One size fits all? Choosing your internet vendor
Between all-MPLS and hands-on DIY, there is a best way forward.
The greatest thing about the internet is that it isn’t a thing.
As any SD-WAN pro knows, it’s a complex grab-bag of different things. Software on the server; glass in the ground; wires in the wall dating from dialup. And this complexity isn’t a bug; it’s a feature. A diversity of providers enables innovation and creativity. Big Ideas don’t thrive on efficiency and speed.
Your business, however, does.
Which is why so much of a network expert’s life is about managing that complexity. Perhaps it involves consolidating MPLS, with a national carrier. Setting up SLAs, with a Tier-1 partner. Or outsourcing everything, to an MSP.
All are valid approaches. All have their place. And if you manage business connectivity at enterprise scale, you’ve doubtless met all of them.
But let’s try a thought experiment:
Just for a second, think small. Really small: the individual consumer, sitting at home with his WiFi. (In these Covid-tinted times, you’ve probably met a lot of those recently too.)
Joe Consumer doesn’t care about leased lines. Or undersea fibre. Or geosynchronous-orbit satellites. He just cares about connectivity, every time he opens his laptop.
Now, imagine that same feeling … rolled out across today’s enterprise.
Perhaps dozens of countries. Hundreds of sites. Thousands of people. But in this imagined world, each enjoys the same sense of comfort and trust as a lone consumer, all complexity removed. Enterprise scale, industrial strength, five-nines uptime: choose your superlative.
The good news: this imagined scenario is now reality. It’s not One Size Fits All any more. (If it ever was.) More like one solution, fit for purpose.
As companies look for alternatives to pricey MPLS and labour-intensive DIY, the outcome they want looks increasingly similar. Reliable, uncontended, always-on internet connecting their applications and SD-WANs, the same way a home consumer expects NetFlix to just work.
But there’s a caveat: legacy solutions like MPLS and Tier-1 carriers may not ideal for delivering it. Again, One Size Fits All just doesn’t work in the real world.
Connecting via carrier: the last hurrah of MPLS
For many years, Multiprotocol Label Switching, often sourced from major carriers, was a safe choice—and remains so. MPLS sidesteps the complexity of routing tables, using short path labels rather than long lookups. And the fewer hops and handoffs on their network, the happier most network managers are. So what’s the issue?
It’s a combo of those old (in internet time, anyway) Laws: Moore’s, Metcalfe’s, Shannon’s. And, to be brutal, simple economics. Global carriers, with huge investments to service, can be pricey. And the services themselves? Inflexible.
MSPs like Expereo see MPLS usage shrinking among MNCs—and not just in fast-moving sectors like tech. Cautious customers in sectors like healthcare, with a third of sites on DIA and a fifth on broadband, are moving away from MPLS too.
MPLS is reliable—but it’s pricey. And in today’s world there are equally reliable alternatives.
So as technology evolves and capacities scale, MPLS is being eclipsed on the cost side by Dedicated Internet Access, DIY setups, and VPNs on business broadband, often backed up by an exciting new approach called Cloud Acceleration1. Service combinations that provide symmetrical speeds and excellent availability, with reliability that feels like MPLS, only more so. (And getting more so every year.)
Short version: MPLS does well at cutting complexity. But in today’s environments, flexibility and cost are becoming big issues—making other options genuine alternatives.
Let’s look at the options one by one.
Risky business: [the downside of] Doing It Yourself
The DIY approach is popular among network managers with an appetite for adventure. You have sites in 20 countries: simply contract with a local ISP in each territory, and enjoy broadband connectivity across your organisation. What could be easier?
Actually, almost anything.
Talk to any network manager who deals with business internet, and he’ll list the problems. Agreeing a single SLA is hard enough. But imagine a different one for each territory you operate in, each in a local language. Combine that with the need to respect cultural and legal traditions that clash with the sound of a thousand cymbals … and the frequent mismatches between where capacity is needed and where it’s available. And the definition of a service isn’t constant between neighbouring countries. Or even neighbouring US states.
If data is mission-critical to your business—and let’s face it, whose data isn’t these days—it means starting from first principles in each geo. Second-sourcing everything, layering on contract conditions and complexities that chew away at your cost advantage. No economies of scale, no simplicity emerging from the murk.
The savings of DIY—on paper, at least—may make a great business case. The complexity it creates off the page is another story.
Going one-stop shop: the problems of internet only
For some businesses, the simplicity of consumer broadband (business internet) is all they need. But most enterprise-scale networks need far stronger assurances.
The issue: even with relationships with local ISPs around the world, all it takes is one provider to go dark for chaos to be the result. When done professionally and with experience, the web of local ISPs is invisible to the customer… but that’s more an idealized scenario than the norm.
So if you’re considering this approach for your SD-WAN across multiple sites, it’s wise not to stop there. Many global carriers and MSPs already partner with broadband providers to fill in gaps in their coverage maps, so they can provide a truly global offering: that’s the right way to use broadband internet. As underlay and connective tissue, not the single solution.
This isn’t an insult to ISP. As cost structures change and MPLS looks pricey, internet service providers have quietly become a reasonable alternative to traditional Tier-1 providers and MSPs, particularly for smaller. But there’s still one factor network managers need to take into account: service assurance.
Mixing and matching best choices, with a Managed Service Provider
Managed Services Providers offer the reliability and availability of Tier-1 backbone connections, with singular SLAs and services that smooth out the complexities of the DIY option. Often, they’ll offer MPLS too, while integrating services like business broadband into the mix in the right proportions.
And for many customers, the outcomes are excellent. Individual sites get their connectivity with a simple global SLA. And to organisations in the midsection of the economy—all those big companies you’ve never heard of—MSPs often offer a better cost structure than global carriers. Their secret? A technology called Cloud Acceleration.
Cloud acceleration brings MPLS-style reliability and capacity to networks connected by business broadband, such as your SD-WAN and cloud-based applications. Essentially, it surveys and analyses your network in real time—seeing where the bottlenecks are, and routing your data into faster paths.
Cloud Accceleration tames the ups and downs of business internet, solving everyday blockages before they slow down your users.
So: MPLS from carriers is fading. DIY carries a pain point in every city. Business internet is cost-effective but subject to the “weather patterns” of public networks. But an MSP offering Cloud Accceleration can smooth away these risks … and offer high-capacity business broadband without the pitfalls of the public internet.
It’s looking like a Managed Service Provider—such as Expereo—can bring you the best of all possible worlds.
A basic principle of economics is to do what you’re good at. That’s why the best MSPs focus on the best outcome for customers, irrespective of what technology it is. Expereo, for example, always starts with the customer’s need first, before proposing solutions that fit. Not one-size-fits-all, not wedded to one approach, but one solution fit for purpose.
Broadband Internet with Cloud Acceleration can offer the global enterprise symmetric, non-contended, SLA-bound business internet everywhere you operate, without the cost base of a global carrier. Even when Joe Consumer is Joe Professional and there are 100,000 Joes in the organisation.
Partnering with a truly global MSP like Expereo makes business internet connectivity what you need it to be. To explore further, contact us.