Moving to the the Internet.

The UK Government have stated a desire to move towards the internet. This has certain benefits in terms of accessibility, being able to access applications on any device via any connection is appealing.  However, the definition of what is actually meant by the Internet is a little unclear, as is the business case.

What exactly is an Internet connection? Is it an on-demand connection? An always on connection? Is it wireless? Is it wired? Is it a domestic connection or a Corporate connection? The answer will be all of them. Irrespective of the connection being a dial-up modem, fibre delivered broadband, a Wi-Fi connection on a train, access via a mobile phone or a high-speed direct connection into a Tier 1 provider, they are all Internet connections.  All of the above, in relation to Interconnect connectivity, will mean that all connections will be able to access the World Wide Web, i.e. public IP addresses. Thus, they are all Internet. The danger is that some thought needs to be given to ensure the appropriate connectivity is used for the applications used. It will not necessarily be managed by the network.

In the UK, unlike some other places in the world, the difference in cost between an IP-VPN MPLS Wide Area Network (WAN) is not great. In fact, in the recent Heath and Social Care Network (HSCN) networks, bought to replace the legacy N3 network, were benchmarked against Internet only connections and were found to be around 15% cheaper overall. If the cost of connectivity is virtually the same, the business case needs to be based around increased efficiency or enhanced capability of either staff or customers or citizens. How this can be done, or what governance is applied to it, has yet to be decided.

Whilst the Public Sector ponders the above, Industry continues to develop services, such as SD-WAN, that blur the distinction of what is Internet and what is a Private network. As the vast majority of the infrastructure is the same for a private network connection and an Internet connection, it is mainly about how data is routed and the management of the data that makes the difference. This is why many suppliers can provide private both network capability and internet access down the same connection. This is normally refered to to as Multi Service Ports.

The noticeable difference between an Internet connection and a private network relates to the Service levels offered. Unless the data is to be accessed by the user is on the same network, the operator will transit that traffic, as soon as possible, generally at an Internet Exchange. Once the traffic leaves the originating network, there is no control. information or management of the data. The route the data could take may vary, often routed via another country and possibly via another continent. The steps the traffic could take could pass through several operators. Thus, latency – the time taken for data packets to be transferred – can vary considerably. This gives well known jitter or ‘dalek’ sound to internet voices calls. Whilst a short delay will not be noticeable on an email, if it arrives 5 minutes late, it may not be business effecting, the same cannot be said for a Skype Call or a heart rate monitor. Therefore, guidance will be required to ensure the right transport mechanism is used for the right applcation. Luckily, this can be dynamically applied by some SD-WAN services if Multi Service Ports, or similar, are available.

To minimise the issues for businesses, most operators will offer a Business Internet service. This service will often run alongside a private wide area network, otherwise a dedicated connection is usually provided. The Business Internet service will manage the internet traffic across the provider’s network to the point the data can be handed off or transited via a third party. Obviously, the fewer ‘hops’ that the data path encounters, the better the performance. This tends to be reflected with a preference for Tier 1 ISPs who tend to have the most connectivity and least number of interconnections.    

Another approach has been created by Virgin Media Business, this takes a further step for traffic in their own network. They have created an Enhanced Internet service which will provide most of the attributes of a private WAN, but over their Internet. Whilst the capability is restricted to Virgin’s own network, it does provide an interesting position. Virgin position their Enhanced Internet as a direct replacement for a private WAN. In many ways, it is a WAN. For customers within the Virgin geographic service area or have the majority of sites on the Virgin footprint, this could be a very interesting proposition.

For details of the Virgin Media Business Enhanced Internet, please listen to our podcast “When is the Internet, not the Internet?”