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Improving Your Data Center Connection
Upgrading that critical link between your facilities and the cloud.

By: John Shepler

Outsourcing IT applications to the cloud has become so popular that the connection to the cloud is sometimes given little consideration. Why should it be when all the action is in the remote data center? That center has a wealth of connectivity options both to the Internet and dedicated private lines. But, how do you connect with the cloud? Does it matter?

The Ubiquitous LAN Connection
To understand why office to data center connections are so important, let’s take a look at what you have now. You have your own data center right down the hall, in the basement or the next building over. Chances are that nobody gives a second thought to how they connect with that equipment because everything connects through the company LAN. All of the network equipment runs at the same speed, 100 Mbps or 1000 Mbps most likely, so one Ethernet jack is pretty much the same as another.

Performance Taken For Granted
The beauty of the in-house network is that it is well controlled and that high bandwidth and low latency are fairly easy and inexpensive to come by. After all, it’s just a copper or fiber cable running hundreds of feet at the most. Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet switches are standard. Bandwidth, jitter and latency? You can pretty much take them for granted.

If your network is converged, with voice, data and video all running on the same network, your job is a little harder. You likely need to prioritize traffic so that the sensitive audio and video streams aren’t interrupted or delayed by less sensitive data transfers. Even so, on the local network this is under your control

The Trouble With Telecom
The challenge begins at the edge of your network. This is where you hand off control to a third party. Unless you are leasing dark fiber or have a wireless or optical laser link, you need a carrier to accept your signal and transport it across town, across the country or even around the world. Your wide area connections can be as robust as your local network connections… but they aren’t necessarily.

This is where you can get into trouble. Metro and long haul connections come in many flavors, each with its own classes of service, guaranteed bandwidth, latency, jitter and packet loss.

Shared vs Dedicated
Two major categories of bandwidth service are shared and dedicated. They mean what the names imply. Shared bandwidth means that you share a pool of bandwidth with dozens or hundreds of other users. Dedicated means that you have exclusive use of a line. Whatever you don’t use sits idle.

Why would anyone opt for shared bandwidth when they could have an exclusive channel? It comes down to cost. Telecom lines are less expensive than they’ve ever been. Even so, the cost is not trivial. Consumer Internet broadband is set up as shared bandwidth in order to get the monthly charge down to something most people can accept. The same is true of 3G and 4G cellular wireless and satellite. Wireless bandwidth is scarce and expensive, so there are usage limitations imposed above and beyond the shared usage.

When Sharing Works and When It Doesn’t
For things like email, web surfing, downloading short video clips, online purchasing and other activities that aren’t very resource demanding or time critical, shared bandwidth offers an excellent tradeoff between price and performance. This is why many small businesses opt for commercial grade cable broadband as their Internet connection. For home offices, shared bandwidth is almost universal.

Where sharing become a problem is when applications are sensitive to time delays. VoIP telephony can’t take much in the way of latency caused congestion, packet loss or jitter without sounding bad or dropping calls completely. The same is true for video conferencing. One often forgotten time sensitive application is the business critical cloud application.

What Makes Cloud Stormy
Cloud and other remote data center applications have unlimited resources, right? So why should they not perform even better than when you hosted them yourself? The answer is that pesky connection back to the office. You might assume a perfect connection, but it probably isn’t so. If you are using shared bandwidth, it really isn’t so.

What happens when there are even short time delays in packets to and from the cloud? You experience hesitation in the application. You send a request. You’ll get a reply… eventually. That’s likely no more than seconds at worst, but the seeming randomness of the delays is enough to drive a user crazy. The more annoying it gets, the more productivity suffers.

The Dedicated Line Solution
The answer to effective remote data center connectivity is to make your WAN as transparent as your LAN. You do this by ordering a dedicated connection with symmetrical bandwidth and guaranteed performance for bandwidth, latency, jitter and packet loss. It’s a direct connection between you and the data center without going through the Internet and its potential bottlenecks.

Fortunately, this has become affordable for all but the smallest operations. Gigabit Ethernet and 10 GigE are now readily available for most business locations. Even 100 GigE is starting to be installed for the largest and most demanding users.

Are your applications suffering from lower than expected performance since you moved to a colocation facility or cloud service provider? If so, it’s time to look into what’s available in the way of high speed dedicated bandwidth connections.

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