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Hybrid WAN: why a mix of connectivity isn’t a mixed-up idea

Purchasing pros will all agree: checking contract paperwork is about as much fun as a root canal. But it’s got to be done, because just one subpar service in your connectivity jigsaw can weaken your whole business. Dealing with these issues means the sum total of your connected infrastructure is a mix: a telco circuit for what’s mission-critical, business internet for your day-to-day branches, Ethernet or Wavelength for point-to-point. In other words, you’re doing hybrid WAN.

And for many companies today, that means MPLS and ISPs front and center. But getting the most from each option takes some detail. Your MPLS at Corporate may carry a gigabit bandwidth guarantee, but remote workers have to access those apps too, and local ISPs carry a range of QoS variations.  

What makes it complex is that all these services come from different suppliers, each offering different contracts and conditions. Focused on different customers, with different strategies for serving them. A consumer-focused ISP wants cheap, cheap, cheap; a small business looks for something more solid, and at enterprise scale, the needs are legal redress: someone to make you whole when things go wrong. Obviously there’s no such thing as a “standard contract” when those services are supplied by such a diversity of players. And not only do contracts differ in what they guarantee and what services they offer; the needs of your locations are a mixed bag, too, with a distribution center’s bandwidth profile very different to a backend data center’s.

You saw in a previous article how it’s a good idea to match your connectivity options to your special situation – it’s never one-size-fits-all. But you also want the best business outcome from it: productive and efficient. So where’s the sweet spot – the best mix of balancing contractual complexities with best-of-breed products and services? In this article, we explore why older but robust technologies like MPLS still have a role alongside smaller ISPs and newer private connectivity options in most larger businesses. Let’s start by looking at the many good things a hybrid approach can deliver.

Getting a handle on hybrid

First, let’s recognize that (paperwork aside!) complexity in enterprise connectivity isn’t necessarily negative: it lets you match each location’s needs to its provision; enjoy a choice of solutions for each problem; customize your connectivity mix in a way that gives you top value. And there’s more:

1. Reliable service: the hybrid opportunity for redundancy

Reliability is the top concern for enterprise IT managers. They want five-nines uptime and (usually) a backup choice when that last decimal point gets breached – as happens to all networks at some point.

That means alternative connectivity, instantaneous failover so business isn’t interrupted, and additional capacity to resolve bottlenecks at busy times. Oftentimes, they want that option to be from a different supplier, so problems from one source don’t affect the redundancy option. A hybrid strategy allows this. MPLS, of course, has long been top-tier when it comes to bandwidth you can count on, but Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) can provide a more modern option with great capacity and guarantees.

2.    An efficient cost structure: paying only for what you need

Connectivity is a business cost like any other, and IT managers are cost-conscious: they are willing to pay for what matches their needs, but no more.

A hybrid approach lets you mix and match services to the level each use case demands.

Perhaps you need a high-capacity dedicated line between data centers, but road warriors checking into your SD-WAN can tolerate the odd bit of latency from their hotel rooms – and the second option costs a lot less. A hybrid WAN is how you optimize the cost case for each. If you haven’t looked at your MPLS portfolio for a while, it’s worth reviewing where older circuits could be switched to DIA or a private Ethernet, offering similar bandwidth with more flexibility.

3. Improved business performance: applying cost/benefit thinking

Bandwidth costs money – and there are regions of the world where the amounts are startling, especially in parts of the world (like the Middle East, Africa, and Asia) where connectivity is often a regulated service. A hybrid WAN approach lets you take advantage of this, by directing traffic to the option that offers the best cost case.

Note this isn’t the same as providing different connectivity types to different user groups. Rather, it’s about making choices about how chunks of data are carried between their destinations. That mission-critical financial data that’s acted on in real-time by your trading team? Yes, that always needs routing down your fast point-to-point line. But backoffice staff at the same location swapping Excels by email? Cut the costs by using a more economic option, like your everyday broadband ISP.

4.    Scaling up: how hybrid grows with fewer pains

Here’s the thing about “monolithic” IT solutions from a single supplier: they often suffer growing pains, proving pricey when you need to add in a new building or reconfigure your cloud services. (MPLS, for example, can be somewhat inflexible when your needs change – and even more so if those changes are dramatic, like shuttering a major facility.)

Treating local ISPs and other players as connectivity options soothes those growing pains. In many markets, the national telco’s MPLS was once the only game in town; a hybrid approach lets you get your bandwidth from whoever’s in the market – that national telco, a local ISP, even a satellite operator. With hybrid, it’s all about the connectivity – not who sells it to you.

5.    Keeping it secure: deciding what matters most

Security is another plus on the consideration list. Yes, all business data needs to be safe from the black hats – but, let’s be honest, some data is more important than others.

For email and cloud apps, normal SD-WAN security may be all your users need. But intellectual property, engineering designs, the Crown Jewels of your business? You may want to restrict them to a point-to-point dedicated line, keep them in a digital vault, even air-gap them from the broader network. By thinking hybrid, you can match risk to provision, meaning what you spend on security is in proportion to actual risk.

Addressing the elephant: Dealing with the complexity

Of course, the benefits above don’t solve the elephant in the server room: that contract complexity.

Mixing and matching a hundred connectivity providers may provide the perfect cost/benefit case for your organization. It may also reduce your finance and legal teams to a bunch of anguished moaners cradling their heads in their hands.

So here’s a thought.

What if there was a single provider whose sole business was all about managing that mess of contracts for you – letting you survey each service for suitability, comparison-shop alternatives as easily as you peruse car insurance or air travel, and then take up the options you want – under a single contract that collects together all the services under it, giving you all the benefits of hybrid without the administrative complexity? What if we told you those purchasing comparisons, placing and order, and then managing that single contract and invoice could be all done online?

That’s what we do at GNX. And it goes one step further: instead of making manual choices about service providers one-by-one, we can even recommend a set that matches your needs. With our technology-agnostic and carrier-neutral approach, we can design the right mix of internet and private connectivity that best fits your business. Which makes hybrid a no-reason-not-to choice.

Wrapping up: When your business is diverse, your connectivity should be hybrid

With this single-contract approach, the “customizability” that gives hybrid its cost/benefit potential remains in play. And losing much of the complexity of contracting with different providers. It’s the missing link in enterprise connectivity – and over 200 customers worldwide say we’re good at providing it.

If that sounds like it’d solve problems for you too, let’s talk!