Wireless Connectivity Options for Wide Area Networks
The other day, I was shopping with my wife and 12-year-old son at a discount shoe store. My wife was excited that she found a great buy on a pair of shoes. I realized that this was a perfect opportunity to impart some of my great wisdom, from 20 years of marriage, on to my son.
I pulled him aside and began to explain, “That $19.95 pair of shoes will end up costing me $150. You see when we get home, Mommy will realize that in all the dresses she owns, not one will match those shoes, and then that none of her purses will match the new dress. So, she’ll have to buy a new dress and a new purse, right? Yep, $150, if I’m lucky!”
This same concept applies to business. Many times, we’ll buy into what seemingly is a great bargain only to find out later that we need to spend more money to get to where we wanted to be. This is most true when we talk about network redundancy.
A Hypothetical Yet Common Scenario
Imagine this: You have a tight budget, but you’ve really made the most of it. Your servers have dual power supplies, dual processors and dual NIC cards; the hot swappable drives are mirrored; and you’ve even virtualized your environment. You have that confident “bring it on” attitude, as even your backups are rock solid, de-duplicated and automated — no tapes for you!
Then, one day, some public utility worker in a backhoe takes out your entire access to the building. Bang! Data and Internet circuits are all down. Branch offices and travelling employees cannot connect; everyone is calling the helpdesk in panic. You’re standing in the datacenter when the CFO comes through the door and says, “Hey, I thought you said we had redundancy! Explain to me again why we spent all that money?”
Sometimes, when it comes to redundancy, the connection to the outside world is what gets overlooked. Maybe you have an MPLS network, or a large Internet pipe, maybe a point-to-point circuit connecting a branch office. Either way, it is likely that these circuits all ride in on the same access to your DMARC or datacenter, as it is difficult and costly to try and run alternate routes or circuits into most facilities.
However, there are a couple of options — which have become more popular in recent years — to consider that won’t break the bank.
Wireless Internet and Wireless MPLS
With the growth and popularity of wireless data networks (3G and now 4G), companies have an attractive option for data-circuit redundancy. Granted, these wireless circuits may not deliver the robust 10Meg or higher connections. However, in a pinch, they can provide a nice solution for continuity.
The wireless solutions typically deliver 1.5Mbps to 2.0Mbps speeds (4G would be higher), and they are not reliant upon any local access or land-based local loops like traditional circuits. The other nice benefit is the monthly cost, typically less than $100/month. There may be some initial upfront cost for equipment or provisioning; however, those costs are nominal in comparison and well worth the peace of mind.
These devices commonly connect to the public Internet. However, recently released solutions include wireless MPLS connectivity, which presents some interesting options in regard to security.
Devices come in many variations, like the Cisco 881G (above left) and the USB Franklin U301 (above right). These provide flexible, multiple-connection variations from Ethernet to USB.
An Example of Where Wireless MPLS Could be Considered
Let’s say you have ten locations. Of those, your HQ site and seven other sites have enough employees and bandwidth demand to justify a traditional MPLS circuit. However, the two remaining sites only have three employees each, and you cannot justify a $500-$600 MPLS node monthly cost. This is an ideal scenario for wireless MPLS.
Not only will the monthly cost be low, the fact that the remotes are only connecting to the MPLS — not the Internet — means you have enhanced security via a private IP connection.
Another possible benefit is the mobility of the wireless unit. If the remote sites tend to move frequently, you can relocate the wireless device to another site and be up-and-running quickly. However, remember that your base MPLS network needs to be on the same carrier as the wireless MPLS device.
The above picture depicts Sprint’s solution for
wireless WAN redundancy (Click for larger image).
To Sum it Up
Wireless may be a consideration for your company when you are developing and designing your wide area network (WAN); however, there are some potential drawbacks, including:
- Wireless is not everywhere yet, so be sure to qualify the location to see if it is available and at what speeds (bandwidth).
- The bandwidth speed is not as good as normal terrestrial circuits, but may be sufficient based upon your needs.
- The bandwidth speeds are also not usually symmetrical, so you may get 1.5Meg down and only 512K up, as an example.
- There is no Quality of Service (QoS) on the wireless link, even with wireless MPLS. The wireless leg between your DMARC and the carriers Point of Presence (POP) is only “best effort,” just like the public Internet. That may be an issue if you plan on running VoIP or video over the connection.
What are your thoughts on using wireless for WAN connectivity?
Frank Marro served as Regional Vice President responsible for sales management in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, Ohio. He also directed MCPc’s national carrier service program, which provides solutions for clients looking for voice, video and data circuits for WAN connectivity.
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