How to boost your office network with link and WAN aggregation

In the world of modern business, the speed and reliability of your network can be make or break. Every business needs to make sure its systems are up to the task, which is where aggregation comes in.

Aggregation is a networking term for using two connections in parallel. This has two potential benefits: one, to provide a fall-back when one of the connections fails, and two, the opportunity to increase performance by boosting the overall throughput of the connection. There are two principal uses for aggregation worth exploring: WAN aggregation and link aggregation.

WAN aggregation

WAN – Wide Area Network – is the term used to describe networks spread over wide geographic areas, the obvious example being the internet, but also networks split across multiple locations. WAN aggregation is provided through connecting to two separate internet providers through dual WAN ports on the back of supported routers, such as ASUS’s BRT-AC828.

Each WAN port on the BRT-AC828 can deliver up to 1Gbps bandwidth – obviously, the actual figure will depend on the speed of your internet connection. When connected to two internet providers, your network can tap into aggregated WAN speeds of up to 2Gbps, giving everyone in your business ample bandwidth to use without dragging other users down.

That’s the main advantage of aggregation – it’s not so much the overall speed increase as the additional throughput it offers, so if you have one or two heavy users you’re more likely to be able to give them the headroom they need without crippling other users’ internet connection in the process (and if you do have to set individual limits, these can obviously be more generous).

The secondary advantage of WAN aggregation is redundancy – if one internet connection goes down, the other will continue to provide a fast link to the net while the problem is investigated and fixed – all without forcing you to rely on some other form of backup, such as a more expensive 4G mobile connection.

Link aggregation

The other use of aggregation is “link aggregation”, which combines two Gigabit Ethernet ports in the same way WAN aggregation does to provide throughput of up to 2Gbps for the device in question. One crucial difference between WAN and link aggregation is that the latter doesn’t double the speed of the network connection for single users; instead, the extra bandwidth is used to balance competing demands without performance penalty. The obvious example is when two or more people are attempting to transfer files at the same time – the additional throughput allows the transfers to complete more quickly than they would through a single port.

Link aggregation also offers the same redundancy as WAN aggregation, so if one connection fails – for example, through a faulty cable – then you’re able to continue using the resource while you troubleshoot the issue.

Link aggregation requires specialist equipment to work – look for a managed switch or router (such as ASUS’s RT-AC88U) that specifically offers support for LACP (Link Aggregation Control Protocol) to handle the connection. You then pair this with devices offering twin Gigabit Ethernet ports and LACP support, such as higher-end network interface cards or network attached storage devices. Then it’s a case of applying the correct settings on each device – RT-AC88U users should click here for example – and your users will be able to instantly take advantage.

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