Connecting your business. A cost-effective alternative to MPLS
In the IT sector, as in life in general, we tend to use what works. If hardware, software, or a particular process is ‘what all companies I know’ are doing, then there’s a tendency to just leave it at that. Yet, when we get called in on certain IT services engagements that better, we often find that more cost-effective solutions are out there. You might think the biggest hurdle to implementing them is around the business case or the cost, but many times, we can see from talking to overwhelmed IT personnel that it’s just a psychological hurdle. Some IT managers don’t want to take risks, even on proven technology, if they’re not personally familiar with it. Just to take one example, I’m thinking about how companies connect branch offices to centralized services and applications.
MPLS and other network options
MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) is pretty much the gold standard solution for this kind of a challenge, if your organization is distributed across the country or internationally. It’s like a private WAN, giving you the ability to connect all locations to a central data center. While this kind of solution is usually out of reach of smaller companies, mid-sized companies make great use of it to carry data-heavy uses like voice communications and video. It’s secure. It’s reliable. It’s pretty much a ‘standard’ solution for a pretty common problem.
But there’s another option out there, thanks to some relatively recent changes in market conditions. The Internet is a lot more robust than it was even a few years back and now we can get much faster connections to businesses in most major cities and even in small towns. In other words, regular Internet speed is actually starting to outstrip what’s available for MPLS.
This creates a cost-effective alternative for clients. In fact, it’s just like one that we were helping last month, a property management company, with this very challenge: using a VPN (Virtual Personal Network). As any IT student can attest, a VPN is simply a secure network that’s overlaid over top of Internet connections between sites. There a number of benefits, not least of which is encryption.
“Now, hold on,” I can hear veteran IT specialists interrupting all at once. VPN’s aren’t robust enough for companies that prioritize business continuity. If your Internet slows down, so does your VPN. Companies need maximum reliability. Long story short: this isn’t going to fly.
VPN, modified. A creative solution to a traditional IT problem
As I mentioned before, IT generalists who work in-house may be risk-averse and resistant to change (These are not bad traits all the time – sometimes it’s good to be cautious). But innovation doesn’t have to be scary if you have a trusted partner who knows what they’re doing.
When we suggested going the VPN route, the lack of robustness could have been a deal-breaker in the eyes of our client. But we explained how we could make up for that: first, make use of multiple providers at each site. Next, build in automation and then we could have automated fault tolerance to route around slow Internet connections.
Now they’ve got a robust network that’s robust enough for their needs, fast, secure. Even better, it was far cheaper to build than an MPLS and it delivers cost savings every month. In the long term, this evolved VPN network will be more complex to maintain than troubleshooting an MPLS; but on the other hand, even a small company can have in-house IT people who are already on hand to deal with any issues.
We solved a pretty traditional IT problem with some traditional technology and a bit of creativity in implementation. That’s something we love to do.