Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Can SD-WAN Solve Your Low Bandwidth Problem?

By: John Shepler

Can SDN or SD-WAN solve your low and unreliable bandwidth problem? Hey, you can probably solve your bandwidth problems right now by upgrading to a dedicated higher bandwidth service with a service level agreement, such as Ethernet over Fiber from a top-tier carrier. A better question is how can SD-WAN give you faster and better bandwidth at a more affordable price point?

WAN Man Coffee Mug. Get yours here...The Cause of Low & Unreliable Bandwidth
Companies with bandwidth woes generally fall into one of two categories. The first is being stuck with bargain basement options because of very limited budgets. The other is being frustrated because the service needed isn’t available in that particular location at any cost.

The really low cost options tend to be broadband services that were designed for the cost sensitive consumer market and then re-branded for business. These include DSL and cable broadband certainly, but may also include cellular wireless and some two-way satellite.

What these services have in common is that the bandwidth pool is shared among however many users are online at the moment. That makes your speed fluctuate during the day. They also tend to be Internet only. If you want point to point you have to set up an encrypted tunnel with VPN or take your chances on security. Finally, they tend to be offered as “best effort” information services with no uptime or performance guarantees.

Are All Non-Telecom Regulated Services Low Quality?
No. That’s unfair and untrue. Cable speed and performance has grown by leaps and bounds, especially since the introduction of DOCSIS 3.0 and now 3.1. You can get fiber speeds at bargain prices in most populated areas. Reliability tends to depend on the local service provider. Some have almost perfect uptime. Others are less dependable.

Likewise, cellular wireless and satellite have experienced technology upgrades over the years. Both suffered from low bandwidth, congestion and spotty service. That’s not much of a problem anymore. With 4G and now 5G wireless, fiber-like bandwidths are becoming commonplace with solid service. Satellite, too, is now 100 Mbps nationwide with gigabit service on the way. Spot beams provide highly reliable fade margins.

Both cellular and satellite do have limitations, however, Satellite has a latency issue that won’t be overcome until the Low Earth Orbit constellations are in place. Both services are bandwidth limited by the amount of spectrum available, so there is only so much to go around. That means data limits to keep some users from hogging the scarce resources. If you hit the limit, you either pay more or have your bandwidth throttled for the remainder of the month.

Just What Can SD-WAN Do About These Limitations?
SD-WAN or Software Defined Wide Area Network, part of the Software Defined Network (SDN) technologies, can’t change the laws of physics, provider unreliability, or service availability. What it can do is manage a collection of limited performance bandwidth options to create a single higher performing network.

This works because not every connection you have will have the same latency, packet loss, speed or reliability. Besides the inherent differences in technology, performance often varies moment to moment. Sometimes the cable runs blindingly fast. Sometimes it’s all clogged up. Same with wireless, satellite and even DSL.

No human can sit there with a switch and direct traffic fast enough to send each packet down the best or most appropriate path by the instant. A computer can. That’s what SD-WAN is all about. A processor running software monitors multiple links. It then follows a plan for where to route traffic and it keeps track of it all.

The Other SD-WAN Secret
Another thing that makes SD-WAN effective is that not all traffic is equally demanding. VoIP voice calls are extremely sensitive to latency and packet loss. Data file backups aren’t. Many cloud based business applications need high performance all the time. Some aren’t all that fussy. With that in mind, a SD-WAN controller can see what demands there are for service, what paths are available and with what instantaneous performances. It can pick and choose where to route traffic for the most optimum use of the resources you have provided.

Your choice of SD-WAN links might include DSL, cable, T1 lines, satellite, 4G or 5G wireless, point to point microwave, Ethernet over Copper or Ethernet over Fiber, and even SONET fiber optic lines. The right mix depends on what performance you must have, what connections are available and your budget for bandwidth.

Are you struggling to do business because your current bandwidth solution just isn’t getting the job done? You should know that you have more options now than ever before, especially since SD-WAN became available. Tell a network bandwidth consultant about your particular business needs and see if you can do a lot better than what you are living with now.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Increase Your Bandwidth Beyond T1

By: John Shepler

You’e had your faithful T1 line service for years, maybe even decades. You love the reliability, solid bandwidth, low latency and the fact that prices have even declined from contract to contract. The one limitation that’s becoming a real bottleneck is the bandwidth. While 1.5 Mbps was plenty a decade ago, it’s not keeping up anymore. Is there any way to keep the performance of T1 but goose up the speed? Most definitely!

