In our last blog we looked at underlay networking options and why in reality DIA is not quite so direct after all. Let’s start now by exploding a few common myths that serve to confuse the market:
MPLS is more expensive.
This is perhaps the most incorrect statement of all as it relates to the UK WAN market. As is described in part one, the underlying network costs are identical because it’s the same network. Moreover, the CPE devices to manage MPLS connections are typically lower end and most cost effective. This is especially true if an organisation wishes to provide enhanced security options such as Unified Threat Management, as most should be in today’s world.
In addition, peering charges for Internet peering do still exist, as do charges for public IP addresses, so in truth if you are not considering sites in other countries then MPLS should in fact be more cost effective. In the UK market fewer and fewer providers are attempting to charge a premium for MPLS services. Those that do typically do not win many deals these days.
What I feel may be a cause of customer confusion over these costs are the levels of management and service level guarantees. Since I have already demonstrated that the wires are the same and the boxes are more cost-effective DIA should, in the UK market at least, be more expensive since it must include Internet bandwidth and public IP addresses. Why should the customer be forced to have different service and support wraps based on logical presentation? Should these not simply be a factor of customer requirements/budgets?
MPLS is obsolete or old hat
Nothing could be further from the truth, the traditional benefits of MPLS still hold true today. MPLS is more secure than an Internet based network because it is delivered as an entirely private network, therefore ingress points for threat actors to target are also far fewer. It offers greater overall traffic control by allowing and honouring QoS class of service markings. This also means that traffic management can be employed from the end user device all the way through to the application server or the cloud ingress point. It should be recognised that I am referring to the underlay only here. Services such as SD-WAN or Zero trust networking can be overlayed on any underlay network that has the appropriate access, to bring their traffic management capabilities as well. In fact the two parts don’t even necessarily have to be supplied by the same provider, though it can be sub optimal to deal with multiple vendors of course. The point is that the underlay and overlay are completely independent.
It is either MPLS or Direct Internet Access
This should no longer be true of any modern UK service provider. Agile UK providers should be able to provide both on the same connectivity and choose the best option on a per application basis. An example of where an organisation might truly see benefit from using DIA connectivity would be a Zero Trust model. In sites where there are very small numbers of users on known devices this might be used to remove the cost of SD-WAN devices from the network as a whole – even then some devices such as IoT or legacy hardware on site hardware might be an issue. In fact the whole point in modern networking is selecting the best options to deliver optimal performance and end user experience when accessing data and applications, regardless of the end user’s present location. Connecting people not premises.
But there are elements of truth…
This is what makes some of the messaging so powerful. It is up to the purchaser, with our help hopefully, to evaluate how true these are for their organisation. For example, it is true that international connectivity delivered as MPLS is significantly more expensive and in other territories service providers can charge significantly more for MPLS because of the distances they must cover. This particularly applies in the US where many of the hardware vendors are based. But does this apply to your organisation at all? Even if it does, it should not dictate an all or nothing approach. The most appropriate underlay solution should be selected on a per site basis.
The idea of selecting the most cost-effective connectivity per site is also a valid argument. However, where this would typically show the most benefit – and I would suggest that savings would still be fairly limited – is in organisations that are, first and foremost set up to easily manage multiple suppliers, from both a procurement and a support basis. Secondly, I would normally expect to see this in organisations that are going to supply and manage their own overlay services, typically this would have the most significant benefit in the SME market. Both aspects are sub optimal / undesirable for public sector or enterprise organisations. If an organisation were to take this path, it could be a dangerous one.
Just because a provider can supply a product that on the face of it looks identical to a less cost effective one from another supplier, does not make the products equal, the price differences should not be so significant as to make selecting a substandard product worthwhile.
For example, two separate service providers can take the same wholesale product, from the same carrier and have them delivered to NNIs, in the same data centres. The issue is that, regardless of whether it is broadband or Ethernet, each of these providers set their own traffic shaping and capacity management policies. As such one supplier can decide they wish to set their system up so that there is little or no contention of the NNI at any time. Whereas the other can decide to cram as much as they can on to it.
Usually, the good providers have policies that mean the network is built and managed in a manner that means customers will rarely see any adverse traffic conditions, especially in ‘business grade’ services. There tends to be much greater equity between the products of these suppliers. However, this is not going to hold true if a customer simply selects the cheapest connectivity without checking, nor will it be guaranteed in life even if it is true at time of purchase. So, if we are not careful the “cheap as chips” model can easily turn in to the “got what you paid for” model especially in a world where bandwidth usage is expanding all the time.
Summary of the key takeaways (TL:DR)
• This is the UK market, networks here are built differently to those in the USA and other territories.
• This means the physical networks are largely the same regardless of the logical delivery. Direct Internet Access is not in fact direct to the internet.
• DIA does not provide a more direct path to The Internet or cloud service providers.
• As such centralised Internet breakout should not create bottlenecks or tromboning of traffic. It does provide lower cost through centralised management.
• MPLS SHOULD be more cost effective, as more cost-effective CPE hardware can be used, with simpler configuration. Which in turn lowers management and support overheads.
• Internet bandwidth costs and IP addresses actually cause additional costs for DIA delivery not present in MPLS delivery.
• Service and management wraps should not be imposed by logical delivery they should be a factor of customer requirements/budget.
• Through the use of QoS and the fact it is a private network MPLS delivers greater traffic control and security as an underlay network.
• There is no need to choose either/or, agile providers should be able to deliver both on the same circuit if needed.
• Not all DIA products are created equally the ‘cheap as chips’ model can easily become the ‘got what you paid for model’.
In the final instalment of my blog on underlay networks we will discuss how MLL can help organisations navigate through the ‘jungle’ to ensure they choose the optimum network solution for their requirements.