Just like any superhighway, the Internet has it snags. First are traffic jams. You know how you’re cruising along on a interstate road trip and, all of a sudden, stop lights appear on the cars ahead. Traffic slows to a crawl for inexplicable reasons. Eventually you discover that the cause was an accident blocking the roadway or construction you didn’t know about. At certain times, the carrying capacity of arterial roads branching out from big cities is exceeded and traffic is bumper to bumper for miles and perhaps an hour or more.
Not much is different on the Internet. Traffic may zip along unimpeded on the fiber backbones, but slows to a crawl at choke points. Last mile access networks are particularly limited. Shared bandwidth means everybody pokes along when too many people want too many packets at the same time. The limited capacity of wireless broadband networks often stretches the definition of “broadband.”
Another “feature” of the Internet is that there are no fast and slow lanes. All the lanes treat all traffic equally. That’s great for big data files, the semi-trucks of the Internet, or video downloads, the equivalent of passenger cars. There are millions of them and they pretty much dominate the road. How about the ambulance that has to get to the hospital without interference? Emergency traffic has preference on the physical highway. On the information highway, it gets in line with everything else. You might say that our real superhighways have some class of service (CoS) controls. None of that is available on the Internet. If you have sensitive traffic, like real time voice or video that needs preference, it won’t get preferential treatment and will wind up as damaged goods.
Are there the equivalent of commuter lanes on the Internet? Nope. All lanes are the same. What some high volume content producers do is augment the capacity of the Internet with private roads that parallel the Internet and connect to it near the off ramps to their customers. These private carriers are called content delivery networks (CDNs). Without them, the internet would be even more swamped than it already is and video streaming would be impacted to the point where it just wouldn’t be worthwhile.
This is one example of a private information superhighway. Content delivery networks pick up traffic at your location and deliver it to distributors such as satellite and cable companies, who then merge it onto their broadband networks along with other Internet traffic. You have to pay for this convenience, but it can be well worth it to ensure that your high value content streams and downloads smoothly.
Another example of a private information superhighway connects only paying customers and doesn’t connect to the Internet at all. This is the MPLS network. It is a B2B or business to business connection service that has no general consumer access. Who wants such a system if you can’t reach the general public? Companies that want to connect their multiple business locations to exchange sensitive proprietary data and in-house telephone traffic want exactly this type of arrangement. They also have separate access connections to the Internet to interact with customers through websites, e-mail, social media and the like.
Compared to the vagaries of the Internet, MPLS networks run like a dream. They are engineered to have enough bandwidth to meet all commitments at all times. Traffic is prioritized so that VoIP telephone and video conferencing get the priority they need to run smoothly. Latency, jitter and packet loss are minimized by design. Security is made much easier because of the proprietary nature of the network technology and lack of public access.
Are you finding that you really need a private network for your internal business operations to complement the public network that connects you to your customers? If so, learn more about MPLS and Content Delivery Networks to optimize your business communications.
Note: Photo of traffic jam courtesy of Tage Olsin on Wikimedia Commons.