Choosing the Best Method for Outside Network Access
Some lucky businesses are housed in a single building, making networking a cinch. Others, however, are sprawled across large campuses, a metro area, or even with locations in another city. Ethernet is by far the most popular option when it comes to networking with the outside (branch offices, data centers, etc.), but it isn’t the only way. Here is your guide to selecting a remote networking option that best suits your needs, budget, and business requirements.
Options for Remote Network Access
Ethernet is the most commonly used, and is ideal for most business practices, such as campus environments or metro locations. Dark fiber is the second most common option. Dark fiber is optical fiber that was laid en masse before Ethernet became the de facto standard for networking. Companies that paid to lay the optical fibers are able to recoup some of the investment by leasing out these inactive fibers to businesses in need of networking communications. The third and final option is wavelength services. This is similar to dark fiber, except you’re actually leasing a specific wavelength (or color) on the existing optical fiber, sharing the fibers with other traffic.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Ethernet
Ethernet works best in most situations, partly because it doesn’t have to be a point-to-point connection. Ethernet can be used to connect any number of remote offices, data centers, branches, etc. With an Ethernet connection, you don’t have trouble with other traffic on the connection, and it’s useful for connecting your primary servers to discreet locations.
Ethernet connections are designed so that if any point of the connection is damaged, the traffic is rerouted automatically around the damage, so it’s not often that users experience significant downtime when using Ethernet, at least locally. The service provider is responsible for maintaining and repairing the Ethernet right up to the point where it connects to your router, so most businesses incur no additional charges for maintaining their connections.
The downsides to Ethernet include bandwidth limits, and a lack of accessibility between cities that are geographically separated (at least, most of the time). Also, across long distances, latency becomes an issue with Ethernet connections.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Dark Fiber
Dark fiber is ideal for providing point-to-point connectivity, and can often be cheaper than Ethernet. It offers very low latency, low overhead, and high throughput. Dark fiber is ideal in environments where no network protocol is needed, where special network protocols are required, and when a number of different network protocols are necessary.
The downside is that dark fiber is only available where it is already in place. It isn’t always offered between the points you need it to be. When using dark fiber over long distances, amplifiers are necessary, which need maintenance, increasing the price of the service. Additionally, there is always a chance that the fiber optic cables will be damaged at some point between your locations, and repair times can be significant. Dark fiber also usually requires more maintenance costs, often driving the price of fiber above what you would pay for Ethernet service.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Wavelength Services
Wavelength services are usually even cheaper than dark fiber, but are similar to dark fiber otherwise in both advantages and disadvantages. Additionally, bandwidth is generally more limited with wavelength services than with dark fiber, and downtime can be lengthy with wavelength services as with dark fiber. However, when the cables are in place, it can be a more affordable solution for point-to-point connectivity.
Making a Decision on Network Access
There’s a reason why Ethernet surpassed fiber optic cables. It’s the best solution for most customers most of the time. However, if you have special network protocol needs, require more bandwidth or lower latency than your Ethernet service offers, and the fiber cables are in place between your locations, talk to your service provider about saving money with dark fiber or wavelength services.
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