One of the most common questions I hear when I talk about SD-WAN is the idea of whether you can take a consumer or SMB-grade broadband connection and substitute it for a traditional MPLS or leased-line ISP link. That’s usually a very loaded question. Businesses are looking to provide the best connectivity they can for the least amount of money. But once we start delving into the differences between MPLS and business cable modems there are some ideas you have to understand.
The biggest and most important is the idea of assurance. MPLS circuits are big and expensive because they carry a guarantee. The ISP makes a promise that your link is going to be up for a specific amount of time or have specific performance characteristics. A traditional MPLS circuit may have a 99.9% uptime guarantee with a 150ms delay and 1% packet loss specification. Those guarantees are important because they ensure that all the money you’re spending on your circuit pays off in the long run.
But those guarantees are also expensive. Since the ISP has to build out the circuit and monitor it to ensure that it’s up and performing according to the SLA, you’re going to have to pay more for the service. And, surprisingly enough, if you take the ISP’s word for it the circuit is always performing within the specified SLA parameters. It has to, right? Otherwise, they’d be in violation and they’d owe you money. But are they really?
Keeping Everyone Honest
Traditional edge packet routers don’t do a good job of monitoring. That’s because they’re optimized to do a few things really fast. The less time they have to spend watching a connection means the more time they have to forward packets across a link. That’s why SD-WAN has been such a radical change for traditional networking. The intelligence built into the software running on these devices can help monitor the performance of those links.
However, getting that performance monitoring usually involves buying into an SD-WAN platform and investing in a big project to deploy to your edge sites. What if you’re not quite ready to make the leap but instead want to gather information about what you should be doing?
Enter Ixia, a Keysight Business. They’re a household name in network performance monitoring. They develop technologies to help identify security threats or compliance or even ISP performance. That last bit is one area where they’ve recently developed a new technology that has some interesting applications for small businesses wanting to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth out of their expensive circuits.
This recent video from Networking Field Day 21 shows off their new IxProbe solution. It’s a small device that’s designed specifically to sit in-line between the ISP edge device and the customer premises equipment (CPE). It’s not a full monitoring system or a massive SD-WAN endpoint. It’s designed to pass traffic through to your router while monitoring the key components of SLAs. It can help you figure out if the jitter and latency of your circuit is truly within the bounds of the SLA. And it can do all that without needing to monitor your existing traffic.
IxProbe can create synthetic testing traffic to ensure that SLAs are being met at all times. That’s a huge win for small businesses because of the possibility that ISPs could let the guarantee drop during off-peak hours. In a traditional business this might not be so bad, but for sectors like retail, you can see the advantage of having your site be available all the time. You never know when your product is going to be featured in an Instagram post or be highlighted as something to buy for Christmas. Next thing you know your site is being hammered by traffic and you’re getting alerts left and right! Is it the hardware you’re using? Or is it the connection to your ISP?
IxProbe can use synthetic traffic to ensure that the SLA is being enforced at all times. No more guessing to see if the ISP is letting things slip at 3 am. And, with the integration that IxProbe has with Ixia’s other tools, you can provide reports that you can take back to your ISP with hard and fast numbers. Jitter assurance slipped 18 times in the last month for a total of 2 hours? That’s a data point you can negotiate with. Circuit availability drops to 97% thanks to off-peak connectivity and maintenance issues? That’s cause for a discount or credit of some kind. Those are the kinds of numbers you need to have for yourself. Because, as stated above, the ISP will make sure that their reports show their equipment was in perfect order the whole time. Don’t just take their word for it. Be sure with your own data.
Bringing It All Together
Ixia is helping small businesses solve a huge problem with performance monitoring. But that doesn’t mean this is only a problem for the SMB. Think about enterprises that have dozens or even hundreds of branch sites, like a retail operation. Having a low cost, purpose-built device for monitoring performance is a huge win for IT departments trying to keep their 2020 budget in check while also delivering value for the organization and helping rein in some of the more wasteful parts of operations, such as non-compliant SLAs that need to be renegotiated. IxProbe may not break your bank, but if it leads to helping you figure out how to better manage your SLAs with leased lines or justify a move to broadband it may pay for itself before you know it.