April 2024


WAN Trends 2024: The Need for AI and WAN Acceleration Remains in the Public Sector

By David Trossell, CEO and CTO of Bridgeworks

In 2023, generative AI became steadfastly part of the lexicon. The applications for the technology are potentially vast, but this was also overshadowed by concerns about the impact that artificial intelligence may have on society. Elon Musk, an investor in AI, was among the people calling for a halt in the technology to encourage a discussion about whether there is a need to place limitations on how it should be used and deployed in the near and long-term future.

David Trossell

The Verge revealed on 6th December 2023 that his company, xAI, “seeks to raise up to $1 billion in equity investments, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (as spotted by CoinDesk). The company has raised $134.7 million so far. Founded in April, xAI is Musk’s attempt at jumping on the AI hype train.”

Prior to starting up, xAI, Musk backed Open AI – the company behind ChatGPT – in which he reportedly committed £1bn before walking away from the company over disagreements relating to the speed of OpenAI’s advancements. In total, however, he invested around $50m. The disagreements included his concern about safe AI development, which it is said, he believed OpenAI wasn’t pursuing. Musk then left its board, and backed xAI, which is now a rival to OpenAI.

So, Musk’s thirst for artificial intelligence remains – despite his concerns and the power struggle with other OpenAI board members that contributed to his departure from the firm. You could be forgiven for asking why he contradicts itself. Yes, there is a need to consider the commercial and moral cases for how artificial intelligence and machine learning will impact society, but the technology is beneficial – including to businesses that wish to transport ever-growing amounts of encrypted data over thousands of miles. It can also be used, as xAI proclaims, to better understand the universe.

Public Sector AI

The Alan Turing Institute says artificial intelligence offers huge potential for the delivery of government and public sector services. It argues that AI can make them more responsive, more efficient and more personalised.

The projects it discusses on its website range from using artificial intelligence and machine learning to automated bureaucracy; estimating the potential of AI in government services by quantifying transaction dynamics and by estimating the potential of automation; conceptualising the use of AI in government with a novel typology; using the technology to generate actionable insights from satellite imagery, to understanding the use and impacts of preceptive, predictive and generative AI in the public sector by “surveying workers to understand their perceptions and experiences of AI systems…”

Lord Jonathan Evans also believes. His article by this title on .Gov adds:

“Chat GPT and other AI tools are starting to transform our interactions with a range of organisations, including in the public sector. The benefits and risks involved were highlighted in the media recently by educationalists concerned about the lack of advice for schools on handling developments in AI.

Back in 2020, pre-pandemic, the Committee produced a report and recommendations on how we ensure that high ethical standards can be upheld as technologically assisted decision making is adopted more widely across the public sector.

Honesty, integrity, objectivity, openness, leadership, selflessness and accountability were first outlined by Lord Nolan in 1995 as the standards expected of all those who act on the public’s behalf. They are the basis for codes and rules guiding conduct and decision making across the public sector. But what happens when decisions are made or assisted by a machine?

Our 2020 report argues that adherence to high public standards will help fully realise the potential benefits of AI in public service delivery. All seven Nolan principles are relevant and valid, as AI is increasingly used for public service delivery, but we found AI poses a challenge to three Principles in particular: openness, accountability and objectivity.”

The 2020 report highlighted the need for public sector organisations to improve the transparency around their use of AI and machine learning. The report’s authors – including Lord Evans – called on the government to “to establish a coherent regulatory and governance framework for AI in the public sector, and to produce practical guidance and enforceable regulation on transparency and data bias as a matter of urgency.” While no AI regulator was created, existing regulators were asked to step up to the challenges that AI and ML can present to ensure that they comply with the law.

Elevating capabilities

From an SD-WAN networking perspective, Mushroom Networks says: “Integrating AI into SD-WAN elevates its capabilities [too], enabling more intelligent routing decisions, enhanced performance and improved security. AI-driven SD-WAN solutions can analyse network traffic in real-time, predictively identifying potential issues and autonomously rerouting traffic to ensure optimal performance.”

