Building Better, Cheaper Enterprise Networks

An Interview with Greg Bryan, Senior Manager, Enterprise Research, TeleGeography

As workplaces undergo digital transformation, enterprise network infrastructure continues to evolve. Given that business needs — and the resulting network demands — are in flux, traditional Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may no longer be able to offer the services or bandwidth that enterprises require to support their digital operations.

Many enterprises are now exploring other connectivity options like “over the top” and telco-independent solutions due to potentially better performance and lower costs. But are these virtual networks the way forward or do physical networks still have a part to play in the future of IT infrastructure?

We speak with Greg Bryan, Senior Manager of Enterprise Research at TeleGeography, to find out his views on the future of network solutions, ISPs and telco-independent networks. Having spent some 15 years working with enterprise networks, he is well-versed in the network infrastructure space. He sheds light on recent and upcoming trends, and tells us how enterprises can work better natively over the internet.

Q: How has the move towards cloud computing and hybrid work arrangements in digital transformation affected business network needs?

A: Even if companies are keeping MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) technology at their offices, they must add local internet breakouts to accommodate the move towards cloud computing and digital transformation as it changes the cost structure. In TeleGeography’s 2021 WAN Manager Survey of large multinational IT infrastructure teams, we found that the typical MPLS port size was around 20 megabits per second (Mbps) to 50 Mbps. With hybrid work in place, most employees still need to telecommute through Zoom or Teams calls, and this amount of bandwidth is hardly enough. Coupled with the internet being broken out centrally, it must be complemented with bigger bandwidth pipes with Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) or business broadband.

Q: How can a network come together coherently if there are so many different overlays?

A: As enterprises build hybrid networks of MPLS, DIA ports and broadband links, they will require SD-WAN adoption to orchestrate these multiple underlay options. In fact, most companies have adopted SD-WAN as the standard architecture for connectivity, as it facilitates accommodating remote workers into the organization’s network due to its modern security postures that also encourage cloud computing. As a result, dependence on ISPs has decreased significantly, as the focus now lies on building an overlay that lets multiple underlay options work together coherently.

Q: With SD-WAN adoption well underway, how has the shift from ISPs to Managed Service Providers (MSPs) affected the focus on overlay networks as well as the underlay cables and undersea cables/infrastructure?

A: The big takeaway is that SD-WAN and the cloud- and internet-first world frees you up for the possibility to expand your underlay sourcing. In other words, enterprises no longer need to commit to a specific telco or network provider, and instead can move towards telco-independence — and flexibility.

For the vast majority of multinational companies with an established IT infrastructure team, they can, facilitated by SD-WAN, find the best providers by product, geography and price, and change the way they source the underlay network. Enterprises can now change the resource allocation and decide on how they want their network to be set up, and then source for providers based on the best cost and performance on a city-by-city basis.

To that end, enterprises can turn to an MSP and avoid choosing an ISP that may not be able to tweak or customize their coverage. In other words, the enterprise becomes telco independent.

Q: With more companies moving away from their own network backbone and moving onto the cloud, do you foresee a shrinking in terms of ISPs?

A: There will likely be further consolidation for the smaller regional providers as well as re-seller providers. In the Network-as-a-Service provider space, MSPs are now offering overlay products that serve as a kind of SD-WAN. New startups focusing on middle-mile optimization have appeared, and if bigger ISPs lose customers to such MSPs it creates an incentive for these bigger ISPs to buy them out.

Q: If I have sensitive data traffic, how do I best handle it with my network?

A: There are many answers to this question on how to deal with privacy as well as sensitive data, and many ISPs and MSPs are currently working on data privacy. Eventually, there will be more alignment so that there is a standardized way to deal with such issues.

Q: In terms of customers looking for the best network options, how is your company keeping up with the changing bandwidth demands?

A: From the enterprise side, it is important to rethink what underlay products you use. MPLS at a price per bit is an expensive product. With this in mind, we try to benchmark enterprise networks by creating hypothetical median customer networks to test different ideas, and we have found that building an underlay with DIA is still cheaper than MPLS, and broadband is much cheaper. Also, we have seen continued interest in submarine cables, with companies going back to pre-MPLS days and deploying private lines to connect data centers as it is both cheaper and offers them more bandwidth.

In short, telco-independent solutions could allow enterprises to build more cost-effective networks to meet their needs and suit their unique context.

Key takeaways

It’s difficult to maximize the positive effects of digital transformation without reliable and affordable network infrastructure. On the other hand, with the right combination of connectivity technologies, you can boost your bandwidth, add on SD-WAN, and still reduce costs by adopting telco-independent solutions via MSPs.

The focus in this increasingly saturated industry has shifted to keeping prices competitive while increasing resilience and bandwidth, so that enterprises can get secure, reliable, flexible and agile network infrastructure that meets their needs, at reasonable price points.

Learn more about the benefits of telco-independent networks and how to optimize your network infrastructure to achieve your desired business outcomes here.