When most small- to medium-sized businesses consider expanding their market, they tend to look closer to home for new opportunities. Since Connecticut is a relatively small state, many central Connecticut businesses tend to look at Massachusetts and New York State to expand their sales. Both territories are nearby, but since they are different states it means different telecommunications infrastructures. Even if your operation is only expanding a few miles, crossing state lines makes IT planning more complex.
If your CT business is currently operating from a single building or campus, chances are you have a closed computer network, i.e. a network with dedicated in-house resources and an external link to the Internet. To expand into New York or Massachusetts, you need to determine the most cost-effective way to connect remote locations and create a wide area network (WAN), whether they are a few miles away or across the state.
One of the challenges is dealing with multiple telephone carriers. There are more regional telephone companies than ever before, and while there are still the big companies like AT&T, they are competing with a variety of smaller companies. Depending on the available local telephone carriers, you could consider connecting remote offices with a dedicated T1 connection or multi-layered protocol switch (MLPS) connection.
T1 connections have traditionally been the workhorse of WANs. They can connect remote offices with a dedicated telecommunications circuit that provides fast, consistent service. While they are harder to install because they require a dedicated wire, T1 is relatively easy to manage and highly reliable. The isolated telecom circuit is highly secure since your company is the only user, and it provides a consistent connection with minimal packet loss.
MLPS systems are easier to install since they don’t require a physical connection; the dedicated link is created in software logic. Service providers argue that logical circuit separation is just as secure as physical connections, and they can be tuned using routing logic. Most service providers manage their quality of service (QoS), prioritizing voice and real-time traffic over data traffic, and ensuring service quality through service level agreements (SLAs) that promise performance with minimal traffic latency, jitter, and packet loss. MPLS services also can prioritize data traffic, giving voice and streaming data higher priority than data traffic.
Of course, in both cases you are talking about more expensive, dedicated connections to remote offices. If you need to support proprietary software or services at only one or two locations, then a dedicated connection may make economic sense, but in the era of the cloud dedicated phone connections make less economic sense.
Harnessing Cloud Computing
Cloud computing offers a cost-effective and versatile strategy to not only connect remote office but mobile users, customers, business partners, and anyone else who may need access to corporate computing systems. With cloud computing all you need is an Internet connection. All the applications and data you need are stored in a secure cloud location so you can share data and data processing without actually moving files back and forth.
Companies have three cloud options to choose from – public, private, or hybrid – each with a different requirement for security and management.
Public cloud systems use service resources shared with other organizations, but they can be highly scalable and cost-effective. They are better suited for standardized applications like email, collaborative projects, and when you need incremental capacity that changes with processing demands. Of course, public cloud services tend to be less secure so you have to take extra authentication and encryption steps to protect your data.
Private cloud systems provide private hosted services and offer the greatest level of control. The company still has to purchase and maintain the software and infrastructure, but private cloud systems can be ideal for companies that rely heavily on data and applications. Private cloud systems tend to be used by companies that consider regulatory compliance and security a primary concern. Private cloud systems also tend to be run by larger companies that can justify the additional expense.
Hybrid clouds are a combination of public and private cloud services, usually across multiple providers. The advantage of adopting a hybrid cloud strategy is it combines security and flexibility and can be extremely efficient.
No matter what cloud strategy you choose, you can support multiple locations using the same infrastructure. Any user can log in from any location to access company resources. Of course, this means you need secure data access across the Internet.
Virtual private networking (VPN) is the most commonly used means to create a secure connection over a less secure network, such as a public cloud or even an MLPS link. For remote office, a VPN can provide a more secure connection at lower cost, and it has the added advantage of being able to follow employees, giving them more secure access from the road, from home, or from a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
Once you have an infrastructure in place, you have to provide a means of effective systems management.
You will need an on-premise IT person available. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hire more staff, but you do need to have a managed service provider available who can check systems operations and troubleshoot any problems. Sometimes you just need a person available to press the right button.
Contracting a managed service provider offers a variety of benefits. In addition to having smart hands available when you need them, you also get the advantages of a dedicated help desk and remote support any time you need them. A managed service provider also will monitor network performance and manage network services to make sure you are getting optimal performance as outlined in your SLAs.
Perhaps most importantly, a managed service provider can provide centralized data backup and disaster recovery. When a system does fail or the connection to a remote office goes down, the service provider can help get service back online faster and more efficiently, and ensure that no data is lost in the process.
So no matter how far you plan to expand, consider your requirements carefully before implementing your WAN. The right computer service company can assist you with strategic planning and help you design a system that can meet your immediate needs and grow as your CT business continues to expand.