Achieving Minimal Latency through Smart WAN Design

Ian Marlow HeadshotBy Ian M. Marlow
December 23, 2014

Older computing networks within an organization use MPLS (multi-protocol label switching). MPLS enables organizations to connect users throughout multiple locations (offices, buildings) with some upsides and downsides.

The upsides: the data and users are on the same network which makes MPLS very secure, since the information never goes out to the public domain. It also has minimal latency (delay) in terms of transmission time because all the data is on the same network.

The downsides: an MPLS connection has to be set up at every single site from one data carrier. This is very expensive (lots of installations) and very limited (one carrier’s network). When you have locations that are spread out and are in different carriers’ areas, this becomes a problem from building to building.

In today’s age of the cloud, different locations around the world interconnect and communicate via a WAN—a wide area network. But how can we achieve the same security and minimal latency, while also overcoming the limits of single-carrier networks, when designing a WAN?

WAN 101
Wide area networks provide point-to-point connectivity and use encryption, firewalls and public VPN to achieve the same level of security as their MPLS forerunners, independent of any one carrier.

That being said, there is still great value in using as few carriers as possible across locations to reduce network latency. Minimizing the number of carriers throughout your network (building to building, regionally, nationally), minimizes the latency that WANs often experience, since every time you hop to another network, you incur the dreaded transmission delay (it’s seconds but they add up).

There are a few key considerations when designing a WAN for your business, centered around service, bandwidth, and average latency.

  • Who is the underlying carrier?
    Telecommunications carriers (telcos) differ across the country but there are resellers that can work with you in different markets. These resellers are the ones who are doing the work and may be able to handle your business across markets (using different carriers that they resell).
  • What is the accepted latency rate on that carrier?
    When doing a WAN design it is crucial to research the typical amount of latency that is acceptable for that carrier. Contracts written for end user service will (or should) stipulate a certain degree of latency that the telco finds acceptable—but it might not be good for you.
  • How much data—or whose data—are they transmitting?
    Not every carrier will be the best fit for your needs and the biggest is not always the best. Large national carriers may be using a great deal of their bandwidth to stream various programs for major services, leaving less bandwidth for your company’s telecommunications. Several years ago, Verizon had a deal with Netflix to carry all its programs which was a bandwidth hog and slowed down traffic significantly for users across the Verizon network.
  • What type of service is available?
    Your IT company can help you research and understand available options from the carriers—and analyze your choices from a computing and pricing standpoint. For example, one carrier might be more expensive than another; however, its better latency rate is worth the additional expense if speed is important to you. Fiber optic service is pricier but has better guarantees of speed; a cheaper cable line slows down during peak usage periods and there are no guarantees on up-time.Therefore, don’t just look at dollars, look at the value of what you are spending. Being penny wise and pound foolish is a mistake that will create a lot of dissatisfaction in the workplace.
  • What are your company’s specific needs or expectations?
    Larger companies typically have standardized IT protocols across a big network; users in those environments accept a certain level of slowness when moving data between sites because of the number of users and locations. A smaller company usually looks for a higher level of responsiveness at lower cost; waiting a few extra seconds for files to open all the time can slow down productivity.
  • Are there other limitations to work around?
    Unless you own your building, your landlord might limit which carriers may bring in internet service and/or may assess you a fee for outside carriers.

Network coverage is another issue. You might have fiber optic service in one location from one carrier, and in another area you will you have switch carriers (and service and networks). Every switch between carriers causes a latency in your data transmission.

If you have multiple locations, you and your IT team will have to examine each carrier and value-engineer your solution. Make sure your IT services provider can help you evaluate all of this and can check available fiber maps that indicate which carrier is available and where.

Creating a WAN for your organization that provides security, low latency and high bandwidth is possible. It goes back to who is actually guaranteeing the bandwidth and average latency experience on those lines (the underlying carrier). Understanding the value of what you are spending, and with whom, are all part of the WAN equation.

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