MPLS IS DEAD

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Find out more about the cutting-edge technologies that underpin our Internet Connectivity offerings

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The UK's First Software Defined Access Network

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It's time to make connectivity smarter

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Vindis Group

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Automating the Wide Area Network - Why you Need an SD-WAN

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Category: Blog

SD-WAN QoS is so much better than MPLS

Upgrading to an MPLS network has always been a badge of honour.  Making the leap to, usually, expensive fibre leased lines, away from broadband, connecting your offices together with mystical but often misunderstood technology has until now been seen as the obvious and logical course of action for any maturing network.

But there is a new kid on the block called SD-WAN.  Well, we’ve actually been supplying Software-Defined WAN connections to UK businesses since 2008.  In fact, we are the UK’s only SD-WAN software vendor, with a pedigree going back over 10 years.

With an MPLS link, if you want to protect your mission critical applications there are some clunky and inefficient ways of trying to do it.

You’ll need to fill in some complex forms with your MPLS provider and try to classify your traffic.  This isn’t simple.  You don’t just say to your provider on the phone “I’d like to make sure consumer video streaming services don’t impact my CRM users”.

No, what you end up needing to do is perform that network traffic classification yourself on your router, in order to tag packets ready for the MPLS link.

Then, as long as you’ve been explicit with the MPLS provider about the types of tags that have been set on the packets you are sending, they will honour those priorities (or at least try to) as those packets traverse the provider’s network.

You can only do this one way.  Upload only.  You can’t set any priorities for your download traffic.  This is fire and forget, and hope for the best.

In fact, most MPLS networks installed for UK businesses never have any priority set anywhere.  It’s too cumbersome, customers just rely on the bandwidth of the leased lines being enough (let’s be honest this is more about hope than reliance).

Most businesses aren’t even aware they should expect more from their connectivity.

Why shouldn’t the IT guys be able to run the off-site backup 24/7 while VoIP users make calls?

SD-WAN connections allow businesses to reset their expectations at a much higher level.

Why settle for QoS only on the upload?  SD-WAN gives true, bi-directional QoS so that you can prioritise your download just as much as your upload.

Why must you configure your own complex router to tag packets?  With an SD-WAN connection, those packets are prioritised and queued for you, no matter the sophistication of the router or firewall you have, or your own IT expertise at configuring it.

And then of course, why be restricted to expensive leased lines only?  Sure, with an MPLS network you could have an ADSL or FTTC (if it’s available) instead.  But just one?  Using multiple circuits of different types is the answer, and again only SD-WAN has this ability.

This isn’t some basic load balancing, this is a full logical connection aggregating all the bandwidth of every connection.  So yes, you can have your leased lines where they are needed, but where broadband will suffice, use that instead.  And if you want to increase resilience then just add more circuits of any type.

This is about user experience.  Putting to one side the problems of service outages that are solved by multi-path connectivity, what your users need is consistency.  They need speed.  They need to not even think about connectivity.

Software-Defined WAN connections with their intent-based, zero-touch implementation of QoS are a game changer.  This is the technology that networking has always needed, and its abilities far exceed simple, legacy MPLS.

It’s time to develop a new badge of honour.  It’s time to recognise SD-WAN as the natural successor to MPLS.

Bandwidth Hoggery – Poor Geoff

So, you’ve done it. You’ve pushed the boss to put her hand in her pocket, you’ve waited three months, and its in. Your shiny new leased line. You’ve waited years to be the proud owner of your own dedicated bit of fibre – your business has come of age. You’ve arrived.

Anticipation has been building over the months since the order was placed, your staff are as excited as you are.  The VoIP phone system is ready to be commissioned, a new age of cheap calls, advanced telephony functionality and slick, seamless web browsing and remote application working awaits.

So, why are some blinking phone calls dropping? Why isn’t the call quality always perfect? Who’s more disappointed, you… or the boss?

The truth is, whoever is the most disappointed doesn’t matter. The fact is, it’s usually Geoff’s fault.  Poor Geoff. He needs to download those reports throughout the day to do his job. It’s not his fault they are all at least 200MB and clog up the internet connection.

The truth is they clogged up the old ADSL link, its been his fault all along. The fact that the 100mbps leased line has reduced the time he spends waiting for the files to download and then upload again hasn’t even impressed him very much. It now takes about 10 seconds rather than about 10 minutes – great, that means he hasn’t got an excuse to go have another coffee break.

