Calling 911 on Bandwidth: SmartWAN to the Rescue

The "bring your own device" (BYOD) trend related to smartphones, tablets and laptops may ease the technology burden for enterprises large and small--yet at the same time it slows down communication networks because of increased bandwidth reliance. The results? Voices echo or break up on business phone service. Streaming audio and video are slow, choppy and out of sync. Emails are delayed. This also places a burden on the IT organization, where desktop clients such as Skype are being replaced by native Android, Windows and iOS implementations.

As the mobile workforce connects to cloud services, remote servers and virtual private network (VPN) backbones, bandwidth is in increasingly short supply for VOIP and external data connections. To keep their enterprises operating reliably in the face of exponential activity growth, system managers are constantly challenged to expand network capacity.

Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) especially feel the pressure on the data pipeline. Branch locations rely on their wide area network (WAN) connections to run Salesforce, data applications such as site-to-site calling, file-sharing services such as Dropbox, Skype and videoconferencing apps, YouTube tutorials and webinars. All are applications that make collaboration succeed across the enterprise. Yet all these tools soak up bandwidth at a pace well beyond that of desktop apps from only a few years ago.

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Back in the home office, even routine internet traffic hogs bandwidth, as staffers take breaks to check Facebook and work to background music from Pandora or internet radio. A company that blocks these everyday services can send workers looking for workarounds, notes PC World--or maybe for other employers.

In some cases, network administrators must provision more bandwidth to provide reliable business phone service and high-performance internet, says NetworkWorld.com. Otherwise quality of service suffers. What's at stake is workers' ability to collaborate, consult with vendors and present a professional image to customers.

What's behind this technology-driven work slowdown?

How Wide Area Networks Break Down

WANs break down each type of traffic into different priorities for transport and encrypt the traffic over VPNs. Routers send each packet in short hops across the internet toward their destinations. Voice traffic, real-time video and other high priority traffic is expedited over web browsing and non-real-time traffic to minimize network delays.

Without the prioritization, if small businesses were to use the internet only, such network delays force the app to reassemble the message with missing pieces or to buffer the data stream as packets fall into place, notes online programmer community StackExchange. This process slows the stream, and everyone who relies on it. The packets for voice traffic, on the other hand, cannot be re-transmited and re-assembled due to intolerable delays and poor voice quality.

Chances are, tech support teams are using outdated provisioning rules of thumb. Teams can stay on top of their networks' data use by running tests to measure the traffic that essential apps generate. However, bandwidth estimates have grown more complicated. A single WAN must now carry dedicated voice services, data, site-to-site VPN traffic and internet access.

Adding servers, trunks and switches to expand the network comes at a high cost--especially in the Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) tunnels that link branch offices to data centers, explains Network Computing. These circuit upgrades can be 30 times to 100 times more expensive than broadband internet connections, points out a CDW IT expert on the company's Solutions Blog. What's more, such expenditures, should they get approval, will likely build peak-period capacity that will remain unused most of the time.

How To Make Bandwidth Dollars More Cost-effective

As IT departments are forced to do better with less, they need to explore more cost-effective options. Business-phone-service providers who understand the broader enterprise architecture framework can suggest ways to make bandwidth available on demand at lower cost, often even less than current spending.

Managing network service at a high performance level starts with the realization that not all communications traffic is created equal. Business phone service and video conferencing need high availability, while a "best effort" approach is good enough for everyday web surfing. Traffic shaping policies can manage time-sensitive traffic and throttle less-critical uses at congestion points.

Meanwhile, "smart" wide area network systems, or SmartWAN, employ load balancing to make multiple connections work together, dynamically choosing the best path to serve each application. These software-defined networks can provide the same service level as expensive dedicated lines, explains an essential guide on Tech Target's SearchSDN blog.

Call One's SmartWAN service provides SMBs same or better service levels than dedicated lines, at significantly lower cost. A not-for-profit customer with multiple healthcare offices asked us to double its MPLS bandwidth, which would have increased its monthly costs by more than two-thirds. Instead, by adding lower-cost broadband internet links to its branch offices, we cut the customer's original monthly bills by one-third and still provide faster speeds and better reliability.

Managed IT services such as SmartWAN provide cost-cutting approaches to meet the high demands of mobile traffic and widely dispersed branch offices. SmartWAN allows SMBs to make the most of their bandwidth and IT resources to keep business phone service, point-of-sale terminals and other data-intensive apps running smoothly. More importantly, managed IT services make an SMB's personnel more mobile and more productive.