Enterprise networks have evolved tremendously over the past few decades to keep up with changing business needs and emerging technologies. As companies grow and require increased connectivity between locations, applications, and users, enterprise networks have had to scale up and become more intelligent.
The Rise of the LAN and WAN
In the beginning, enterprise networks consisted mainly of local area networks (LANs) that connected devices within a single office or building. Standard protocols like ethernet and Wi-Fi enabled devices to access printers, file servers, and shared applications on the local network. As companies expanded to multiple sites, wide area networks (WANs) were built to connect LANs across metro, regional or even global distances. Early WANs relied on legacy protocols like Frame Relay and ATM.
The Introduction of VoIP
Another shift occurred with the advent of Voice over IP (VoIP) technology in the 1990s. VoIP allowed companies to converge voice and data traffic onto the same IP networks. This brought major cost savings as separate phone lines could be eliminated once PCs and desk phones tapped into enterprise data networks to conduct voice calls. Quality of Service (QoS) mechanisms in switches and routers were important to prioritize latency-sensitive VoIP traffic.
The Rise of Wireless Networking
The 2000s saw an explosion in mobile devices and wireless networking. Wi-Fi networks enabled laptops, tablets, and smartphones to connect from anywhere within the enterprise. Cellular connectivity also allowed access from mobile devices remotely. Managing this influx of wireless and mobile devices put more demands on corporate networks in terms of capacity, security, and traffic shaping abilities.
Optimizing the WAN with MPLS
As branch office sites and data centers sprawled farther apart geographically, the performance limitations of WAN connections became more apparent. Latency, jitter, and packet loss could severely impair applications. Carriers began offering Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) services to overcome these issues. MPLS added advanced capabilities to core networks like Quality of Service (QoS), improved reliability, and optimized routing. This made the WAN much more suitable for delivering enterprise-grade voice, video, and UC services reliably between locations.
The Shift to Software-Defined Networking
Despite improvements with MPLS optimization and infrastructure upgrades, enterprise WAN architectures were still mainly hardware-bound. Configuring routing priorities throughout complex multi-box networks remained time-intensive and error-prone. This led to the emergence of software-defined networking (SDN) as a way to separate the network control plane from the data forwarding plane. The experts over at Hillstone Networks explain that SDN solutions like SD-WAN can centrally orchestrate QoS policies, load balancing traffic flows, dynamic path selection across multiple links, etc. with easy software control. SD-WAN allows greater network automation and flexibility.
Current Trends – The Secure Access Service Edge
Modern workforces require secure access to applications and resources wherever they are. The Secure Access Service Edge or SASE convergence of networking and security functions into a cloud-native service is an emerging trend. Global application performance assurance, zero trust network access, edge computer integrations, and other advanced capabilities are being defined for the future needs of enterprise networking.
The transformation of enterprise networks has been driven by emerging technologies, changing business needs, and shifts in the nature of work over the past few decades. From early LANs and WANs to VoIP, wireless, and SDN advancements, corporate networks have had to adapt to manage increasing demands. Today, trends like Secure Access Service Edge and the melding of networking and security into cloud-based services aim to provide secure application access and optimal performance no matter where users and devices connect from. Though the solutions continue to evolve, enterprise networks will always need to be dynamic, intelligent, and responsive to the power of an always-on digital business.