed to connect two different locations across the street or in the same city, considering that this was when a 9.6 Kbps line was a high-speed network. As the network speed was constantly improving on leased lines, the 45Mbps T3/DS3 links were the most expensive solutions at the time. This brought on the invention of the packet-switched networks that used network resources more efficiently and was less costly. Not only was packet-switched networks considered the first “cloud” service in general use for remote mainframe terminal access, but it also transformed the pricing model for WANs by allowing customers to pay per usage.  

The 1990s

In the early 1990s, Frame Relay technology lowered monthly costs by reducing complexity and requiring less hardware. The 90s also introduced WANs with Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) which is a telecommunication standard that was used for digital transmission of different types of traffic such as voice and video signals in one network without separate overlay networks. Around this time, it was common for businesses to have branch offices internationally. With this increasingly global business mindset, the most important development soon followed, the creation of Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS). MPLS made it possible for companies to run their traffic over long-haul private links with dedicated bandwidth. The MPLS solution served as the dominant WAN technology in the world, and is still utilized today for international communication.  

When entering the new millennium, WAN Optimization technology had the opportunity to get its foot in the door; Peribit, which Juniper Networks acquired, is considered the world’s first WAN Optimization provider. This was the first appliance solution with traffic compression, deduplication, classification, prioritization, and TCP acceleration.   

Software-Defined WAN

To date, the most recent evolution of WAN, around 2009, Software-Defined WAN was invented. SD-WAN allows companies to leverage any blend of transport services to connect users to applications securely. SD-WAN has changed the game for the long haul as businesses were looking for solutions to make their networks more flexible and responsive to their needs. The software-designed and optimized SD-WAN operates increasingly complex wide area networks as the world transitions from hardware to cloud-based technology. This new architecture aims to make it easier to manage wide area networks while improving network capabilities at the same time. 

Timeline of the Evolution of WAN

To learn more about SD-WAN, check out our services here. Stay tuned for more WAN content.


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