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Metro and Wide Area Network Connections
There are multiple options for getting from the LAN to the MAN or WAN.

Computer networks are often categorized as LAN, MAN and WAN. The LAN is your local network. You design and maintain it to meet your specifications. Or, you hire a contractor to do this. When you need to connect your LAN to another LAN across town or around the world, you enter the realm of the MAN and WAN. Here’s a quick look at what’s available in the way of metro and long haul connections.

The difference between the MAN and the WAN is largely a matter of degree. The MAN is a Metropolitan Area Network. As the name suggests, MAN services are limited to a particular city or city and suburbs. It’s the right connectivity for companies that have multiple offices in the same city, a main facility and a remote data center across town, a factory or warehouse in an industrial park plus some satellite offices. Hospitals and their associated medical centers are good candidates for MAN service, especially higher bandwidths for medical image transmission.

A difference between the LAN and MAN is that you own your LAN and buy services from the MAN. A Metropolitan Area Network is typically privately owned and offers services to numerous clients. The network operator manages bandwidth and security to ensure that every customer feels like they have the network all to themselves.

How MAN Networks Are Organized
Most MANs are organized as SONET rings that encircle the metropolitan area. A SONET ring is actually two fibers with the same traffic running in opposite directions. One is the primary service and the other is the backup. This is done to ensure reliability. If one fiber or its associated equipment experiences a failure, service is automatically switched to the other fiber in the ring within 50 milliseconds. SONET has designated service levels at OC-3 (155 Mbps), OC-12 (622 Mbps), OC-24 (1.24 Gbps), OC-48 (2.49 Gbps), OC-192 (9.95 Gbps) or OC-768 (39.8 Gbps). You may also be able to get DS3 service multiplexed onto an OC-3 service for transport across town.

Ethernet in the MAN
Newer metro networks may offer Carrier Ethernet instead of SONET. Ethernet is highly scalable from as low as 1 Mbps on up through 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Popular MAN service levels are 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps, and 1,000 Mbps or GigE. An advantage of Ethernet is that changes in service level can be accomplished faster than with traditional SONET. You can also get layer 2 Ethernet connectivity, such as E-Line and E-LAN, to connect your LANs at other locations into one large bridged network. The MAN itself may have an IP core or be running as Ethernet over SONET to use existing facilities.

WAN as a Large MAN
Think of the WAN as a very large MAN and you probably won’t be far off. WAN networks may also have SONET rings or IP core networks. They are certainly fiber optic based and often with so many strands that you can lease wavelengths or even dark fibers. Many WAN networks are structured as MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching networks for flexibility. A MPLS network has inherent security due to a propriety routing technology that is not IP. MPLS networks can transport any protocol by encapsulating the packets within the switching labels.

New WAN Developments
WAN networks may have a regional, national or international footprint. Some are designed with low latency paths that are especially important for financial trading. WAN networks may also peer with other networks of similar size to share traffic. The newest wrinkle is the Ethernet Exchange that exchanges Ethernet traffic without having to first convert it to SONET.

Connecting to the WAN
How do you connect to a WAN network? Often you can pick the connection that is both readily available and lowest in cost for your particular application. These range from T1 lines to Ethernet over Copper, Ethernet over Fiber, and SONET last mile connections. In some cases, fixed wireless access is also available. The mix of copper, fiber and wireless access should accommodate just about any need.

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