Meanwhile, everyone else is now using the internet connection to make phone calls, so that 10 seconds it takes to download Geoff’s report – as well as annoying him by curtailing his coffee break flirtations with the lovely Gladys in Accounts – is more than enough time to kill every phone call in the building and kick the Support guys off their remote desktop sessions.

No one’s happy.

In truth there are many reasons why a leased line makes a lot of sense. You might be managing a transition to cloud based working practises, scaling up your workforce or linking to another office.  These are all viable reasons to increase capacity and resilience. But, and this is important, simply throwing bandwidth at the problem isn’t the answer.

We love leased lines, we sell a lot of them, and we deliver leased line capacity up to and beyond 1Gbps.  But we always deliver native, bi-directional Quality of Service with each and every internet connection we supply, leased line or not.

These days files are large, and data is always on the move. It’s perfectly possible to send & receive files that, albeit briefly, clog up the capacity of even the chunkiest leased lines. This is where QoS comes to the fore. By intelligently managing the flow of data over your internet connection, critical data – the time sensitive stuff, like voice calls – is given priority over bulk transfers.

So Geoff’s file might take an extra five seconds to download, or that ZIP file you’re emailing your supplier might take a minute to leave your outbox. These are the things no one notices. Well, maybe Geoff because that’s still not enough extra time to woo the lovely Gladys. The important bit is the sales people don’t get their calls interrupted, the support guys can do their remote desktop sessions, and everyone’s web browsing remains snappy.

QoS delivers happy users. Don’t fall into the trap of believing leased lines alone are the panacea.  And spare a thought for Geoff – he’s just doing his job. Is it really his fault?

Evolving Networks and Vonage Joint Offering Infographic

To support our partnership with Vonage, we’ve come up with a quick infographic which outlines the core strengths of the Evolving Networks connectivity offering, and the technical integration which enables us to work together with Vonage to deliver a compelling unified comms offering to our mutual customers.

Best of breed software vendors, delivering their own services, working together.  No resellers or other third parties involved.

Get in touch today to find out how your business could benefit from intelligent, resilient connectivity supporting your business VoIP.

Download infographic

Evolving Networks launch VoIP Partnership with Vonage

Evolving Networks, the UK’s only SD-WAN vendor has partnered with Vonage, the leading provider of hosted VoIP solutions, to present a complete connectivity and telephony offering to the UK business market.

Having conducted extensive research over the last five years Evolving Networks are satisfied that the Vonage offering represents the best value and technical solution in the unified comms arena.

Nick Johnson, CEO of Evolving Networks, says, “We don’t want to be all things to all men, we just concentrate on delivering exceptional internet connectivity and SD-WAN solutions.  However, we are regularly asked about VoIP solutions, and who we might recommend to our customers.  We’ve researched multiple vendors over the last few years and the Vonage offering stands head and shoulders above the others we looked at.”

The partnership sees the two businesses working together to serve mutual customers, with each playing to their strengths.  Evolving Networks have created a bespoke QoS profile which ensures Vonage traffic gets prioritised through their multi-VNO network, meaning all Evolving Networks connectivity customers benefit from having crystal clear, interruption-free Vonage calls.

It was the ability to work closely with the software vendors that appealed to Evolving Networks.  Commenting on the relationship, CTO Nic Elliott said, “One of our key differentiators is the fact that we write our own software, so are in complete control.  We are not a reseller of anyone else’s SD-WAN solution, and Vonage work in the same way”.

By forging a close relationship over the last couple of years Evolving Networks and Vonage bring their engineering teams together if any customers require any specific development.

Elliott continued “We have a number of mutual customers in place, so we have already ensured our two products integrate seamlessly, but our software developers having direct access to the Vonage development team means that any bespoke dev work needed can be quickly and efficiently designed and delivered, dev team to dev team, with no third parties muddying the water”.

Evolving Networks customers will be contacted by their Account Manager in the coming weeks to discuss the partnership with Vonage, and how their business might benefit from the close integration of leading VoIP technology with their internet connection.

With the ISDN switch off looming, businesses need a plan for how they are going to migrate to new digital services.  Those who have already taken the step to implement a Software-Defined Networking solution such as provided by Evolving Networks are in a great place to be able to take on the move to cloud-based services like VoIP.

