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One size fits all? Choosing your global internet partner

Between all-MPLS and hands-on DIY, there is a best way forward.

The greatest thing about the internet is that it isn’t a thing.

As any SD-WAN pro knows, it’s a complex grab-bag of different things. Software on the server; glass in the ground; wires in the wall dating from dialup. And this complexity isn’t a bug; it’s a feature. A diversity of providers enables innovation and creativity. Big Ideas don’t thrive on efficiency and speed. Your business, however, does.

Which is why so much of a network expert’s life is about managing that complexity. Perhaps it involves consolidating MPLS, with a national carrier. Outsourcing everything, to an MSP. Or setting up SLAs, with a Tier-1 partner.

All are valid approaches. All have their place. And if you manage business connectivity at enterprise scale, you’ve doubtless met all of them.

But let’s try a thought experiment:

Just for a second, think small. Really small: the individual consumer, sitting at home with his WiFi. (In these Covid-coloured times, you’ve probably met a lot of those recently too.) Joe Consumer doesn’t care about leased lines. Or undersea fibre. Or geostationary satellites. He just cares about connectivity, every time he opens his laptop. For the consumer, one size fits all.

Now, imagine that same feeling … rolled out across today’s enterprise. Perhaps dozens of countries. Hundreds of sites. Thousands of people. But in this imagined world, each enjoys the same sense of comfort and trust as a lone consumer, all complexity removed. Enterprise-scale, industrial-strength, five-nines uptime: choose your superlative.

The good news: this imagined scenario is now a reality.

As companies look for alternatives to pricey MPLS and labour-intensive DIY, One Size Fits All for the enterprise is becoming a real thing. But there’s a caveat: legacy solutions like MPLS and Tier-1 carriers may not be ideal for delivering it.

Let’s check out the pros and cons:

Connecting via carrier: the last hurrah of MPLS.

For many years, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), often sourced from major carriers, was a safe choice—and remains so. MPLS sidesteps the complexity of routing tables, using short path labels rather than long lookups. And the fewer hops and handoffs on their network, the happier most network managers are. So what’s the issue?

It’s a combo of those old (in internet time, anyway) Laws: Moore’s, Metcalfe’s, Shannon’s. And, to be brutal, simple economics. Global carriers, with huge investments to service, can be pricey. And the services themselves? Inflexible.

Globalinternet’s Chief Portfolio Officer Mike Lloyd sees MPLS shrinking among MNCs—and not just in fast-moving sectors like tech. Cautious customers in sectors like healthcare, with a third of sites on DIA and a fifth on broadband, are moving away from MPLS too.

“MPLS is reliable—but it’s pricey. And in today’s world there are equally reliable alternatives.”

So as technology evolves and capacities scale, MPLS is being eclipsed on the cost side by Dedicated Internet Access, DIY setups, VPNs on business broadband, and more. Often providing symmetrical speeds and excellent availability, with reliability that feels like MPLS, only more so. (And getting better every year.)

Short version: MPLS does well at cutting complexity. But in today’s environments, flexibility and cost are becoming big issues—making other options genuine alternatives.

So what other options exist?

Risky business: [the downside of] Doing It Yourself.

The DIY approach is popular among network managers with an appetite for adventure. You have sites in 20 countries: simply contract with a local ISP in each territory, and enjoy broadband connectivity across your organisation. What could be easier?

Actually, almost anything.

Talk to any network manager who deals with business internet, and she’ll list the problems. Agreeing a single SLA is hard enough. But imagine a different one for each territory you operate in, each in a local language. Combine that with the need to respect cultural and legal traditions that clash with the sound of a thousand cymbals … and the frequent mismatches between where capacity is needed and where it’s available. And the definition of a service isn’t constant between neighbouring countries. Or even neighbouring US states.

