Up to fairly recently, companies could allow teleworkers and branch-office employees to access business applications that ran in the company’s own data center, using a secure Virtual Private Network. However, businesses are finding that trends such as increasing mobility, the rapid growth in the amount of online traffic and the ‘consumerization’ of IT call for a mix of MPLS- and Internet-VPNsolutions, also known as a Hybrid Network.
There are different ways of giving users such as branch-office staff and teleworkers access to business applications. One professional method is linking locations together using an MPLS VPN, with data not being transported over the public Internet but rather on a high secure and powerful IP network with guaranteed transmission quality.
On account of their high level of reliability and flexibility and the extensive monitoring options, MPLS VPNs have been called the “Mercedes of enterprise WAN services.” Various market surveys indicate that the popularity of MPLS IP VPN services is only set to increase in the coming years. Business consulting firm Grand View Research, for example, estimates that the market for MPLS IP VPN will grow by 8.2 percent between 2014 and 2020.
One of the reasons for this growth cited by the company is the convergence of voice, video and data on a single platform and the need for scalable bandwidth – and MPLS technology is perfectly equipped to accommodate these needs. Yet we can also identify some trends that have exposed the limitations of networks based on MPLS IP VPN alone such that they no longer suffice.
For starters, one trend that is putting a considerable strain on traditional networks is the strong growth in the amount of data traffic. Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, for example, shows that IP traffic is set to almost double between 2016 and 2019, causing annual global IP traffic to pass the 2-zettabyte mark by 2019.
Some of the developments contributing to this growth include the use of desktop video conferencing and voice-over IP as well as the growing popularity of HD video. While companies obviously want their employees to have access to these modern communication resources, these high-bandwidth applications can cause the IP VPN infrastructure to become congested, obstructing access to business-critical applications.
2. Increasing Mobility
The Visual Networking Index mentioned above also shows that global mobile data traffic will grow three times as fast as fixed IP traffic over the next several years. Indeed, the bulk of data traffic will be generated by devices other than PCs, while cell phones will outsell PCs six to one.
With a growing number of organizations embracing “Bring Your Own Device” concepts, there is a growing need to add features to mobile devices such as access control, automated provisioning, and encryption of business-sensitive data. However, allowing mobile devices access to business applications through MPLS IP VPN connectivity can be tricky. That’s why many organizations have opted to combine a “Mobile First” with a “Cloud First” strategy, for instance by using cloud-based applications such as Office 365.
3. The Consumerization of IT
With the growing popularity of mobile devices and the convenience of cloud computing, users are no longer satisfied with having access only to the ‘monolithic business applications’ provided by IT departments. Today’s network users are IT consumers who install the apps they would like to use themselves, both at home and in the workplace.
This ‘consumerization’ has confronted the IT world with a changing application landscape that requires a variety of resources and which must be managed, maintained, and securely protected. This changing application landscape also has implications for how the network is set up. The great diversity of applications has created different types of network traffic with multiple destinations, but users expect performance to remain stable and consistent at all times.
All these trends have given rise to new ways of using networks, while employees expect excellent connectivity anywhere, anytime. Not all IP VPN technology is able to accommodate this need – and using MPLS VPN to meet all connectivity needs can cost a pretty penny.
An additional factor is that, with so many businesses using public cloud computing, a growing amount of network data is transmitted over the public Internet. Pressure to cut costs has also prompted a growing number of businesses to explore options for ‘offloading’ network traffic to the Internet, which is why future networks will increasingly be hybrid in nature, using both MPLS and Internet-VPN.
Areas for Attention
There are three points to be observed when setting up these types of hybrid networks:
The “Internet breakout” An IP VPN provides access to the Internet through a small number of secure gateways. The explosive growth of the amount of data traffic, in particular, can create congestion at these points, thereby potentially blocking access to key business applications. In addition, when the distances between the user, the gateway to the Internet and the site the user is visiting become too large, this can cause network delays, disrupting certain Internet applications. These problems can be eliminated by dramatically increasing the number of so-called IPSec-gateways to create a distributed Internet breakout.
Internet offload, i.e. diverting specific types of application traffic from the MPLS VPN to the Internet-VPN. This both relieves the MPLS VPN and helps add cheaper Internet bandwidth to the network’s capacity. As part of enterprise network governance, organizations need to think carefully about what types of data can be transmitted over the Internet and which ones should be restricted to the IP VPN. By offloading lower-priority data to the Internet, priority traffic can be handled more effectively and with higher transmission quality (realtime-traffic like voice/video or erp traffic etc) .
The connection with the cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure have rapidly become popular because they are charged based on usage. But since these platforms are also vital to business operations, you don’t want your performance to depend on the quality of your Internet connection. A better option is to facilitate access through the company’s own business network. This is possible by setting up an “interconnect” between your own network provider and the company providing the cloud-based service.
Advantages hybrid networks
If they are set up correctly, hybrid networks provide a variety of benefits, including lower costs (as noted above) thanks to the option of offloading data traffic to a cheaper connection over the Internet. Performance can be better guaranteed by increasing the number of IPSec gateways and through the option of offloading traffic. Finally, hybrid networks provide organizations with more opportunities to use security policies consistently. This ensures that network users encounter the same policies and protective measures everywhere, regardless of whether they are using a cloud service or are on the go and using a mobile device.
New Alliance ngena
The purpose of the alliance is to combine the infrastructures of these separate operators – and of the operators to join in the future – into a global Virtual Private Network.