Why go to the bother of creating eView Live

When we started delivering resilient connectivity over a decade ago it was unusual.  There were not many doing it, and the ones that were made a very bad job of it.

None of our original “competitors” are still standing!

One of the ways in which we set out to be different was giving our customers visibility of the state of their internet connection in real time, via an online portal.

Let’s be honest, this was not just a “nice to have” – we considered it vital.  As a business that started with a small number of passionate technologists, growing organically, frankly it was vital.

It’s not that we didn’t want to talk to our customers, but minimising support calls is wise in anyone’s book.

If a constituent line in a resilient solution suffers a fault there are two scenarios that can play out – even if the solution works perfectly by keeping the customer online whilst the issue is fixed.

Scenario A

Customer phones up and says, “is my connection working ok?” and we say “it’s proving its resilience and keeping you online, but there is a fault with line 1, we’re working on it”.

The above would actually be a pretty acceptable position for the majority of ISPs (and their customers, you would think!) but it leads to a number of understandable follow up questions:

“When did this happen?”

“Were you REALLY aware?”

“Why didn’t you tell me, why wait for me to phone you?”

Isn’t the below better…?

Scenario B

The same customer gets an automated email saying “one of the constituent lines in your resilient internet connection has a fault, we’re on the case and fixing it, we’ll keep you updated”.

We think it’s a no-brainer.  In scenario B the customer is proactively informed and has that warm fuzzy feeling that we are on the case.

In both instances the customer’s connection never dropped, but by being open, honest and proactive, we’ve changed the mindset entirely.

Our ethos of keeping our customers informed, proactively, of everything we could became the genesis of eView Live.  What started as a system to alert customers to faults (and stop them calling in) has now had the benefit of a decade of development morphing into the most complete monitoring and analysis system in the market.

Its actually difficult to define exactly what eView Live is now.  Yes, it is still the portal through which customers can view their multipath ethernet solution, giving real-time throughput values, as well as vital statistics and detailed historical analysis.

But eView Live is so much more than that.  Every connected node on our network – every modem, every EVX on every customer site, and every core EVX router – is sending a constant stream of telemetry to a suite of servers outside of our network, where all this data is crunched, sliced, diced and analysed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This stream of network information is then used to direct our systems and effect network improvements on the fly.

If a carrier partner starts to experience a network issue we know within a matter of seconds, because our network of networks alerts us automatically.  A stream of telemetry from modems experiencing increased latency is translated into meaningful actions by our AI engine.

In this example, where one carrier in our Multi-VNO network experiences increased latency, the problem need only manifest itself on a small percentage of lines for our AI systems to identify the common factor and balance traffic away from that network.  Instructions are sent to EVX appliances everywhere whilst alerting our human engineers to the issues in hand.

Crowd sourcing our network intelligence in this way means that customers with lines NOT YET affected by the issue are saved from experiencing reduced performance because the decision to rebalance traffic has been taken at a higher network level, not by the EVX itself.

The heavy lifting and decision making of network level event prevention is done elsewhere, meaning the EVX can do what it does best – run our Intelligent Network Fabric software.

eView Live then: a customer portal, AI suite, monitoring ecosystem and key component of the most advanced internet & SD-WAN delivery mechanism in the UK.

We’ve made a nice infographic about it but speak to us to find out more.  If you rely on your connectivity, then rely on Evolving Networks and eView Live.

Buzzwords… or actual SD-WANs, which would you prefer?

SD-WAN has a lot of hype surrounding it.  In fact Gartner have a term for the part of the “hype cycle” we might be about to go into with SD-WAN and its encouragingly called “The Trough of Disillusionment”.

I get exactly that feeling when reading through new product announcements from well established network players, as they add SD-WAN to their portfolio.

All they do is spout buzzwords and technobabble.

Now I’m sure we can be a bit guilty of doing that too, but as we’ve embraced the term SD-WAN (like it or loath it, the term is here to stay), we have tried to write content that is as explanatory as possible.

We’ve tried to keep things simple, even when there is a vast amount of technology in the background.

When you spend the time decoding the announcements, you see something surprising.  Hardly anyone is doing SD-WAN yet at all.

Sure, they like to talk about it, but where are the case studies and concrete customer examples?  Where are the real-world problems solved?

Many of the “new” announcements we’ve seen over recent months have been for little more than basic load balanced or traditional leased lines and MPLS / DSL failover systems with a firewall on the end.  This isn’t SD-WAN in any meaningful sense.

