Private networks – your dedicated data highway

When hurricanes are threatening and data has to be backed up quickly at recovery sites, the Internet is not reliable enough to guarantee that all the data will get there. Only private networks will give organisations a stable and scalable connection and the certainty of effective data replication, says Colin MacDonald, business solutions manager at Digicel.

Digicel has partnered with Masergy, a well-known niche player in the market for global private networks, to bring the communication company’s global MPLS network to the Caribbean.

MPLS brings a lot of advantages to businesses that the

Internet typically cannot deliver, says MacDonald.

When looking at disaster recovery and the replication of data, the main thing that organisations are concerned with is that the data gets to the disaster recovery facility or another office elsewhere in the world accurately and in a timely manner.

“When you have an emergency situation, like a hurricane, you obviously have to move that data very quickly from one area, on this island, to wherever that facility is based. And very often a lot of the companies in Cayman actually have those facilities in the UK, Ireland or Hong Kong,” says MacDonald.

To make this happen, businesses need the server-based software for the replication of data, but the network that the data is transported on is the critical element as to whether this will actually work or not, he says.

For many years a lot of organisations based in the Caribbean have been using the Internet for this transport mechanism, rather than private networks or dedicated wires connecting their offices. Although private networks have been around for a long time, the Internet allowed organisations to attempt to run the same data replication processes more cheaply by using a shared network.

The Internet, however, is completely uncontrollable and due to the increase in the use of data and the complexity of data, it has become more difficult to run these processes over the Internet.

“What a lot of people will do when they look at their disaster recovery policies and their data replication, is that when it is not working, they will increase the bandwidth of their Internet connection,” says MacDonald.

The problem with this approach is that it does not solve the problem of potential bottlenecks in a shared environment, in particular when many users require a lot of bandwidth in an already contented network, for example after a hurricane warning.

“The analogy I would to use is that it is like increasing the size of your driveway to allow multiple cars to come in and out at any one point,” says MacDonald. “But if they all come down to a motorway, where there is a traffic jam, then increasing your driveway makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.”

This is where many disaster recovery and data replication processes fail. The alternative to this is a global private network.

“What a private network does, is, it gives you your private lane on the motorway,” MacDonald says.

Digicel identified a partner network with Masergy Communications to give Cayman access to services that really have not been available in the Caribbean to the same extent before, he notes. Masergy in turn gains access to the Caribbean market, where its products will serve well, because of the considerable demand from offshore companies.

“Masergy have a technology that is viewed as coming with the best quality of service in the world and it comes with quality of service guarantees,” he says.

These are illustrated by a number of metrics that any data replication or disaster recovery services are affected by and include latency, or how long it takes to get from one point to another; jitter, which is the consistency of the speed at which data is transferred; and packet loss, the loss of information.

“On the Internet, none of these metrics perform well,” MacDonald says. “That is why the DR procedures and the replication of data often fail, because too much information is lost, it arrives at different times out of sequence or it just takes far too long, until the whole process breaks down.”

Companies like CISCO or videoconferencing provider Polycom rely on Masergy because the information gets there very quickly at a consistent speed and it is guaranteed that 100 per cent of the information will arrive within sequence, so that the process is not slowed down, MacDonald says.

The reason Masergy’s quality of service is unmatched, he adds, is because their technology is of such high quality and they deliver the network in a different way, by requesting that the lines they need locally are essentially unrestricted dark fibre. Depending on location and capacity, Digicel will work with its own network and local carriers to ensure that the high standards and service levels are met throughout the Caribbean.

In contrast to large providers like AT&T or Verizon, Masergy is a young business that has been offering private networks for about 10 years and as a result is able to offer the latest technology and does not have a legacy network with which to contend.

Customers are able to do some very interesting things on the private network, MacDonald points out. For example they are able to expand and flex up bandwidth at will and it will only need about five to 10 seconds to take effect.

“A customer would have the private lane running their operation day to day, but if they want to double that capacity or triple that capacity into a motorway because there is a hurricane coming and they need to get there fast, they can do that completely controlled by themselves. So not only do we give you a private lane to guarantee that you have the required bandwidth, we are actually giving the ability to increase the amount of bandwidth for a short period of time until that process is complete,” he adds. “And that process is unique.”

It also has the benefit that users can make the most use of their bandwidth without buying too much, flexing up bandwidth whenever required. The constant network offers seven classes of service, which means that users can prioritise what information should get there first, change the class of service or increase the required bandwidth all without having to contact their telecommunications provider first.

The private network can of course be used for more than just the replication of data. Businesses may want to use cloud-based or critical data services, run their voice calls or do videoconferencing over the network. “All these services will work at different levels of priority and under specific quality of service guarantees to make sure that each of those processes work as you want them to and they are separated,” MacDonald explains.

The typical customers of the private network will be financial institutions and law firms, but because the cost of the Internet is still relatively high in Cayman compared to the rest of the world, Digicel will be able to deliver a comparative price to many of the dedicated Internet access services, according to MacDonald, which will give many other companies the opportunity to make the move from an unintelligent network like the Internet to a very intelligent network that provides quality of service guarantees.