If data is mission-critical to your business—and let’s face it, whose data isn’t these days—it means starting from first principles in each geo. Second-sourcing everything, layering on contract conditions and complexities that chew away at your cost advantage. No economies of scale, no simplicity emerging from the murk.

The savings of DIY—on paper, at least—may make a great business case. The complexity it creates off the page is another story.

Does this improve when you take another path: the MSP?

Mixing it together with Managed Services.

Managed Services Providers (MSPs) combine the reliability and availability of Tier-1 backbone connections, with singular SLAs and services that smooth out the complexities of the DIY option. Often, they’ll offer “Schrodinger’s MPLS”: solutions that include MPLS if you look for it, but which integrate other services like business broadband into the mix.

And for many customers, the outcomes are excellent. Individual sites get their connectivity with a simple global SLA. And to organisations in the midsection of the economy—those big but not biggest—MSPs offer a better cost structure than global carriers. What’s not to like?

Well, the landscape is vast. Those calling themselves Managed Services Providers span Tier-1 backbone operators to city-specific ISPs, each with ways of delivering that may not be optimal for you. And of course, even the best are stronger in some geos than others.

“Case in point: Tier-1. While it sounds like a plus, it may not be ideal in today’s economy of business clusters and localisation.”

Greg Bryan’s WAN Manager Podcast has talked about the nuances of Tier-1 providers. Being on the backbone sounds great, but much actual customer traffic clusters locally, around urban nodes. Tier-1s often do long-distance a lot better than they do local—and many local ISPs, while not Tier-1 themselves, often have great links to Tier-1 infrastructure. For this reason, partnering with a Tier-1 is no longer a priority for most MNCs.

So: MPLS from carriers is fading. DIY carries a pain point in every city. And MSPs can be terrific, but may not match your needs.

Any other choices out there?

Going one-stop shop, with an ISP aggregator.

A fresh approach is bringing the simplicity of consumer broadband to the complex environment of enterprise networks: ISP aggregation.

ISP aggregators—like Globalinternet—build relations with local ISPs around the world and integrate their services into a single contract. Meaning they provide internet access where their customers are, yet shielding those customers from the complexities of multiple SLAs. When done professionally and with experience, the web of local ISPs is invisible to the customer.

But professionalism and experience mean more than contracts. A good aggregator places great importance on the human side, building trusted relationships across borders grounded in mutual understanding. It’s how they maintain 24-by-7 availability in the harshest hotspots: Acting globally means understanding the situation locally in each geo: treating risk as damage and routing around it.

“A professional ISP aggregator can maintain smooth service even in risky regions. For Globalinternet, that includes troubled places like Libya and Somalia.”

Globalinternet handles all this, and more—with over 1400 ISPs worldwide. Managing away complexity for over 600 global organisations.

And if you’re considering an ISP aggregator for your SD-WAN across multiple sites, there’s more good news: you may be using one already. Many global carriers and MSPs already partner with aggregators to fill in gaps in their coverage maps, so they can provide a truly global internet underlay.

As cost structures change and MPLS looks pricey, ISP aggregators have quietly become a genuine alternative to traditional Tier-1 providers and MSPs, without involving network managers in never-ending DIY projects. As you plan ahead, make sure it’s on your consideration list.

Conclusion

A basic principle of economics is to do what you’re good at, do nothing else. That’s why the best ISP aggregators focus exclusively on business internet as an alternative to carrier MPLS and assorted MSPs. Globalinternet, for example, does nothing else. And it does it with full transparency—showing customers precisely what’s available, where, in real-time.

It’s a singular mission. Which brings us back to our thought experiment: the single consumer at home, enjoying always-on, always-up broadband without having to think about the infrastructure below his feet.

Today’s ISP aggregator can offer the global enterprise symmetric, non-contended, SLA-bound business internet everywhere you operate, without the cost base of global carriers, Tier-1 providers or MSPs. One Size does Fit All. Even when Joe Consumer is Joe Professional and there are 100,000 Joes in the organisation.