And that’s why hardly anyone is buying those products.

So instead of joining the pack and reeling off the buzzwords, we’re going to continue to run against the pack for 2019.  We’re going to talk about actual SD-WANs.

We’re going to talk about actual examples of managed network installations where customers of ours have saved money and improved the experience of their users.

Installations where real business problems have been solved, with the creative use of software and connectivity.

Internet connections delivering IT Managers the ability to relax and know their VoIP calls are protected from spikes in usage.

While other providers will announce tie-ups with US software suppliers without any customers, we will announce customer victories running our UK software.

Which would you prefer?  Actual experience, or buzzword bingo from the next company looking to jump on the bandwagon?

Jingle bells, jingle bells, G.fast all the way

2018 is coming to an end, but I’m really excited that we’ve been able to get some G.fast circuits installed for customers before the end of the year – including at my house!

The latest iteration of broadband (DSL), G.fast uses a broader spectrum of frequencies over the copper phone lines that we all know and love, giving higher bandwidths to those in reach.

Openreach (BT Plc) made the decision not to put the G.fast equipment closer to peoples houses and business premises than the current green cabinets at the end of the street.

What this means is that those who are fortunate enough to be close enough will be able to see an improvement from FTTC (which is also a form of DSL) and see those bigger bandwidth connections.

So far the circuits we’ve had installed have been working well, and although we haven’t had one go live yet at the top end of the bandwidth estimates, we are seeing palpable increases in bandwidth, which is great news.

For the installation in my own house, we’ve managed to double the capacity of a single circuit.  So where I once had 2x FTTC lines making up a connection delivering around 140Mbps in aggregate, I now get close to 200Mbps.  If I was to upgrade my second line as well, then it would be more like 300Mbps.

Our attitude to G.fast is the same as it was for FTTC and ADSL 2+ when they first came out.  We’ll use whatever bandwidth we can to create stable, resilient connections for our customers.

Any new broadband technology goes through its teething issues, but so far we’re seeing smooth running for all our G.fast circuits, and as a result, happy customers.

These new, higher bandwidth circuits, like G.fast and FTTP, and also leased lines as they are becoming increasingly more affordable, are needing bigger and more higher powered appliances to cope with them.

Make sure if you are considering upgrading, that you increase the capacity and ability of your entire network, especially your firewall and switches in order to make the most of the increased bandwidth.

We’ll be happy to talk to you about supplying firewalls capable of dealing with the bandwidth your connection delivers.

For now, enjoy the Christmas period, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with our sales team to find out if any of the latest connectivity technologies are available to your business locations.

Remember, we aren’t precious about what types of circuit we install – we’ll always give you as much capacity as you want, and in any combination, whether it’s ADSL, FTTC, G.fast, FTTP or leased line.  Our service is ‘all you can eat’!

Christmas – a time for freezing temperatures and freezing networks

If you are in the communications business, then you’ll be used to it by now.  At this time of year, you start getting the deluge of emails from carriers telling you about their “network change freeze”.

I like to place bets on which company will send the first warning of the year, laying out how they won’t be able to make any changes, or take any orders, or really do anything at all for a significant part of December and sometimes January.

Well you’ll be pleased to know that we have no such network freeze!

Orders for leased lines over the Christmas period will pretty much grind to a halt, because of the afore mentioned Christmas carrier shutdowns, but the management of our network is a 24/7 operation.

Of course, we’re not planning on trundling up to a datacentre on Christmas Day to install some new core routers, but our attitude to network management and deployment doesn’t change over the winter period.

Our Christmas opening hours are very simple.  The only days of the year we don’t have staff in our offices are Bank Holidays.  So that means Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

That’s it!  Every other day we’ll be there (even if wearing our PJs and scoffing too many mince pies).

Out of hours you have full access to our online monitoring and analytics engine eView Live, to help you troubleshoot any issues you may have on your network.

You can always see the status of your connection, and if you need help interpreting what you see then give us a shout.  Even out of hours over the Christmas period we’ll be able to give meaningful technical support over the phone for your connections.

We might not be able to do complex fault diagnosis or book an Openreach engineer, but we can help identify if there is an issue and importantly clarify if everything is working as it should.  Remember the vast majority of support cases we open are for issues on customer premises – either power, or firewall issues.