Find products with this theme that you can customize...What Makes a Good T1 line Replacement
When you first took out your T1 contract, you chose this technology for good reasons. DSL was popular for business at the time, but notoriously unreliable. T1 had the advantage of being a service that was developed by the telephone companies for the telephone companies. That meant it was professional grade from the beginning and not a “consumer” service being offered for business as a cheap option.

T1’s fixed 1.5 Mbps bandwidth was dictated by the need to multiplex or combine 24 individual analog phone lines into a single digital equivalent that maintained all the voice quality, including minimal latency. T1 also had to run on existing twisted pair telco lines no matter how far they stretched. That’s why T1 is available far out into rural areas beyond the reach of other options.

T1 is still used to provide multiple phone lines for key telephone and PBX systems. It has been expanded to support packet-based digital networks including point to point dedicated lines and dedicated Internet access. Many T1 lines come with a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that provides a guarantee of availability and performance from the service provider.

Bonded T1
One way to increase the bandwidth of T1 lines is to simply add more of them. Most companies want that bandwidth combined, which is easily done by carriers using a process called bonding. All of the T1s you want bonded must be from the same provider. Two T1 lines gives you 3 Mbps, 4 lines give 6 Mbps and so on. You can go up to 10 or 12 bonded T1 lines, but the cost gets prohibitive unless this is your only option.

Ethernet over Copper
Ethernet over Copper uses the same twisted pair infrastructure as T1, but a newer modulation technology. You lose the unlimited distance advantage but gain much higher bandwidths, generally up to 10 or 20 Mbps, at more reasonable prices. If you are located in a populated area, EoC can give you the service you want at a fraction of the cost of bonded T1 lines.

DS3 Bandwidth
DS3 is part of the T-Carrier specification that also defines T1. DS3 offers 45 Mbps, enough for many businesses. Low latency, dedicated lines and reliable service are similar to T1 lines. The only wrinkle is that the higher bandwidth of DS3 isn’t supported over twisted pair copper. Instead, DS3 rides a fiber optic backbone to the curb and then a pair of small diameter coaxial copper lines to your router DS3 interface card.

Fiber Optic Service
Fiber service used to be well beyond the financial reach of most companies even if it was available… and it often wasn’t. That’s all changed. SONET technology, which transports DS3 and the higher bandwidth services like OC3, OC 12, and OC48, has become more available and less expensive. Ethernet over Fiber is the newer technology and it is much less expensive for the same high quality service. Many, many companies order 10 Mbps Ethernet over Fiber service and then easily upgrade to 50 or 100 Mbps as they need it. Bandwidths are readily available to 1 Gbps and even 10 Gbps in many areas.

What about Cable, Satellite, Wireless, Etc?
These less expensive services are shared, not dedicated bandwidth. That’s a major reason they are less expensive. Most are asymmetrical, meaning that upload speed is only a fraction of download speed. Satellite has tremendous latency effects and both satellite and wireless tend to have data caps. That said, a lot of businesses are saving a lot of money each month, especially if they combine a couple of low cost broadband services in a SD-WAN or Software Defined Wide Area Network. It all depends on how demanding your applications are and whether you prefer to avoid the Internet to connect locations. Get some expert advice and then pick the best bandwidth option appropriate for your business needs.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

So Many Locations, So Little Budget

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.

Get better multi-location business connections at lower cost now.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.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

SD-WAN vs MPLS Networks

By: John Shepler

Information Technology has changed dramatically in recent years, as has the business enterprises it supports. Most dramatic has been the move to cloud based computing and everything as a service. Last to change, however, has been the way everything connects together. Now that is also being transformed, driven by cost and cloud architectures.

