Interconnecting three or more sites across a metro or wide area network has traditionally been accomplished via a hub and spoke network using private lines, frame relay or Internet Protocol virtual private networks (IP VPN) over the Internet. However, Ethernet services are a cost-effective alternative that can also support hub and spoke topologies as well as a unique, “any-to-any” network topology.

Both Ethernet methods can achieve secure, high performance multi-site connectivity with full IP transparency, but by weighing the differences in the two methods, you can impact IT operations, management and cost, says Mike Maloney, vice president at Comcast Business Class.

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about considerations and best practices when connecting three or more sites via Ethernet.

Why use Ethernet services in the first place?

Because most applications today are IP-based, you could presume IP VPNs are more suitable than Ethernet VPNs. While both deliver connectivity, there are three benefits of Ethernet VPNs:

• Security — Ethernet services are immune to certain Internet-based threats, such as the popular IP denial of service attacks.

• Quality of service (QoS) performance — Ethernet services run over the service provider’s managed network, resulting in better control, more predictable performance and more service availability.

• IP transparency — Ethernet services don’t require IP routing information to be shared with the service provider, enabling companies to keep their existing IP address with freedom to expand.

What are the advantages of using either hub and spoke or multi-point connectivity?

With hub and spoke, sites connect through the hub site to communicate with any other site. The benefit is centralized traffic routing, requiring simpler and lower cost routers to attach to the spoke sites since these locations only make a direct, point-to-point connection to the hub.

Any-to-any connectivity enables all sites to communicate with each other over the wide area network. One advantage is simplicity in adding new sites to the shared service across the network. Routers at each site automatically discover new sites with no additional device configuration changes.

How can you decide which is better?

In addition to service pricing and availability, assessing your current and future needs will help determine the more appropriate Ethernet service:

• Adding bandwidth — With hub and spoke, you can add more bandwidth until it exceeds the physical speed port, and then, there’s the capital expense of the higher-speed port and possibly additional service cost to upgrade the on-site equipment. However, you can selectively apply bandwidth upgrades to specific spoke sites. With any-to-any, bandwidth is increased at the particular site, which could result in a service disruption at the local site.

• Adding sites — When adding to hub and spoke, the service provider connects the new spoke to the existing hub site, requiring a software configuration change and possibly a reboot. Adding a site to any-to-any doesn’t require service disruption.

• Traffic flow patterns — A hub and spoke approach works well if most of the communications are to a particular site, such as regional sites connecting to a headquarters site or data center. It’s also well suited for centralized IT management of Internet access, email and storage. An any-to-any approach is most sound when regular communications are required between two or more sites.

• QoS performance — With hub and spoke technology, bandwidth, packet latency and packet loss are more granularly engineered and managed per site. Each site’s bandwidth and QoS performance can be unique with each site’s costs more accurately allocated.

An any-to-any implementation enables bandwidth to increase or sites to be added without impacting other connected sites. However, since it is a shared resource, bandwidth, management and QoS performance may need to be monitored more closely. This approach also can support many applications requiring different QoS performance such as IP telephony (VoIP) and IP video.

Mike Maloney is vice president at Comcast Business Class. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

 

Published in National

The introduction of bandwidth-intensive learning applications, including video and peer-to-peer teaching applications, has fundamentally transformed the way teachers teach and students learn. With funding over the past 14 years from the federal E-rate (EducationRate) program, school districts and libraries nationwide have provided high-speed network access to students and faculty, and deployed learning and teaching applications never before thought possible.

“E-rate–funded Ethernet network connectivity enables the future of education by providing high-speed network access to applications that are hosted elsewhere,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “Both large and small school districts have benefited from E-rate. The most successful districts have developed long-term, comprehensive technology implementation plans that view E-rate discounts as integral, and as only one of many funding sources supporting their infrastructure and curriculum.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how schools and libraries are utilizing technology through high-speed networks to enhance their education offerings.

What is the E-rate program?