So have a very Merry Christmas, and get ready for an exciting 2019.  Who knows, by the end of it, you might end up with an SD-WAN, an FTTP or even a G.fast upgrade keeping your business online.

All Aboard

The SD-WAN band wagon has already left the station. It not quite up to full speed yet but there’s no doubt it’s picking up speed nicely, which is all the more impressive when you see how many vendors are desperately trying to jump aboard.

Everyone has something to say about SD-WAN, and most people seem to be saying that they sell it, even if all their previous marketing would have you believe they were leased line vendors, or VoIP vendors, or MPLS vendors.

So, something about their offering must have changed, surely? Well, not necessarily. SD-WAN sounds cool, you see. Gartner, and most industry analysts, think it’s going to be the next big thing. We’re certainly selling SD-WANs right now and the rate of SD-WAN enquiries we are receiving is increasing. To switch metaphor quickly, the wave is beginning to form, and the industry establishment are collectively running for their surf boards.

As ever with “new tech” there is no predefined and agreed definition of SD-WAN, or what makes a network/connection/WAN “Software Defined”. There are some generally accepted concepts however, which I think most people are now generally aware of.

So, why did I see a large teleco marketing their leased lines as “software defined” on Linked In last month? What on earth is it about a leased line that means it can be labelled “SD-WAN”? Perhaps they mean that a network of leased lines can be used to link up a few offices. Yes they can, they’ll sell you a thing called MPLS – but, in case you haven’t heard, it’s dead!

There is a real danger here. The corporate benefit to the ISP of all this SD-WANishness is to sell more leased lines, and to make more money. Now I’m all for businesses making more money, I’m a capitalist, but when the price to the end user rises and the quality of the product goes down, that damages my industry. And, quite frankly, the ISP industry needs all the help it can get, reputation wise!

An ISP investing in SD-WAN marketing alone, rather than in the core networking or (God forbid) in the SOFTWARE never mind the CPE required to deliver true SD-WAN benefit to the end user runs the risk of permanently damaging the name SD-WAN for the people who are out there actually doing it.

There is a historical precedent here. Bonded ADSL was badly implemented 12 years ago by the likes of Managed Communications, Xrio and Murphx. The damage to a good idea was done by over ambitious marketing, bad networks, worse software and poor implementation.

SD-WAN has massive potential, but it needs to be implemented properly, carefully, and with integrity. Calling something SD-WAN when it isn’t won’t help anyone, it will just lead to unhappy customers and a missed opportunity.

So my message to businesses looking to move to SD-WAN is, “it really could help you, but beware the band wagon”. If all you end up with is a rebadged MPLS then you’re missing out on all the benefits of resilience, flexibility and intelligence offered by a true SD-WAN.

The Power of a self-healing, multi-VNO SDN Platform

Today we had an issue with one of our carrier partners. Nothing too major, just a period of about an hour when all their tails (ADSL 2+, FTTC and leased lines) experienced increased latency of about 100ms.

Certainly they didn’t consider it to be a very big deal, they diagnosed the issue (a problem with a peering partner) and fixed after about an hour, and anyway, no one actually went offline.

Which is all well and good, but if you are a business customer and you are reliant on that ISP for your WAN (as many hundreds of businesses are) you experienced an hour of pretty much useless connectivity – very slow web browsing, VoIP calls not working, cloud apps unworkable. So there is little comfort in “at least you weren’t offline”. When user experience is so severely impacted, you may as well be.

It’s during events such as these that our multi-VNO SDN platform really comes into its own. No customers of ours have connectivity delivered via just one platform. So, whilst some of our customers did have component links within their multipath ethernet solutions routed via the affected network, we had the Get Out of Jail card ready to play.

Our monitoring alerted us to the issue within 30 seconds of it happening, our AI suite had crunched the numbers and come up with a network wide re-routing policy within a further 30 seconds, and suggested a fix. A quick thumbs up from our Head of Infrastructure and network traffic was routed away from the affected carriers’ links, on the fly, with customers experiencing no downtime.

We had one incoming support call from a customer, who happened to be on a VoIP call when the initial latency issue hit, but their user experience returned to normal as soon as the network traffic was rerouted. No other customers noticed the issue and got in touch. We have since rebalanced the network, again without impacting customers at all.

It was hard work setting up the multi-VNO network, and the investment of time and resources in the monitoring was very considerable. However, the network has proved its worth time and time again, this morning being just the latest example.

Our Customers