How Should You Choose an Enterprise Network?
MAY 10, 2018 19:27 PM
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How Should You Choose an Enterprise Network?

by Larry Alton
Choosing an enterprise network is a massive decision for your company. Your choice will ultimately serve as the communications backbone of your company, keeping your employees and teams from becoming isolated, and reducing communications protocols while maintaining interoperability between devices—no matter what your employees are using or where they are.
On top of that, your choice will cost you thousands of dollars in setup and ongoing monthly maintenance costs. So how should you go about making this decision?
The Major Players
Before you get too far in the decision making process, you should become familiar with some of the most popular options available to you:
  1. MPLS. Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is used to carry data from one network node to another, relying on short path labels instead of long network addresses. By now, it’s gotten to the point where it’s predictable—which is ideal for IT professionals who want something low-management. If optimized correctly, MPLS can be used to reduce traffic latency, packet loss, jitter, and downtime. The bad news is that MPLS is ridiculously expensive—especially for small- to midsize businesses—and setting it up can take between 3 and 6 months.
  2. Internet VPNs. Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, have been a cost-efficient alternative for many global enterprise WANs, out of sheer practical necessity. It’s much cheaper and faster to deploy than MPLS, but there are some serious downsides. For starters, you’ll probably experience more volatile performance, with problems arising during peak hours. You’ll also need to install physical appliances, like firewalls and routers, for each location in your network—then maintain them indefinitely for as long as your network is running.
  3. SD-WAN. Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is a relative newcomer in enterprise network options. Because SD-WAN manages multiple connections, dynamically routing traffic as appropriate, it tends to improve redundancy and reduce outages or volatility during peak periods.

    Compared to traditional WAN architecture, SD-WAN is also significantly less expensive. There are some downsides here as well, however; you’ll need to set up separate firewalls if you’re accessing apps and websites from a remote location, and depending on your needs, this may increase both the complexity and cost of the network.

     And if you’re working with applications sensitive to latency (such as video conferencing), you might need to include some MPLS architecture in your setup, since latency is unpredictable over public internet. Cloud-based SD-WAN solutions are currently attempting to mitigate these key challenges.
Key Factors to Consider
So which of these should your business adopt? What factors should you consider?
  • Cost. First and foremost, you need to think about costs. Each of these solutions has a price tag attached, and if it’s out of your budget, there may not be much you can do.
  • Number and distance of locations. You should also consider how many locations you’ll have on a network, and how far apart they’re going to be. Solutions like MPLS are much more manageable when dealing with a small number of locations. You’ll also want to think about your plans for scaling in the future.
  • Time. How fast do you need this system to launch? Some solutions take up to 6 months to get going, while others can be up and running in a number of days.
  • Infrastructural complexity. Every new piece of architecture you add to your system is going to require monthly maintenance and periodic updates. How much time and/or money are you willing to spend on those solutions? In general, the simpler your enterprise network, the lower these time and monetary costs.
  • Tolerance of latency, packet loss, and downtime. Finally, think about how well your business would tolerate interruptions or distortions of your network service. If you were forced to deal with high latency or periodic downtime, what would happen to the business? How important are these features and protections to you?
There’s no one right answer here; you should choose your enterprise network based on your company’s unique position and future needs. The more you learn about your options, and the more solidified your plans for the future become, the clearer your answer will be.
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