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IP VPNs: Tough choices

Choosing a technology partner provider for your voice, video and data traffic can be complex. This is particularly relevant in business competitive environments where delays, information loss and downtime are truly worst case scenarios, writes DEAN YOUNG, Senior Sales Consultant for Telecommunications at T-Systems in SA.

There is no doubt businesses benefit tremendously from reliable and high-performance platforms that enable them to access their applications over a network when needed.

If the above coupled with security and advanced service management features are at the top of your list then an IP VPN (virtual private network) might just be the best choice.

However, IP VPNs are not without their own set of challenges, particularly in South Africa where we continue to face last-mile issues whether due to theft, unavailability particularly in rural areas or damage from excavations.

In this light what have companies to gain from IP VPN and what are some the prerequisites when choosing the right service provider who can overcome local hurdles?

And the difference?

It is firstly important to familiarise yourself with some fast facts around IP VPN. MPLS (multi-protocol layer switching) or IPSec based IP VPN for one might sound very similar but practically there are a few important differences.

IPSec based VPN networks are in essence an encrypted point-to-point based and provide enterprises bandwidth on a shared internet platform. It is built around the ability to provide remote access via the Internet and well suited to companies with some branches.

IP VPN based on a private carrier infrastructure essentially represents the evolution of IP VPN and is designed to deliver a secure, private any-to-any service over the network.

An IP VPN backbone provides you with the ability to converge and prioritise traffic to ensure that critical applications such as voice and video are not compromised by less time-sensitive applications such as e-mail.

An IP VPN is also based on a well defined Service Classes which means that companies benefit from guaranteed services and security run on a private network but still enjoy the advantages of a shared environment.

With regards to security IP VPNs (MPLS based) carry traffic only between designated customer sites over a service provider’s IP infrastructure with no visibility to other customers or sites outside of the given VPN.

The result is that companies benefit from a private network that is logically separated from the public. However, they still enjoy economies of scale the more companies use the network, particularly over long distance connectivity, the more costs are driven down.

Also, IP VPNs play an important role in realising Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) over the cloud. Larger outsourced service providers are building centralised platforms that drive down hardware expenditure: realising voice and video through IP VPNs.

The last-mile

As mentioned, in South Africa despite the advantages of a MPLS based IP VPN, the realisation of IP VPNs does come with its own set of challenges. However, service providers are becoming creative in overcoming particularly last-mile issues.

For example, in metropolitan areas such as Sandton and surrounds, outsourced service providers offer additional failover enabled by point-to-point wireless services.

Furthermore, due to fibre connectivity’s increasingly competitive pricing structure, service providers can actually run two high-speed links and split the traffic, optimised for the various business-critical applications.

Rural areas, however, are a different ballgame altogether. Unfortunately, high-speed connectivity remains prohibitively expensive and last-mile carriers are limited. Furthermore, telcos aren’t investing in rural areas yet which means IP VPNs to mining companies etc remain a challenge to provide.

Hopefully this will change in the next few years as telcos realise the importance of offering services to the entire country.

There is no doubt IP VPNs offer, despite SA’s local challenges, a myriad of important benefits. As connectivity and bandwidth costs continue to become more competitive so will IP VPNs increasingly benefit organisations of all sizes.


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