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Evaluating Options for WAN Infrastructure
When you stream video or browse social media on a personal device, you probably rarely, if ever, think about the underlying networking services. Unless, of course, they're slow or not working.
On a normal day, a complex mix of content delivery networks, data center links and interconnections between service providers (e.g., Comcast and Verizon) and platforms like Netflix work in tandem to enable what seems – to the end user – like a simple activity. This deceptive simplicity is well-summarized by the industry joke that "LTE" actually stands for "Leads to Ethernet," since the fast, ubiquitous wireless service it delivers requires many Ethernet cables throughout the carrier's network infrastructure.
As a consumer, you have little direct control over how all of those moving parts function, other than switching ISPs or say, upgrading from coax to fiber for your in-home service. That's not the case when building a wide area network (WAN) for your SMB or enterprise, where options abound. Not only are you selecting carriers, you're deciding what modes of transport to use, what policies should govern their operation and whether to implement software-defined functionality for additional insight and control.
With the emergence of SD-WAN solutions, the stakes are higher for making informed selections, as application performance can vary considerably depending on WAN infrastructure. Let's look at the major options for modern WANs and how they compare.
Short for Multi-Protocol Label Switching, MPLS, as its name reveals, is a networking technique compatible with multiple networking protocols. It was initially developed for legacy technologies such as Frame Relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), but is now much more commonly used as an overlay for Metro Ethernet and IP VPNs.
Through an affixed bit sequence (label), MPLS predetermines how routers in the network will handle and direct a packet. This Quality of Service (QoS) allows for highly predictable performance. Latency-sensitive apps like hosted VoIP or video conferencing can be assigned to low-latency routes that minimize the overhead for their traffic. MPLS also comes with built-in management and security from the service provider.
MPLS is expensive, in some cases costing a hundred times more than broadband per megabit. It was also designed long before the rise of cloud computing, meaning it's not ideal for handling the traffic flows from newer SaaS applications.
Ideal use cases: MPLS is commonly used for connections between data centers, between headquarters/data centers and branch offices, and for high-priority business applications. MPLS is available from Telesystem.
Ethernet was originally a LAN technology and then evolved into a replacement for slower WAN option like ATM. Carrier Ethernet emerged as a high-bandwidth option for business use and became the essential technology within Metro Ethernet connections, which are extended over geographically limited metropolitan area networks (aka MANs). Metro Ethernet may use MPLS, public IP or other modes of deployment.
Ethernet is well-understood, proven technology with low latency and high throughput. Through Carrier Ethernet, it conveniently enables the interconnection of multiple LANs into what looks like the same network. Since the same technology is being used at the LAN and WAN/MAN levels, network configuration and management is relatively simple. Ethernet is also more affordable than MPLS in most cases.
Depending on the plan, QoS and a service-level agreement might not be included, unlike MPLS services in which these features are standard. Engineers may have to perform more work on their own to ensure the Ethernet-based infrastructure delivers the expected performance. Overall, customers bear more responsibility than they do with MPLS.
Ethernet is a fixture of data center interconnections, LANs, MANs and WANs and is pivotal in disaster recovery applications. Telesystem provides Ethernet connectivity via our Metro-E plan.
Also known as 4G, LTE is a high-speed, packet-switched wireless technology built into most mobile phones as of the early 2010s and also available on tablets and laptops. LTE is more than a speedy way to browse the web or use apps – it's also a powerful option for network failover and redundancy.
As a wireless standard, LTE has none of the on-site complexity associated with cabled infrastructure. That makes it good for hostile operating environments in which length cables would be liabilities. It also has far less latency than satellite connectivity, meaning it's ideal for remote locations with few good wired options.
Service quality will depend on carrier coverage as well as the management of the implementation by a provider who handles the installation and specifies the SLA.
LTE is perfect as a redundant circuit that can handle failover when a primary circuit like MPLS or Ethernet fails. Managed 4G LTE solutions from Telesystem guarantee at least 99.9 percent uptime.
It's exactly what it sounds like – the internet service you most likely use at work and at home. Broadband has become a popular MPLS alternative in WANs in recent years, especially with the rise of SD-WANs that shore up the performance and security issues that would otherwise make public IP unfeasible.
Broadband is inexpensive compared to MPLS. It's also widely available and built on familiar technology.
Getting the most from broadband may require the implementation of an SD-WAN, which improves visibility, ensures predictable MPLS-class performance and secures the connections across the WAN, including to cloud services.
Broadband is integral to most SD-WANs and as the basic means of internet access for user-facing applications at both SMBs and enterprises.
Telesystem offers MPLS, Ethernet, LTE and dedicated internet access options for your network. Connect with our team to learn more!