A part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the E-rate program has committed more than $20 billion to schools and libraries since its creation. As schools and districts expand electronic curriculum through streaming video and Web-based applications, the demand for E-rate dollars remains strong. Each year, there are more than 20,000 applicants requesting funds for discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent on eligible services, products and e-Education content delivery. This funding has become particularly valuable as school budgets remain under significant pressure.

How does Ethernet technology assist with learning applications?

With Ethernet, a school’s infrastructure will be more scalable, reliable and cost-effective than with legacy technologies such as T1 lines, frame relay and asynchronous transfer mode. Connection speeds can be quickly increased and levels can often be changed remotely to support the high bandwidth the school’s applications need. The technology provides for centralized course curriculum delivery; centralized storage of score and student completion records; attendance tracking and real-time truancy reporting to the district and state level; distance learning, streaming video course content from a central data center; and Internet Protocol (IP) telephony and voice communications.

What are some applications that are enabled because of high-speed technology?

The most frequently deployed technology applications in schools are those that connect content to the student, teacher and parent. The ability to capture, transport, retrieve and store high-definition video has enabled distance learning and safe access to movie file archives from learning channels.

With distance learning, voice-over IP and streaming live two-way high-definition video on large projector screens, the school district can host a French class from a single location to multiple classrooms, for example. No longer is it necessary for a French teacher to be in every school. This allows districts to pool resources. Even access to guidance counselors can be accomplished with an appointment-based telepresence meeting.

By far, one of the most bandwidth-intensive uses of network access is Google Earth. Google Earth offers more than a third of the world’s land surface in high-resolution imagery and requires high-speed access to return refreshed results. Prior to high-speed cable and Ethernet, if every student in geography class performed a search at the same time, the classroom would either be unable to connect or would lose valuable time waiting for the pages to load.

Other applications include:

  • Connected classrooms, where high-tech devices allow students to instantly contribute and collaborate on projects with advanced teacher assessment monitoring.

  • Intelligent tutoring, where homework can be tailored to individual aptitude, with online interactive learning programs providing tutoring based on student responses.

  • Instant feedback to teachers on student performance, identifying difficulties so educators can course-correct upcoming instructions.

  • Software-based learning tools for math, social studies and geography, where wireless devices enable the teacher to ask a question and students to ‘enter’ answers virtually.

  • Remote access is used by district administration professionals to recertify teachers and rank them in the state school system, while allowing parents access to the teacher-student portal to see lesson plans, homework assignments, test scores and teacher ratings. Remote access can also include virtual parent-teacher conferences and email linking that gives parents access to their child’s attendance record and teacher’s desktops.

How can technology improve the security and safety of schools?

As the risks posed by student access to weapons has changed the way schools protect classrooms, students and teachers, it has resulted in increased use of video surveillance. Video storage and collection from schools requires massive bandwidth. Master video banks can store and retrieve 30 days of footage to allow for the playback of incidents. Applications such as these can help deter perpetrators, impress upon parents that children are safe and possibly lower insurance premiums.

There are thousands of success stories in school districts and libraries across the country. High-speed network connections have transformed education in rural districts, where they are now able to deliver Advanced Placement courses that were once impossible to offer. Public libraries offer patrons opportunities for continued education and professional development through resources available via high-speed network access and through easily deployed Ethernet services offered by local cable operators.

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

Published in National

The Internet is an integral part of doing business — from sending emails and hosting a website to setting up virtual private networks and interconnecting locations. Today, more than ever, organizations require reliable Internet connectivity with increasingly higher speeds to satisfy growing application requirements, while carefully managing IT costs.

“Internet usage continues to grow and evolve significantly from its simpler Web browsing and email origins,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “Organizations, large and small, now extensively rely on the Internet to increase productivity, provide business-to-business or business-to-consumer services, streamline their supply chain and outsource IT applications to reduce costs.”

With Internet bandwidth requirements continually increasing, Ethernet dedicated Internet access is becoming a cost-effective and more flexible option to connect to the Internet, Maloney says.

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how Ethernet stacks up against T1 connections.

How has the adoption of new technology increased the need for better Internet connections? 

