Until recently, the only way to get reliable connectivity with anticipated performance between corporate branches was to buy expensive leased lines or a service like MPLS VPN, which is the flagship of enterprise WAN services, having earned its status as the link option of choice because of its reliability, flexibility and the available QoS controls.
Although the Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) VPNs continue to show remarkable growth across all company sizes and vertical markets and is expected to be at the forefront as the optimal link solution for enterprises that adopt mobility and cloud computing, it has a major drawback which is its extremely high cost. In Greece, the price for MPLS ranges from €1000 to €2000 per month for 2 Mbps of bandwidth, while International locations pay as much as the equivalent of €3000 per month for a 2 Mbps connection. Yet, consumers and companies are able to buy high-speed Internet connections such as VDSL, reaching 50 Mbps of bandwidth for as little as €30 per month.
The question that emerges is whether this cost can be reduced so that the MPLS VPN can be a competitive solution for medium sized companies which need high levels of network availability and performance due to the transfer of their corporate data in the cloud. The short answer is that this is highly impossible due to the conditions governing the global telecommunications environment. Companies that provide private MPLS networks will typically commit to 100% availability of their core network, but will also put in place rigorous quality and process demands on the local access partners they use so the end-to-end quality can actually be guaranteed upfront. Especially, when MPLS is deployed in an International environment, most of the times, it involves many telecommunication partners which supply their core networks in order for the link between different countries to be established. The aggregated result should come with guarantees from the partners involved which means a high cost for the end client.
The emergence of WAN virtualization technology such as comBOX services, however, means that the commercial broadband connections such as DSL can give MPLS a run for its money.
ComBOX services solve the Internet’s problem of network peering points becoming bottlenecks where congestion and packet loss randomly occur, and where there is a single point of failure because there’s only one connection at each location. How is this accomplished? By using two or more Internet connections at each location and monitoring precisely the performance of each path between the remote sites and the backbone of the corporate WAN.
comBOX services analyze in real time the packet loss, jitter, latency and congestion of each route to make real-time traffic engineering decisions (adaptive self-tuning), distributing the packets of information on the available routes based on current traffic conditions and the type of traffic being delivered. This effectively addresses the transient instabilities of individual connections, providing physical diversity in the first and last mile and detecting and avoiding congested peering points. WAN visualization technologies such as broadband bonding work by moving traffic from one path to another instantly without disrupting active sessions. This is an order of magnitude faster than routing protocols can move from a broken MPLS link to a backup MPLS connection or IPSec VPN which fail to maintain the active sessions open.
The result is an adaptive network where application sessions don’t break, VoIP calls don’t drop, users experience predictable performance, and IT staff sleeps soundly because a network failover works transparently and reliably.
Because Internet connections are typically faster and cheaper than MPLS circuits, WAN virtualization via line bonding results in a more reliable and predictable network, as well as one with more bandwidth today — plus the flexibility to add more circuits or leverage newer access technologies as they become available.
If you are reading this after recently signing a three-year MPLS contract, don’t despair; WAN virtualization being a layer 3 technology can be used to augment existing MPLS networks lighting up your back-up circuits, making your connections active-active. Eventually, you can cap, reduce or eliminate MPLS at some or most of your sites.