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Whether operating across multiple offices, moving applications to the Cloud or planning to expand or merge, there are choices to be made when it comes to inter-connecting these locations. Spitfire’s Andy Duncan works through the business and technical challenges and the considerations that need to be taken to ensure your IT systems work effectively.
- Your business operates across two or more locations
- You plan to merge or expand, taking on new offices
- You’ve moved your applications to the Cloud
- Your servers are located in a datacentre.
All of these scenarios, and many more, have a fundamental need to operate your business applications in multiple locations. From a technical perspective you now need a Wide Area Network (WAN).
So what’s the challenge?
Anyone who has worked from home and downloaded a large file from the head office server will know that this can be a good opportunity to make a coffee. The problem is down to three factors; the connectivity between the two locations and the network technologies used to create the connection and the type of application. Expand this out to multiple users, multiple sites and more demanding applications and while the technical challenges are similar, if not addressed properly the scale of the problem is going to be a hindrance to business. So while there are a number of technologies used to create WANs, picking the wrong one could be a costly mistake.
WAN solutions can be divided into two types; those that provide a private connection between locations and those that use the public internet.
Private WAN solutions include MPLS and Point to Point solutions. While the actual networking used by these solutions is complex, they provide something logically akin to a private cable between locations. Thus the performance is consistent and based on the capability of the “cable”. For example if you have a 100Mbps point to point circuit this will give you 100Mbps throughput – all day, every day. Note the word “Private”. Your network traffic does not pass over the public internet and therefore your security is simplified.
Private WAN solutions are provided by your Internet Service Provider and use the same connections at your office that are used for internet connectivity. Point to Points effectively plumb two circuits together while MPLS allows you to build private networks between all of your offices, datacentres and even cloud service providers. The key benefits being privacy, performance and simplicity. And perhaps surprisingly MPLS solutions can be lower cost than internet circuits and are suitable for even a two site SME business.
In contrast technologies like IPsec VPN, SSL VPN and SD-WAN utilise the public internet and standard internet circuits to create the WAN. Traversing the internet presents a number of challenges that these technologies have to address. Firstly actually finding a route across the internet between sites isn’t as straight forward as it sounds so these technologies effectively create tunnels between your sites to allow your network traffic to find these routes between your sites. The next challenge is security so the network traffic needs to be encrypted so it cannot be read by anyone who may intercept it. All of this requires a device on every site, such as a firewall, and someone to manage it.
The problem with this approach is that all of this complexity running over the public internet degrades performance. The level of degradation varies but the worst case I’ve experienced was a customer with 1Gbps connectivity only achieving 50Mbps throughput when using IPsec VPN connectivity. This is a 95% performance loss which goes some way to illustrate that paying more to increase the bandwidth of your internet circuit just isn’t going to solve the problem.
While IPsec and SSL have been the standard for many years, SD-WAN is a relatively new technology which offers many promises (cost savings, better performance, ease of management and better visibility to name a few). But for most the key business requirement is simple but effective connectivity and the bells and whistles of SD-WAN often don’t justify the high price tag.
So which solution is best for me?
Well the first question you actually need to ask is what network do my applications need? Transferring an occasional file doesn’t demand much whereas running VoIP telephony, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or database synchronisation are significantly more demanding. Only by understanding the often competing needs of your applications can you build an effective WAN.
At Spitfire we have developed an approach called CANN, which focusses on understanding the Customer Applications before identifying the Network Needs. Once this analysis has been competed the best solution may even be a combination of technologies. We therefore actively encourage our customers to discuss their business plans and ideas with us so we can ensure their WAN requirements are considered as part of their plan. Please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss your opportunity or issue or learn more from our online Tech Talks.