The potential for new technology to lower the cost of business operations is clear. For example, by moving applications to hosted or ‘cloud-based’ services, an organization can eliminate the capital expense of the application servers and operational expense of software licenses and support, while reducing the burden on their IT support staff. Spending on public IT cloud offerings is forecast to reach $55.5 billion in 2014, representing a 27.4 percent compound annual growth rate, according to a recent report from the International Data Corporation. This rapid growth rate is more than five times the projected growth rate for traditional IT products.

Meanwhile, utilizing this new technology will require a higher-speed Internet connection. An organization’s bandwidth requirements may increase due to:

  • An increasing number of visitors to your locally hosted public website for e-commerce transactions.

  • An increasing use of cloud-based services where you move applications from running locally to a remote data center or hosted server in the cloud.

The capital expenditure and recurring operating savings of cloud-based services typically provide a better return on investment than the additional Internet bandwidth costs. During times of accelerated growth, organizations can leverage the Internet to rapidly respond to increased productivity and supply chain, while carefully managing costs.

How have businesses been using T1-dedicated Internet access?

A popular way for organizations to connect to the Internet has been via a T1-based dedicated Internet access (DIA) service. T1 DIA services are typically offered over one or two T1 circuits so the bandwidth options are limited, inflexible and costly as an organization’s bandwidth and application requirements grow. To be competitive, you need to quickly and cost-effectively adapt your Internet access bandwidth, so T1 DIA services are challenged to meet these elastic bandwidth requirements.

With a single T1 circuit operating at 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps), you need to purchase upgraded service to get more bandwidth, which may require a new T1 router to support the bonding of the two T1 circuits. Typically, that will cost another setup charge, as well as a higher monthly recurring cost for the service. Additionally, there will be service disruption if you must replace the existing T1 equipment, and new equipment or circuits may delay the upgrade days or even weeks.

Many T1 DIA service providers cannot provide Internet access beyond two T1s. If your Internet access bandwidth needs increase beyond that, you will have to switch to a different technology with higher bandwidth choices.

Why is Ethernet-dedicated Internet access a better choice for businesses?

Ethernet DIA services are typically delivered over a single Ethernet fiber optic connection that can handle any amount of bandwidth between 1 Mbps and 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). Ethernet DIA service can be purchased in flexible bandwidth increments up to the Ethernet port speed, and the port speed depends upon your initial and anticipated bandwidth needs for the duration of the service agreement. A 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port speed is sufficient for most organizations. Unlike T1-based DIA services, Ethernet DIA services are not offered based on circuit speed.

Capital expenses are also low to non-existent with Ethernet DIA. If your building does not have a fiber optic connection, your Ethernet DIA provider will deliver a fiber optic connection, which has a one-time cost associated with that installation. Otherwise, if you can use an available Ethernet port on your router you are ready to go, as the Ethernet DIA service demarcation device is included in the setup cost. Ethernet DIA enables you to better manage your IT capital and operating expenditures during varying economic cycles. Cost savings can be achieved because you don’t have to switch Internet access technologies or providers when your organization’s bandwidth needs exceed 3 Mbps (two T1s).

Your Ethernet DIA service provider can remotely reconfigure the Ethernet service demarcation device to support the new bandwidth you require, and you can continue to use the service up until that upgraded amount. If the Ethernet service demarcation device needs to be restarted, you may only experience a minimal service disruption. This is in contrast to T1 DIA service, where new equipment and new, higher speed circuits may take days or even weeks to get implemented.

Organizations increasingly utilize the Internet as a critical business tool, and Ethernet-based DIA services provide many benefits over T1-based DIA services. The most obvious benefit is higher bandwidth. Ethernet DIA services also enable organizations to more quickly and cost-effectively add Internet access bandwidth to optimally manage their IT costs while they grow their business.

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

Published in Philadelphia

“The network is your business” has been a mantra for many years, indicating how businesses rely more heavily on being networked among their facilities, data centers, suppliers, business partners and customers.

“Your network enables your business to improve productivity, provide business continuity, increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs,” says Michael Louden, Director of Enterprise Sales for Comcast. “Selecting the Wide Area Network to meet your diverse needs can be challenging, but over the past several years, business Ethernet services have emerged as the optimal choice to best address many applications.”

