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Managed network services are the applications and functions of a business network that have been entrusted to an external service provider (i.e., a managed service provider, or MSP). Each provider may offer its own unique selection of services, but most managed network service offerings cover a similar array of networking technologies like MPLS and internet access.
Adopting managed network services is a common step en route to digital transformation and more specifically toward the setup of hybrid IT environments. In hybrid IT, organizations oversee some IT resources in-house while outsourcing others - such as their networks - to business partners, like MSPs, to realize savings and achieve better performance.
The benefits of hybrid IT in general include operational flexibility and scalability, which managed network services in particular can help unlock, by making it much easier and more economical for companies to get consistently reliable connectivity. Through managed services, they can:
Demand for managed network services has been strong ever since the early days of corporate WANs. But the more recent rise of software-defined networking, SD-WANs and cloud-based applications has enabled hybrid IT at a wider scale, and in turn spurred the need for managed network services that can support new traffic flows.
The traditional core components of a managed network services offering include MPLS and internet access and voice services such as SIP trunks and hosted VoIP. Over time, managed network services have also grown to encompass SD-WAN and other virtual services.
Across all of these possible services, the service provider may offer comprehensive 24/7 management of the underlying infrastructure. They may also oversee all related installation, configuration and maintenance and supply any necessary equipment.
MPLS, or Multiprotocol Label Switching, is a type of routing in which packets from many possible network protocols are encapsulated for more efficient transmission between specialized routers. A WAN with MPLS links can apply Class of Service tagging to traffic, to ensure proper routing and prioritization over a variety of networking technologies, including Ethernet and T1 and T3 lines. The MSP manages MPLS bandwidth and infrastructure, as well as the addition of security services such as firewalling and VPNs into the network hub, usually located in a data center.
One of the key roles of a managed network services provider is to ensure reliable and scalable internet connectivity for its customers. Connecting a business to the internet is much more complicated than doing so for a household, as a company will need certain levels of performance and quality across its network (as specified in an SLA), plus more robust security to avoid costly data breaches. To meet these requirements, an MSP may offer:
MSPs often handle voice services, since SIP trunks and hosted VoIP are both deeply integrated into the network itself and require substantial bandwidth and careful management to work. A provider will guide the integration of a SIP trunk into an existing premises-based phone system. In hosted VoIP implementation, the MSP plays an even larger role, hosting all of the backend infrastructure and ensuring that service is reliable and everything is kept updated and patched. Tarnsitoning to hosted VoIP is a common step for organizations seeking to reduce the costs and complexity of their private branch exchanges and enable more scalable communications.
An SD-WAN is a WAN in which the control plane of the network is separated from the underlying infrastructure. In other words, an SD-WAN is centrally managed via software, rather than via routes and other equipment at each individual site. SD-WANs are designed for high-bandwidth applications like voice and video and for direct internet access between branch offices and the internet (for instance, to access a SaaS application). To support these use cases, SD-WANs can incorporate not only MPLS links but also broadband, cellular and satellite connections for additional bandwidth and resiliency.
The evolution of SD-WAN underscores the broader move of managed network services toward virtual offerings, i.e. ones that do not depend as much on having immediate access to specific hardware. The rise of virtualized network functions (VNFs) also fits this trend. VNFs may be virtualized firewalls, load balancers or WAN accelerators that can be fitted together in software as virtual building blocks for the construction of larger services. An MSP can oversee the creation and management of VNFs in context such as SD-WAN deployments.
Looking ahead, managed network services will continue to evolve to serve increasingly cloud-dependent businesses that need access to dependable connectivity and security across their WANs. Telesystem offers a broad portfolio of managed network services to serve organizations of all sizes across the U.S. Connect with our team to learn more today.