SD-WAN cloud for high performance connectivity

WAN Networking via Individual Lines
Before MPLS, there were dedicated point to point line connections. Every company had one or more T1 lines and eventually DS3 bandwidth and fiber optic OCx circuits. Connecting two business locations together is pretty straightforward. Just order a line that runs directly between them and use that as another portion of your network.

Where it gets complicated and expensive is when you add line after line after line to connect far-flung offices, factories and warehouses. Each of those lines has a monthly lease fee dependent on distance and bandwidth. Each has to be integrated into the network as one big mesh or segmented for traffic control. You soon find yourself becoming a virtual telecom office running your own WAN (Wide Area Network).

The Solid Performance of MPLS
Two competing technologies have been developed to make long distance data connections more available and less costly. The first is the Internet. It’s a public network that is nearly universal and cheap as chips, as they say. The problem is that performance is erratic and security is non-existent.

The other is a smaller private version of the Internet called MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching networks. Instead of one giant internet, you have a multiverse of smaller networks, each operated by an independent commercial vendor. It’s strictly pay to play. Being on one MPLS network generally does not give you access to any other, although there are services that will mesh or combine diverse MPLS networks. More often, you pick the particular MPLS network that has nodes near locations you need to connect.

The beauty of MPLS networks is that performance is guaranteed and security is orders of magnitude above the Internet. In fact, MPLS is sometimes called MPLS VPN just because the unique protocol makes it harder to hack. Your connections are pre-determined so that you can only talk to your own locations. Others have no way to access your data and you don’t even know that you are sharing the network. All of this comes at a price, but it is a much lower price than owning a multitude of leased private lines.

How About That Internet?
For those who don’t have the budget or need to connect with anyone and everyone around the world, especially the general public, the Internet is really the only decent option available. You have access to your customers and suppliers wherever they may be. Connectivity and core bandwidth have improved to the point where performance is generally pretty decent if your applications aren’t too demanding and you don’t mind some variability. Even security can be beefed up to an acceptable level by employing VPN technology such as SSL used in browsers.

SD-WAN, Best of Both Worlds
What SD or Software Defined WAN offers is a hybrid of private line, semi-private MPLS network and public Internet connections all at once. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. Private lines are rock solid, limited to one path only, and pricey. MPLS networks offer a lower cost while maintaining circuit performance and a wide area of connectivity. The Internet is low cost bandwidth and connects just about everywhere.

Can you possibly connect all of these together? That’s the job of SD-WAN. The Software Defined part is the intelligence that manages all of the different lines that you plug into it. You or your service provider explicitly tell the SD-WAN controller that VoIP phone calls go over the private lines or MPLS network and the file backups go over the Internet. If you lose a private line or MPLS connection, the system can create a VPN tunnel through the Internet to route all your traffic instantly. You’ll at least be able to keep doing business, albeit with some performance loss, until your high performance paths are restored.

SD-WAN can be a big money saver by knowing what traffic is either latency sensitive, bandwidth demanding or highly secure, and what traffic isn’t that critical or demanding. It will route packets through the lowest cost routes consistent with acceptable performance. WAN optimization software can also be included as part of the control system to further improve performance and reduce costs.

Have your business needs changed recently or are you suspicious that you may be spending much more than necessary because of the piecemeal way your WAN was constructed over the years? Now would be a good time to take a look at new SD-WAN and other connectivity options that have become available for your business locations.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2018

SIP vs PRI Pros and Cons for Business PBX

Business telephone lines have gone through several transformations. What started out as analog landlines evolved into digital T1 CAS trunks, then ISDN PRI, and finally SIP packet based network connections. Amazingly, all of these technologies are still available. We’ll take a closer look into the two most popular configurations used in multi-line PBX business phone systems.

Find SIP and SIP telephone trunks for PBX plus other network services here.The Primary Rate Interface
ISDN PRI is short for the mouthful of an expression that is Integrated Services Digital Network Primary Rate Interface. Often the shorthand PRI or ISDN PRI is used for obvious reasons.

ISDN PRI is a standard telecom service that is based on the earlier T1 line specification. T1 got its start as a means of consolidating 24 pairs of twisted wire phone lines into 2 pair to save the expense of long distance cabling and overloading of telephone poles. This was accomplished by digitally multiplexing the 24 separate channels so that they were all transported together on a single 1.5 Mbps digital signal. An additional advantage of going digital was the reduction of noise and crosstalk on long distance phone calls.

