What is a Hybrid Network (and why might I want one)?
A Hybrid Network is as simple as having two (or more) different network connections to a site, but there is much more to it than that.
Perhaps the most common hybrid network definition we see is a primary MPLS and a secondary internet connection. You'll often see this in literature describing SD WAN, with the benefit being reduced costs. Actually, the internet connection is sometimes put forward as multiple consumer grade broadband connections by SD WAN CPE vendors looking to support their cost-saving argument.
Can an MPLS / Internet Hybrid Network reduce cost?
Hybrid Networks are often mentioned while discussing SD WAN. This is because one of the benefits of SD WAN is that it can help you create a hybrid network to reduce costs.
It is often asserted that internet connectivity is cheap and MPLS connectivity expensive. Consequently, one can save money by reducing the port on MPLS circuits (reserving them for applications that need Class of Service or private cloud access) and moving other traffic to the internet.
This may be true in certain countries, such as the US, but it is less so in the UK where comparable circuit types can be similarly priced. In the UK, a 50Mbps port on a 100Mbps Ethernet bearer can often be the same whether it points to the internet or to the MPLS network. It really depends on your WAN provider.
Where there is still a difference is with globally diverse networks. International MPLS circuits can be a whole lot more expensive than buying a locally-purchased internet circuit. The trade-off for using the internet to reduce costs is that you may lose some performance and you may also lose the central billing and management that an MPLS network brings.
Access to the Cloud
There is also a growing reliance on Public Cloud (internet) based applications (e.g. Salesforce.com) or platforms (e.g. MS Azure) and therefore it makes more sense to direct traffic straight to the internet rather than sending the traffic to a central site over the MPLS network and then reaching the internet from that site. (This is commonly known as tromboning out of a central site.)
However, we are seeing a number of carriers providing connectivity to a growing range of Cloud based applications and platforms through their MPLS networks thus giving the security and performance of a private network. MPLS access to new cloud apps and platforms will always lag being the internet as carriers have to specifically provide the interconnections to their networks whereas the application and platform providers themselves are in control of the Internet interconnectivity.
One new development which some of the SD WAN vendors can take credit for is the creation of a new network type. There’s now a third option between Internet and MPLS and that is Optimised IP. This is where SD WAN providers are putting their own equipment or software in data centres around the world and next to Platform and Software as a Service providers to improve the performance of the internet.
There are a couple of variations to this model but on the whole a Customer will still purchase their own local internet circuit with the SD WAN CPE creating a secure tunnel to the SD WAN vendors nearest Point of Presence on the internet. Once at this PoP the data will use private connectivity to reach the nearest egress PoP to where the data is trying to reach, thus not traversing multiple AS networks on the internet. It’s like a private cloud within the internet.
This solution looks to combine the advantage of MPLS performance with the cost advantages of local internet access and again works best when competing against international MPLS solutions.
A full Hybrid Network is the best of all worlds
When you take the concept of a Hybrid network to its logical conclusion, you can get the best of all worlds. The logical conclusion is the more general selection of the right technology from the right carrier at each site.
To illustrate, we create our customer networks by joining multiple carrier networks and associated services such as Cloud access and Hosted telephony, and integrating them in a best of breed solution.
We have used multiple carriers and providers for more than 20 years so we know that they each have different strengths and weaknesses. No single carrier gets 5 stars in all the boxes. Some carriers have markedly superior delivery SLA’s; some have a more comprehensive selection of access options; some are good when they’re on-net for both delivery and price; and some are stronger in certain geographies.
Often the best Cloud services are with companies who purely focus on just that, rather than bolting on a service to a WAN as a carrier often does. We have found the best results by having a more open approach to incorporating the best the market has to offer.
What we have found really exciting about Hybrid over the last few years is the ability to incorporate new offerings without the lengthy development cycles endured by the carriers. This approach means that customers aren’t held hostage to a single carrier’s product development roadmap.
A Hybrid Network can reduce delivery times
The current accepted definition of Hybrid Networking also tends to focus on the in-life stage of the connectivity lifecycle whereas SAS believe that there are further advantages to be had by looking at the deployment stage as well. With our Network in Advance and bonded 4G services, SAS offers cradle to grave connectivity options. Get your site up and running on multiple 4G connections whilst the fixed connectivity is delivered and then have the 4G as back-up.
Alternatively, 4G can be used for temporary sites or even mobile sites, such as boats, buses and trains.
We have delivered thousands of 4G circuits over the last few years. It’s still non-trivial to do it well but, nevertheless, in that time we have seen the technology move from niche to mainstream. So much so that it is now a regular part of our customers’ circuit portfolio – even for large sites (we had 650 users in one project). Interestingly, back when we started, nobody called it Hybrid and nobody called it SD WAN, but the market now defines it as both.