Guest post: Gary Dawson and WAN procurement

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Guest Post. Gary Dawson and the challenge of procuring MPLS. 

Gary Dawson is a freelance contractor. In this article, Gary writes about the challenge of WAN procurement, in particular MPLS, VPLS and IPSec. The use of MPLS has become a business priority, mostly due to the rapid expansion of remote workers and outsourcing.

These satellite employees and contractors need the same access to data as those who work in the central office. MPLS, VPLS and IPSec services help meet that need, but reliability can be a major issue. Each of these types of services have their pluses and minuses.

IPSec Services Explained

Security is an increasing issue for businesses, as identity theft and the theft of personal data becomes the one of the world's most prevalent crimes. Businesses often have personal and/or financial data stored for thousands of consumers, so protecting data in transit is a must. As hackers grow more sophisticated, so must business network security. IPSec is a series of authentication protocols that protects data from hacking at the packet level. When information is being transmitted from one device to another, it can be vulnerable to interception. IPSec helps minimize exposure by keeping data confidential as it is transmitted across a network. Security must be a focus regardless of the WAN structure you choose.

Choosing Between MPLS and VPLS

WAN Procurement

Wide area networks, or WANs, allow you to streamline the costs of network access and make data available across the network. Cost is a significant part of the equation when looking at the different options. Multi-Protocol Label Switching, or MPLS, can reduce costs associated with WAN bandwidth by an average of 17 percent, according to a survey from Nemertes Research.

Why Choose MPLS?

With the potential cost savings, MPLS seems like a no-brainer. Using MPLS you can improve network performance in real time. You also flatten your network and move away from clunky architectures like a hub and spoke design, giving you both more control and less to manage. Of course, with 74 percent of respondents to the Nemertes Research survey already reporting the use of MPLS in their existing WANs, it is clear that this has become the industry standard approach, so what about VPLS?

What is VPLS?

Virtual Private Lan Service, or VPLS, allows multipoint-to-multipoint communication over either an IP connection or an existing WAN network. Why Implement VPLS? The important thing to remember about VPLS technology is that it doesn't have to replace an existing MPLS network. In fact, it can't, since VPLS uses the core products of an MPLS to deliver service. Instead, VPLS adds functionality and internal control options. Layer 3 MPLS networks may not support all of your normal functions, so the addition of a VPLS can allow you to access Layer 2 functions that support different protocols. You can also self-manage routing through your VPLS, so it prioritizes transmissions according to your needs. VPLS allows your existing IT department to take the lead on management, so you are not dependent on a third-party provider. Of course, this also puts more performance pressure on that department, so you may want to look at third-party VPLS management services.

The Challenges of Implementing your WAN

Before you can make concrete decisions about a WAN provider and the services you need, there are some tough questions you need to answer.

1. How much are you prepared to spend? Cost can be a big barrier to any service. Bandwidth costs can creep up, so the addition of management products like MPLS and VPLS solutions should be a priority. You might also want to look into Ethernet and SIP Trunking services to help keep those bandwidth costs within reason.

2. How much control do you need? If your priorities change during the day, you might need direct oversight for network traffic. For example, if you deal with high call volume during business hours and lots of file transmission after hours, you might want to switch network traffic priorities. If your transmission needs remain the same, you can safely leave the management to your provider.

3. What are your network requirements? Your needs should be the driving force behind your WAN selection, not the other way around. Latency-sensitive applications and transaction processing makes traffic control a must, which pushes you in the direction of a MPLS and/or VPLS provider.

4. What is the provider reach? Before contracting with a specific WAN provider, you need real time information about Provider Edge coverage. Local loop delays can push the application latency through the roof. Make sure to ask for a live ping demonstration to other local customers to see actual performance numbers. Making the Choice Choosing between MPLS and VPLS all comes down to capabilities. Do you have a fully staffed IT department? Are they ready to handle network administration tasks? Would you rather work with a third-party service and keep to your core processes? If you have the staff and expertise in-house, a VPLS offers the same connectivity as an MPLS, but it allows you greater control over network traffic. If you don't have the in-house staff, administering a VPLS could require an investment in high value staff.

An MPLS WAN might be ideal if you don't need as much direct control over traffic and rarely deal with network slowdowns. Assess your current capabilities, needs and infrastructure before you start interviewing prospective providers.

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