Smart Business spoke with Louden about how Ethernet services can help improve your network.

What makes Ethernet a good choice for businesses?

Since the initial business Ethernet services were launched in 2000, much has changed. Ethernet services have become more standardized, thanks to the work of the Metro Ethernet Forum. Ethernet services have also improved significantly from their switched Ethernet ‘best effort’ origins. Today, business Ethernet services can provide service performance that rivals TDM private line services, but with the improved flexibility, scalability and cost effectiveness of Ethernet.

One of the most appealing aspects of Ethernet services is that it uses the same fundamental Ethernet technologies that are familiar to IT personnel. Businesses can leverage this to have a common pool of resources to manage both their LANs and WANs. However, not all service providers are created equal, and businesses must be able to evaluate and compare specific plan features to ensure they’re getting the Ethernet service best suited to their needs.

What should businesses consider when selecting an Ethernet service?

Businesses need to evaluate three main components necessary to ordering Ethernet service: Ethernet ports, Ethernet connectivity and Ethernet service bandwidth. All Ethernet services provide these three components to deliver basic service functionality and, for some applications, this may suffice. However, a growing number of applications require more service capabilities such as classes of service, which address the unique service performance requirements for different applications, and service performance metrics. So, to differentiate a specific type of data traffic that you prioritize or use heavily from the rest, you could purchase an Ethernet service with two classes of service.

How do you evaluate an Ethernet port?

When evaluating an Ethernet port, look at the port speed and connection type — electrical or optical. The speed you choose will determine your bandwidth abilities, so look for services that support port speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 100 Gbps. Also keep in mind that you may require bandwidth upgrades to meet future needs. The significance of the Ethernet port speed you select will depend upon your initial bandwidth requirements and your anticipated incremental bandwidth needs for the duration of the service agreement.

How do you select the appropriate Ethernet connectivity?

Services address two basic types of connectivity: point-to-point, allowing a site-to-site connection, or multipoint, which allows any site to connect with any other. So consider how many locations you will be connecting, as well as the type of applications to be supported, application performance requirements and traffic flow patterns.

The type of Ethernet connectivity is closely related to the type of network topology you would like to create and its selection will depend upon factors including the type of applications to be supported, the application performance requirements, the number of locations to connect initially and anticipate to connect over time, and traffic flow patterns.

If you expect a lot of sites to be connected and interacting, multipoint connectivity enables additional sites to be more easily added to the WAN. Additionally, it allows for simple traffic prioritization, effectively supports VoIP and data traffic over the same WAN and better handles applications requiring significant amounts of any-to-any site communication.

How do you evaluate Ethernet service bandwidth?

The Committed Information Rate (CIR) articulates the amount of service bandwidth that will be subject to the service performance objectives in the product specification. Service providers may offer an Excess Information Rate (EIR) or a CIR and EIR for a given service. And EIR-based service with no CIR is a best effort service, with no assurance that any traffic will get through the network. A service with a CIR and EIR will assure that traffic conformant to the CIR will meet the specifications. Traffic bandwidth that exceeds the CIR is considered excess traffic and is provided no bandwidth assurances. EIR traffic may get through the network if there is no congestion.

What are some advanced service components?

Once the fundamental service components are selected, there are additional, more advanced, components to select to ensure that the service best meets the needs of your applications. For example, if you have a call center using VoIP, you may want to differentiate the VoIP traffic from the data traffic used to interact with customers. This could be accomplished by purchasing an Ethernet service with two classes of service.

What other considerations should play into an Ethernet decision?

The service performance metrics indicate how your service will perform and should be an important consideration when selecting an Ethernet service. For example, the frame packet loss should be less than .01 percent over 30 days, and the mean time to restore service should be four hours. In addition, service availability should be 99.99 percent over 30 days.

Published in Philadelphia

If your company’s computers are still using the last generation of network technology, it might be time to consider an upgrade — especially if you are planning to virtualize any of your processes or data.

