Linking Multiple Business Locations on a Budget A guide to connecting many business locations without breaking the bank.
By: John Shepler
Your company has lots of locations and guess what? They all need to be connected. That has traditionally meant big bucks and some pretty heavy IT staffing to make sure that all the phone calls, file transfers and applications run transparently for your employees and customers. It’s more than possible that you’ve long settled for less capability than you really need just because of the sheer cost involved. Does it still need to be that expensive to get connected? Perhaps not so much anymore.
Why Connecting Business Locations Cost a Fortune
The traditional business connection has been the telecom private line. These started out as T1 lines when 1.5 Mbps was big bandwidth and moved up to DS3 and then OC3 and higher bandwidth SONET fiber as capacity needs increased. All of these were sold as point to point dedicated private lines. One line from headquarters to each remote site. The more sites, the more lines.
Dedicated private lines weren’t cheap to begin with. There is also no economy of scale. Two lines cost twice as much as one line. Lines in rural areas cost more, perhaps a lot more, than the same line downtown in a big city.
How do you interconnect a dozen sites so that they can all talk and exchange data? You set up routers and PBX or IPBX systems at HQ and have your IT team operate a fully meshed network.
Let Someone Else Run the Network to Save Money
MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching networks were designed to let you outsource the big multi-site network. A private operator runs a multi-tenant network using a proprietary protocol that routes traffic only on this dedicated network. It’s reasonably secure and has all the bandwidth you need.
Best of all, you are only using part of the network’s capacity so you only have to pay a fee for the portion you need. You also don’t have the network management headaches. The MPLS operator handles everything. You still have the cost of private lines from each location to the net, but not the expense of private interstate or international long lines.
The Cheapest Network of All
The big, beautiful public Internet connects just about everyone, everywhere. There’s more capacity than all of us will ever need. Plus, it’s cheap. Your small fraction of the cost of running the Internet is built into your connection charge. It’s inherently a mesh network, so all you need to do is get a broadband connection at each of your locations and whatever servers you need back at the home office. You might even rent servers in the cloud and offload that responsibility.
Now, the downside. Cheap doesn’t mean cheap and perfect. You and everyone else in the world are on this network and your critical business apps have no more priority than than binge watchers in a video feeding frenzy. Security is a joke. Every scam artist has tools to hack the web or make your life miserable by jamming your servers if they can’t rob you blind. Is this Internet really worth the trouble?
Mix and Match to Optimize Cost / Performance
A plain vanilla Internet connection may not be all you need for your business. It depends. SSL security makes it possible for millions of people to use their browsers to bank and buy things with confidence every day. You can install security appliances in line with your servers to mitigate denial of service attacks and intrusions. You can even outsource this complication by ordering managed security in the cloud.
How about priority service for sensitive applications like VoIP telephone calls and business critical cloud services? You may or may not find Internet performance good enough. One tradeoff is to use dedicated last mile connections versus shared low cost broadband. The core of the Internet runs pretty fast. It’s that local connection, especially the lowest cost ones, that get oversubscribed and bog down.
Why not get the best compromise by using both? Your really, really sensitive packets may not be all that bandwidth demanding but are highly latency dependent. Meanwhile, the bulk of file transfer activity, video streams, email, and page views work just fine over low-end broadband connections and are good with typical broadband latency. A newer technology called SD-WAN or Software Defined Wide Area Networking employs a smarter router connected to two or more Internet connections to pick and choose what packet goes down what path. Dedicated T1 lines or a low capacity MPLS network service can handle phone calls while a higher speed cable broadband line takes care of general web access.
If you have been frustrated by the high cost of connecting your multiple business locations, it’s time to take another look as line prices have plummeted and new technology offers higher performance from cheaper connections. See what’s available in the way of cloud communications, SD-WAN, MPLS networks and dedicated and shared broadband lines that can give you a lot more capacity for your limited budget now.
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