A major benefit of the T1 specification is that existing phone company infrastructure can be reused, including wire landlines and microwave relays. High frequency digital signals degrade over distance fairly quickly, so regenerative repeaters were added to the lines to build the signal back up. With this arrangement, T1 could be offered over long distances to serve virtually all of the customers who were using the old analog phone lines.

One issue with T1 was that if each of the 24 channels carried only the audio telephone conversations, other wiring would have to be provided for signaling. A better solution was to multiplex signal bits into the data stream by robbing a bit here and a bit there in each of the channels. This degraded the audio very slightly and allowed the T1 CAS (Channel Associated Signaling) system to be self-contained.

Additional features, such as caller ID, were introduced by the phone companies and desired for business phones and especially call centers. This is where PRI comes in. The same basic T1 line organization was kept, except that only 23 channels were assigned as individual telephone lines. One complete channel was assigned to handle all of the signaling, data and other background services.

Most PBX systems today have interface cards where you directly plug-in a ISDN PRI cable and have 23 phone lines (or as many as you have ordered) at your command. If you need more than 23 lines, you plug in additional PRIs to add more channels.

Is there a Secondary Rate Interface?
No, but there is a related standard called BRI or Basic Rate Interface. The phone companies thought this would catch on as a two phone line system or higher speed dial-up modem service. By the time it was heavily deployed, computer communications had moved on to broadband and BRI never caught on. It has been popular for radio station broadcasts and remote announcing, such as voice over artists, because it can carry high quality audio signals. Recently, this service has been replaced by broadband Internet and is very difficult to find anymore.

What is SIP and How Does It Compare to PRI?
SIP is Session Initiation Protocol. It is a technology competitor to PRI. SIP is really a standard for transmitting VoIP or Voice or Internet Protocol phone calls over networks typically shared with other computing devices.

As you probably suspect, SIP is a packet based protocol versus the channel based protocol used by ISDN and T1. In channelized systems, a complete voice channel is assigned to a phone call for as long as the call is in progress. If no one is talking, the line just sits there idle. There is no sharing of facilities. In VoIP telephony, the conversation is broken up into small packets that are routed on the network to their destination. Many conversations can be on a network at the same time along with file transfers, print jobs and everything else digital. If there is a pause in one conversation, no packets are sent to the network for that channel only.

As you can see, VoIP is more efficient at sharing the network facilities. It comes at a cost though. Sometimes everybody wants to talk or send data at the same time. Unless the network is carefully designed, it can become flooded with too many packets to handle and things back up. This network congestion causes delays in transfer that breaks up phone conversations. Any packets lost will also distort the conversation.

Network Considerations for SIP
Careful network engineering is necessary to ensure that the sensitive voice packets are transferred without delay or corruption. Usually, these data streams are given a priority using Class of Service mechanisms within the network.

A network line dedicated to SIP is called a SIP trunk. This is the equivalent of an ISDN PRI line. Any digital line capable of carrying Ethernet packets can be a dedicated SIP trunk, although T1 lines, DS3 bandwidth and Carrier Ethernet services are often used for SIP. By giving the SIP phone conversations their own line, there is no interference from other data packets. SIP trunks are most often used to connect business and call center PBX systems directly to phone service providers. Like PRI, most PBX systems have network interface cards that plug directly into a SIP trunk.

One protocol isn’t necessarily more appropriate than the other. It depends on the application. Most PBX systems can be set up to connect to SIP trunks or PRI trunks regardless of whether the phone sets themselves are analog handsets or VoIP phones. SIP trunks are particularly useful with newer Unified Communications or Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) systems that integrate computers, desk sets video conferencing and mobile phones into a single interoperable system. In these systems everything is in packet format and running on a single network.

Which is Right For You?
The best choice in telephone trunks is the one that works best with the system you have or the system you desire, and at the lowest cost for the performance you need. Prices of both PRI and SIP have fallen dramatically over the last few years, so you owe it to yourself to see what telephone trunk line options are available for your business needs.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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