is the Internet a valid channel for business usage?

More and more enterprises today are using the internet. Not only as a destination for browsing or accessing their SaaS / Cloud Services, but also as replacement for private connectivity. Business traffic is then encrypted into IPsec tunnels and transported over the internet between two business locations.

The main driver is the perceived cost benefit. The pricing of MPLS is compared with direct (usually overbooked DSL) internet connectivity.  It's like comparing apples with pears. But is this really a saving in the long run?  The following are a selection of some of the issues that businesses should consider when considering the Internet as a communications channel:

  • SLAs (on availability, latency, packet loss, jitter);
  • Quality of Service (QoS);
  • Internet Connectivity is usually heavily overbooked on the access layer (1:20 is not unusual);
  • Fault Resolution (difficult to track what is causing bad performance on the internet);
  • MTU size is effected by encrypting the packets (not all applications handle this as well);
  • Predictable length of network path (BGP routers on the internet will determine how traffic is routed);
  • Reporting (maybe individual providers can provide some reporting but this will be all different for each local ISP);
  • If internet is used as international transport mechanism, the upstream peering capacity of the provider is very important;
  • Additional encryption boxes have to be added to encrypt the business traffic;
  • Increased risk of malware and hackers when connected to the internet.

Using the internet as a transport mechanism can be valid, especially for applications that do not have high standards. Be aware that using the internet as the sole mechanism also bears some risks. What if the internet comes unavailable? Below a list of some major outages of internet with an impact on countries or even continents:

So if you have decided for your company that in distant Asian countries a location will solely rely on the internet to communicate with the rest of the corporate network, please take into account if those locations or the company can survive without ERP, email or fixed voice access, to name just few. A longer outage can keep hundreds or maybe over a thousand of employees out of work, if they do not receive work orders. Outsourcing to countries such as India, China, Thailand, Philippines, Egypt, South, Africa and Mauritius is common these days, so make sure you include good connectivity so your low cost employee can  communicate properly.  A proper risk analysis should give you the answer what is the right choice.

What most enterprises don't know is that global service providers can offer all kinds of connectivity, that also includes global internet solutions. A big benefit above getting contracts from multiple local ISPs with no clear deployment, incident or change management model. Internet is also used as a cheap access path to connect to MPLS networks, significantly lowering cost.  A service provider can help you assess the differences between different communications methods and the possible impact on your business.

So when you are looking into expanding your corporate network, please evaluate carefully on what the most appropriate transport mechanism is between your different locations and that internet in the western world isn't the same as in lesser developed countries.

Nicolas Jacquey
Jako Boonekamp

After a Masters in Business Economics and Information Management on the University of Rotterdam , Jako decided that he preferred IT over sheer numbers, economics and finance. His 10-year career has taken him through several Telecoms and Integration companies. On a daily basis Jako is in contact with multinational global customers mainly in the Netherlands and known for their easy adoption of new technologies. He continues to write about a range of IT and communications topics such as Networks, Security, Cloud Computing, Voice, Video/Telepresence and Unfied Communications. (twitter @djeekcom)