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Managed IP Services - The Emerging WAN Networking Standard?
The merger of managed IP service giants Netifice and MegaPath tell us something about where the telecommunications industry is headed.

By: John Shepler

Two major players in Managed IP Services joining forces is a telling indicator of change in the telecommunications field, focused on IP services for business.

IP Growing From LAN to WAN
So why is this important? It's another sign that the communications infrastructure is migrating from a circuit switched architecture to packet based communications. Not just any packet switched protocol, mind you. IP or Internet Protocol is expanding is scope. Switched Ethernet based local area networks running Internet Protocol have become the defacto standard, pretty much pushing all other standards into obscurity. The sheer economy of scale has made Ethernet, Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet networking the only cost effective choice in all but the most unique applications. It's pretty hard to find a computer that doesn't come with an RJ-45 connector for 10/100 Ethernet. It's even harder to find one with another standard, unless it is something with a very short range, such as USB or Firewire. Now, IP is moving beyond the LAN edge and steadily swallowing up the WAN or Wide Area Network connections as well.

When Private Lines Make Sense
Consider your options for communicating beyond the borders of your corporate campus or even your storefront. If all you want to do is connect two distant locations together, a T1 line will do the trick at a reasonable cost. This is point to point communications. Chances are that you'll use a router on each end that connects to your location's LAN on one side and the T1 line on the other. But what if you want to connect a dozen or a hundred locations together? You can certainly order as many T1 private lines as you want and create your own WAN. That gives you the ultimate in control, privacy and, unfortunately, high cost.

More Cost Effective Solutions to Link Business Locations
A more reasonably priced solution leverages the power of private networks built by companies like Netifice and MegaPath along with that great public communications infrastructure known as the Internet. The private networks, almost exclusively built on fiber optics, link to points of presence in major cities. Dedicated private lines provide the last mile connection to your locations. ATM and Frame Relay networks have long provided this type of service, but now most networks are adopting IP and their standard protocol.

The Internet is certainly the largest IP network in existence. It is becoming thought of as a public utility, much like electric power and natural gas. Except that the Internet is loosely regulated compared to government regulated utilities. Anyone can easily access the Internet at a bargain price, but your privacy and security are left up to you. Frankly, the Internet can be a scary place to be conveying sensitive business information.

The Value of Managed IP Services
This is where managed IP services step in. One important application is the VPN or Virtual Private Network. Basically, a VPN encrypts and decrypts your private information so that it appears to be indecipherable gibberish to anyone eavesdropping over the Internet. In essence, the public network becomes your private network. Of course you are sharing this public network with many others, but they don't know anything about your data and you don't know anything about theirs. As long as you buy enough bandwidth to ensure the transfer rates you need, VPN will give you one huge network with access just about anywhere on Earth.

Another application for IP-based services is enterprise VoIP. Voice over IP is potentially a huge cost saver for businesses with dozens to hundreds of phones and phone lines. It can go bad very easily when you try to be your own phone company and don't provide for all the nuances of bandwidth, jitter, latency, priority and packet error rates that wreak havoc on voice calls and video conferencing. A managed IP network ensures that the WAN network is robust enough to support VoIP as well as electronic data transfer.

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