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Gigabit Ethernet Leaves The Office
High speed LANs need higher speed WAN's

Corporate data networks have been steadily moving up the speed range from Ethernet to Fast Ethernet (FastE) to Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) and starting to implement 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GigE). Meanwhile, the lines that leave the campus are often much lower speed wide area networks. Something seems a bit out of balance with this model. Here's why it's like that and why its likely that the corporate LAN is going to be stretched across town and across the country.

What's Driving The Need For Capacity
Before the big change waves of business practice re-engineering and supply chain integration, companies tended to be rather individual, isolated entities. The company network stayed within the walls of the company. Connections to the outside world tended to be T1 or PRI lines for the PBX phone system and X.25, frame relay, or T1 data lines between company locations. You called customers and suppliers on the phone and contracts were faxed back and forth or sent overnight mail. Now its just as likely that you, your customers and your suppliers all access the same database. The need for Internet access on every desk drove up the network bandwidth. Moving to voice and video over IP has multiplied the need again.

Today it is quite possible for company networks with the data capacity of fire hoses to be interconnected by external lines with the capacity of garden hoses. In some cases, its still soda straws. That only works if most of your traffic stays in the building with just a trickle going outside. Otherwise there is this giant pressure on each end of the congested line. Data transfers slow to an annoying crawl. VoIP based phone calls break up and are dropped. Overnight data backups to an offsite storage facility may take so long that they can't be completed before the morning shift begins.

How to Fix Bandwidth Limited Connections
The obvious quick fix is simply to order bigger versions of the same pipes you have now. T1 lines can be bonded 2, 3, 4, 5, even 6 times. Then it makes more sense to switch to a T3 line. Multiple T3 lines can be replaced with an OC3 fiber optic carrier. OC3 becomes OC12, OC12 gets upgraded to OC48. Because the T-Carrier and Optical Carrier standards are all based on the same telco standards, they work well together. Because of their telephone network origins, they also have high reliability built-in.

Another way to go is directly to Ethernet. With the lines mentioned, your network traffic is converted from packet based IP to TDM (time division multiplexing) synchronous transmission and back again. With native Ethernet protocol, it stays as IP all the way. In many cases the protocol conversions may be transparent enough that it doesn't matter how the data is getting from place to place as long as it moving at the right speed. Native Ethernet vs Ethernet over SONET (Synchronous Optical NETwork) may be a wash.

On the other hand, where Ethernet transport service is available it has the advantages of simple interface, and being easy to understand and manage. Metro Ethernet offering high speed service within a city is often available as standard Ethernet (10 Mbps), Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet (1 Gbps) and sometimes 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 Gbps). Redundant connections can offer the fault protection you get with SONET rings. You may also be able to lease dark fiber and light it with your own Ethernet termination equipment.

Managed Solutions
Managed Ethernet services have some other interesting options. One is ability to select intermediate bandwidths, such as 50 Mbps, 300 Mbps and 500 Mbps as well as the standard Ethernet speeds. This way you gain the cost advantage of buying only as much bandwidth as you need instead of just order of magnitude increments. Ethernet connectivity is also available as both Ethernet Line which is a point to point service between two locations, and Ethernet LAN which interconnects multiple locations just like they were on a true local area network.

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