“The previous standard for most companies has been traditional T1 lines, which were not cost effective and had limited bandwidth,” says Carlos F. Olortegui, manager of the Enterprise Metro Ethernet Division with Comcast Business Services. “Metro Ethernet technology is more cost effective, reliable, robust and scalable, and it allows you to adjust bandwidth measurements with ease.”

Smart Business spoke with Olortegui about how this technology could benefit businesses and what kind of return companies should expect on their investment.

Why is Metro E technology important and how can it impact a business?

Today, everyone from small, medium to enterprise-level and multi-national corporations can use Metro E technology to improve their telecommunications.

For instance, a franchise using point of sale (POS) transactions and replicating that data could use the Metro E technology to have the option to measure and adjust its bandwidth as necessary.

One major benefit of Metro E is that the connectivity from the customer to the service provider is simplified. It’s just router to router. The main focus of Metro E is the Ethernet connectivity. It’s called Metro E because you are literally plugging in an Ethernet connection. The handoff from service provider to the customer is just an Ethernet plug — pure simplicity.

In the past, companies needed a lot of capital expenses and operating expenses for databases, hardware, larger UNIX servers, even your exchange servers for e-mail. Today, everyone uses e-mail, so the need for archiving and data warehousing is huge.

What is virtualization and how can it benefit businesses?

Virtualization is the process of contracting an amount of space on a large server that is housed by a provider and storing your data there. If you virtualize, you do not have to purchase all the computer hardware and manpower to handle your data and processes. You don’t have the large operating expense and headcount necessary to maintain the high-cost hardware and ensure uptime.

There are two scenarios in which companies can benefit from virtualization. First is disaster recovery. Second is by making a virtual version of your databases or e-mail, which are utilized on a daily basis  — you have the ease of connectivity for the transport of all that information to a virtualization footprint via Metro Ethernet.

Here is where your ROI comes into play. You get a bigger bang for your business dollar and the products and services you sell, other than payroll and real estate, the IT budget is the largest budget for most enterprise customers. If you can drop those operating and capital expenses, your ROI and profitability increase.

How can Metro E technology improve the virtualization process?

You need connectivity to that virtualization footprint .That’s where Metro E comes into play, because of its service ability, and the ability to have bandwidth on demand. Companies can consult 30-, 60-, or 90-day bandwidth utilization reports. If you need more bandwidth, it’s just a turn of the dial.

Virtualization provides much more bandwidth than traditional T1 lines can. If you are virtualizing your back-office environment, it is critical that you have no downtime as these applications are considered ‘high availability.’ That is another advantage of Metro E — it is very stable.

How does the ability to adjust bandwidth impact businesses?

Let’s say you are a corporate entity that owns a chain of retail stores. You have peak seasons: different times of the year where you have huge mail distributions or promotions. Your business is very seasonal, so November and December are the peak sales months. There are a lot of promotions, and your website gets hit more at those times. With Metro E, you can adjust your bandwidth to be higher during those peak times, because you want to make sure people can access the website and that all their transactions are being replicated and archived correctly, hence making the customer experience a positive one.

When there is greater demand, the company simply notifies its provider, which increases the bandwidth. They can watch bandwidth utilization reports to see trends, so they can monitor their expenses. Business owners can see that they’re utilizing X amount at a certain time of the year and budget accordingly.

It also ties into virtualization, because one of the main components of virtualization is on-demand storage.

What kind of cost reduction or ROI can businesses expect from using this technology?

First, businesses can expect lower capital expenses from not having to purchase all that computer hardware or enterprise server hardware for their back office databases and e-mail. Second, less manpower is needed because you have that virtual environment, so you have the reduction of overhead payroll. Third is the stability of Ethernet technology. You don’t have to utilize T1 lines or ‘leased-lines,’ those clear-channel point-to-point lines, which are very high in cost because you have to have a certain type of hardware that resides at the customer’s site. With Metro E, you have a simplified device on the back end of the service provider, which is lower cost equipment because it is plug-and-play Ethernet. Together, those three components can reduce expenses 20 to 40 percent.

Carlos F. Olortegui is manager of the Enterprise Metro Ethernet Division with Comcast Business Services. Reach him at (305) 770-5941 or carlos_olortegui@cable.comcast.com.

Published in Florida