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Private Line vs VPN Connectivity
Selecting a private line or VPN for your business involves important cost and performance tradeoffs

By: John Shepler

Businesses often have need for a private line to communicate between headquarters and branch offices, factories & warehouses, retail franchises or suppliers. What’s important is reliable connections with security and transparency. The ideal private line gives you the same experience as your local area network. 

Classic Point to Point Private Lines
Telephone companies have offered private lines since the analog days. Security systems and radio station studio to transmitter links are examples of private lines that were often little more than pairs of wires that ran directly from one location to another via the central office. 

Digital communication introduced the T1 point to point private line that serves the same purpose. Bits go in one end and come out the other. T1 lines at 1.5 Mbps, DS3 at 45 Mbps and OC3 at 155 Mbps all offer private line service. Latency and packet loss are low. Speeds are fixed at the capacity of the line. 

These private lines work well for connecting a central headquarters as a hub to branch offices as spokes. It takes one line per branch with the central switch or router directing traffic. The lines themselves serve as very, very long network wires to interconnect the LANs at the various locations. 

Ethernet Private Lines
Since Ethernet is the protocol used on virtually all local networks today, it makes sense to have the private line running the same protocol. The telco solutions already mentioned require a protocol conversion module to convert between Ethernet and the proprietary protocol that runs on the lines themselves.

Carrier Ethernet private lines run the Ethernet protocol on the line itself. Carrier Ethernet is available as Ethernet over Copper for lower speed connections and Ethernet over Fiber for 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps, with 100 Gbps becoming more available. 

Ethernet services have more carriers competing for business which tends to reduce prices per Mbps. The cost per Mbps is almost always less for Ethernet and scalability is much easier. You can have a Gigabit Ethernet port installed and order any bandwidth from 10 Mbps up to 1000 Mbps. When you want an increase or decrease in capacity, a simple phone call to the carrier will make that happen quickly with no equipment changes required.

MPLS Networks
Private lines are a great solution if you only need to interconnect a few locations in a small geographical area. As the number of locations and their distance from headquarters increases, the cost goes up quickly. Each line has a charge and it varies with distance.

A popular alternative is the MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching network. This is a privately run network that uses a proprietary protocol called label switching instead of the more common TCP/IP. The fact that access is limited to subscribers only and the uniqueness of the LS protocol provide a level of security even though you are sharing the network with other users.

MPLS operators work to ensure that you have no awareness of other traffic. Bandwidth, latency, jitter and packet loss are carefully managed to meet the needs of all subscribers with extra margin for bandwidth bursting when needed.

MPLS is also known a MPLS VPN or Virtual Private Network. That’s because it isn’t truly private and fully dedicated to your use like a private line. If you are feel that you need a additional level of security, you do have the option to encrypt your data before it enters the MPLS network.

Why choose MPLS? It’s a big money saver over long distances where private lines get expensive. All you need is a short private line connection to the network at each location and instructions to the operator as to how to route your traffic. 

Internet VPN Solutions
The Internet is the least cost wide area networking solution with highest geographic connectivity. Performance can vary widely. It’s also the least secure network you can find. Anyone and everyone can easily get a connection, and they do. 

How can you make the Internet act like a private line? You provide your own encryption from point to point. Two popular approaches are IPsec based on software installed on each computer and SSL or Secure Socket Layer that is already built into web browsers. 

Choosing a Private Line Solution
Which approach is best? It depends highly on how many locations you have, where they are, what traffic you intend to send, and what level of performance you require.
There are cost/benefit tradeoffs to each of the above solutions. What’s right for you? An expert consultant will be happy to review your private line or VPN network needs and provide one or more solutions that can do what your business needs done.

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