Business Broadband: The Answer to Your Networking Needs
It's easy to be too ambitious and simplistic about business broadband, but plenty of use cases would benefit from this service.
All enterprises should be making the most of business broadband (BB) Internet transport services. BB will enable cloud networking and seamlessly connect an enterprise's users together while replacing much more expensive and complicated technologies like MPLS. After all, BB connects you to the Internet, is low cost, ubiquitous, and no more complicated than your home broadband service. Isn't it?
In this article, we review the place of BB in meeting your network needs and highlight some of the areas that enterprises should consider as they assess the use of BB within their networking strategies. It's easy to be too ambitious and simplistic about BB.
First, some level setting. When we talk BB, we're referring to Internet network transport based on technologies used in delivering your home broadband service -- e.g., cable and xDSL. Service providers add the "business" in front of "broadband" to market this as an enterprise rather than consumer service. It remains as a direct connection to the Internet usually provided as a bundled service and with some form of onsite terminating device. Available speeds can vary from location to location, and, for a single BB circuit, actual speed can in practice vary as BB is often contended (i.e., the volume of users/data can affect the speed of service you get).
Here, we draw two important distinctions with other Internet transport technologies. BB is not the same as dedicated Internet access (DIA), through which you get your own dedicated access for a more robust Internet transport service, often at a higher price and speed, and always required for the highest speeds (think 100 Mbps and up). Usually, but not always, DIA is higher cost than BB, and DIA offers other benefits that we touch on later. Nor is BB wireless broadband. Wireless broadband connectivity leverages the same concept as the data to and from your cell phone but, in this case, is connecting a static site to the Internet via a wireless service provider's network. Wireless broadband speeds are usually but not always lower than BB, and unlike BB there is often a linkage between the volume of data sent across the link and the monthly charge.
Count BB In
Now that we know where BB sits, the important opening statement is that BB will increasingly feature in enterprises' networking strategies. "Internet first" networking makes sense given the huge shift to cloud services. No longer are applications and data largely at company sites and data centers. Having a "closed" network -- to which MPLS was particularly well suited -- no longer meets enterprise needs. Going via the Internet does. BB is a relatively low-cost option for some of the required connectivity. With the advent of software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), the assertion, with a degree of justification, is that BB circuits, singly or several at a time, can replace more established enterprise network transport.
MPLS is dead; long live BB. Not quite. Yes, MPLS is in decline, probably terminal, but that can be argued for everything -- "nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." However, the rate of decline is exaggerated and for many enterprises the robust, reliable connectivity provided by MPLS will have a place for some time to come. An enterprise's networking "use cases" will directly affect the migration away from MPLS and the use of BB. For example, if you are a retail-centric organization with numerous locations all demanding relatively low networking bandwidth, then capitalizing on what BB can offer is much easier than for an enterprise that has fewer sites but each with very high bandwidth or availability requirements.
For BB, performance SLAs are usually best efforts only, but provisioning service-level metrics with financial credits for failure are more realistic to secure. This is useful as provisioning SLAs are often more material to enterprises using BB than SLAs for performance. If you want performance SLAs with teeth you should be considering DIA services for which you can negotiate effective arrangements. That said, SD-WAN provides for performance gains and increased opportunities to prioritize applications so that the impact of failure is lessened. This arguably reduces the need for the stringent performance SLAs with credits and remedies demanded and provided with, say, MPLS.
Previously, BB had most utility for small branch locations, where other services couldn't be cost justified and bandwidth demand was low, and/or as a separate circuit at sites to offload non-critical Internet access. The need to access cloud services via the Internet and SD-WAN type solutions have dramatically increased the utility of BB. SD-WAN is a major enabler in the increased use of BB. In addition to the performance gain already mentioned, SD-WAN allows more effective switching between circuits, as well as the use of multiple circuits, to meet demand. This includes more easily putting BB alongside MPLS and other transport technologies, if nothing else allowing a more measured and incremental growth in the use of BB.
So, where's the catch?