When it comes to networks, the technology that is really helping to innovate is not something shiny and new, but rather something over twice as old as we are: Ethernet. But with age comes respect, and the Ethernet protocol is widely respected and used by almost all computer and networking vendors.
Ethernet allows for vast packets of information to be sent over networks. Originally these networks were Local Area Networks (LAN) – carrying information around a single building – but now the Ethernet protocol can be used to send information over an entire Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) or over a Wide Area Network (WAN).
MANs and WANs
If the servers you wish to network all reside in the same town or city then you will most likely want to invest in a Metropolitan Area Network (MAN). If your data centres or servers are within a few kilometres of one another, dark fibre and/or Ethernet Private Lines (EPL) can be installed to deliver high-speed, low latency network performance. It will cost a little more and you will have to be careful to obtain the right contract type, but it delivers unbeatable speeds across a relatively small area.
If, however, you need to connect data centres, offices and servers across an entire country, or even internationally, then you should look toward Wide Area Networks (WAN). Most WANs will use a MPLS IP VPN (multi-protocol label switching Internet Protocol virtual private network). This sounds complex, but in essence it is like sending information securely between LANs in different areas over a virtual private network (VPN).
As you may expect, sending information over such wide areas and routing it through a number of server farms takes significantly longer, and therefore WANs cannot match the speed of a MAN. However, it is much more flexible allowing for multi-office networks internationally as well as flexible-working options.
Each network type has different benefits and drawbacks and requires different components, so when it comes to deciding on a network infrastructure for your business it is important to carefully consider a few things first. You need to consider your network requirements in terms of location, speed, carrier and cost.
In the unlikely event that all your computers and staff are located in the same building you can simply use a LAN. This is what Ethernet was designed for and will deliver the highest speeds and most reliable connection.
However, most businesses now have offices/staff and computers/servers/data centres in different clusters across the country or even internationally. These are often supported by single building LANs connected to other nearby units over a MAN, which may then be connected with other clusters over a WAN.
This may sound straightforward enough, but when you consider that this set-up must run over a number of network carriers using an amalgamation of very specific technologies, you may start to realise the difficulties in managing your network. If you need this kind of set-up, make sure you find a specialist partner with a deep knowledge and expertise to help you.
When it comes to the speed of your network you must ultimately balance probable latency with acceptable latency, cost with time, and peak demands with capacity purchase.
It is a difficult balance to find, especially when your business relies on continuous network access and good transfer speeds. If you are struggling to balance all these factors, we recommend choosing a specialist partner to help you out.
When piecing together a new network, or expanding a current one, it is important to be aware not only of differences between technologies, but also differences between carrier capabilities.
Most network providers will advocate IP VPNs for the best enterprise-grade service, but these require different transport and access technologies. Order the wrong piece of kit for the job and you will find yourself wasting vast amounts of time and money.
Along with technologies, you must also invest in the right service and capacity – right both for your current and your foreseeable requirements. This can be an immensely difficult task to get right the first time around, but if you don’t get it right you will be wasting time and money, not to mention the high-chance of creating a very disjointed network.
Ultimately you must find a balance between cost and capacity while allowing for a fair amount of future flexibility.