Ayesha Mumtaz, writing for BNN Breaking, claims: ‘SD-WAN: The Game Changer in Networking and Security’, even though SD-WANs are exactly new.  However, she is right to suggest that they have become the preferred solution for many IT leaders who want to tackle the belligerence of latency, packet loss and poor bandwidth utilisation with a virtual WAN architecture that’s proclaimed to be service provider agnostic and highly secure in nature.

She adds: “SD-WAN is no longer an emerging trend; it has proven its worth and is reshaping the modern business landscape. Unlike traditional WAN, SD-WAN offers a network overlay, effectively separating network software services from the underlying WAN links. This innovative approach allows for cost-effective, adaptable and manageable networking options tailored to the demands of contemporary enterprises.”

Networking trends

As for networking trends in 2024, as revealed by Hewlett Packard Enterprises, she comments that SD-WANs highlight the dynamic nature of networking, and she claims there is a need for businesses to stay abreast of technological advancements to remain competitive and secure in today’s digital landscape.” She says the trends include: “the demise of standalone firewalls, the acceleration of zero trust principles, the critical nature of measuring end user experience and the skyrocketing adoption of 6GHz Wi-Fi. These developments will significantly impact the networking and security objectives of organisations, as well as user experience and application performance.”

There is also talk about intelligent WANs, the iWAN, a CISCO product that offers customers capabilities similar to MPLS VPN, such as quality of service (QoS), WAN optimisation and VPN tunnelling. However, Mindsight believes it’s not a new category of networking. It is essentially CISCO’s SD-WAN solution, and yet it’s thought that it won’t be like any other SD-WAN solution.

Sean Michael Kerner’s article for SDXCentral, published on 37th December 2023, ‘10 networking technology predictions for 2024’, predicts that AI will make networking much more intelligent in 2024. He cites Carolina Bessega, innovation lead – Office of the CTO, at Extreme Networks, whom he says forecasts that “AI-based networking tools will help predict, prevent and remediate issues that affect user experience, service availability and service quality.”

He comments that she also thinks machine learning will go beyond present-state network optimisations to “make the business of the network simpler and easier, faster and, as a result, better”, with large language models being paired with “other types of machine learning and networking big data to create new opportunities between vendors, customers and partners to co-innovate as they create solutions that transform the network into a strategic asset.”

Performant WANs are essential

Yet, the network isn’t just a strategic asset. Without a highly performing WAN, businesses are dead in the water. So, while SD-WANs and WAN Optimisation are good technologies, they often fall short of their promises. This is why, for example, most SD-WANs will still need a WAN Acceleration overlay in 2024.

Unlike anything on the networking market, and while we’ll see how Cisco’s iWANs fare, WAN Acceleration does mitigate the effects of latency and packet loss. In doing so, it accelerates the transfer of encrypted data and WAN performance over thousands of miles. It can also increase bandwidth utilisation – meaning that there may not be a need to buy new and larger pipes. Buying more bandwidth often doesn’t resolve the problem associated with bandwidth being underused.

This doesn’t mean that WAN Acceleration replaces SD-WANs. In 2024, like in previous years, this technology, which uses artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML, and data parallelisation, can be used as an overlay on top of SD-WANs to further improve their performance. Arguably, WAN Acceleration creates an ‘intelligent WAN’ because of its use of AI and ML.

Therefore, enterprises need it in 2024 as much as they did in recent years. To date, it is being used by organisations such as CVS Healthcare, the National Institutes of Health in the US, an F1 company and a household cyber-security firm, amongst  others, to ensure that their data is safe, that they can back up and restore data rapidly over large distances and with high volumes of data. This year – 2024 – should therefore be the year of WAN Acceleration, as its use of AI is beneficial to enterprises and society.

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