Monday, August 23, 2010

Cloud Networking Services Extend Business Footprint

If you have a single office in a single city, you may have need for cloud computing or hosted PBX, aka telephony in the cloud. But chances are your communications needs are more about connecting to a service provider’s cloud than requiring a cloud of your own. It’s quite different for companies with multiple business locations. Cloud networking services are just what you need to interconnect two or more locations so they can act as one.

What is cloud networking? It is the use of public or private networks that connect geographically diverse sites on a one to one, one to many or many to many basis. The Internet is a cloud. So are privately run MPLS networks and their Frame Relay predecessors. You can even create your own cloud, if you like. You do this by leasing dedicated lines between locations and setting up your own routing scheme to determine how locations may communicate.

In fact, the ad-hoc private network is how many growing businesses get started with multi-location connections. They start off with a T1 point to point data line that connects their main office to a branch site. As more offices or retail locations are added, more lines are connected. At some point, you are dealing with a spider’s web of private lines that need constant management and are costing a small fortune.

This is where cloud networks shine. The idea behind the cloud is that costs are amortized by users sharing the resources of the cloud. Each user is required to provide a connection from each of their desired locations to the cloud network. The connections between locations and the transport of voice, data or video through the shared portion of the network is the responsibility of the cloud. The name “cloud” comes from the convention of drawing this shared network in the shape of a cumulus cloud. It signifies that you don’t manage what goes on in there. That’s someone else’s job.

Actually, you do need to be concerned about what’s going on in that cloud even though you don’t directly operate or control it. You don’t want your valuable information damaged or intercepted during the transport process. Take the biggest cloud in the world, the Internet. It has the advantages of being near universally available and relatively cheap to use. But the Internet also has the disadvantages of being a “best effort” service with no guaranteed performance parameters and enough security concerns to give you pause. How can anyone use the Internet for serious business applications?

In some cases you can’t. Two-way real-time applications have a tough time with the unpredictable performance that is inherent in the design of the Internet cloud. But it still works just fine for Web access, email, small scale data backup to remote servers, and one-way video that is properly buffered. In fact, your business probably needs access to the Internet just to communicate with customers, place orders or do research. If you are going to send sensitive business data between locations using the Internet cloud, however, you’ll need to protect yourself by encrypting those packets so they can’t be read by unintended parties. That process is called tunneling. The overall connection is called IP VPN. VPN, meaning Virtual Private Network.

If the internet is too flakey or scary to support your business, the cloud you’ll be most interested in is called MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching. This is a privately run network with a regional or nationwide footprint. The combination of private ownership and proprietary technology means that performance can be guaranteed and security is inherently better than the public Internet. That’s why MPLS networks are also called MPLS VPN networks, even without packet encryption. Of course you can still encrypt your data to add even more security... something of a belt and suspenders approach.

A specialized type of cloud networking is telephone service. Instead of hooking all your phones with individual lines to the local phone company or managing an in-house PBX system, you connect your phones to the cloud using SIP trunks. This is also called hosted PBX. Users that all connect to the same cloud may communicate over this private network. When you need to make or receive calls with the general public, those calls are connected to the public telephone network by the service provider.

Can your company benefit from cloud networking or better cloud services? It’s fast and easy to find out. Just take a second and put in an inquiry for availability and pricing of competitive cloud networking services.

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

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