Senior Strategy Manager for Fixed Connectivity, Vodafone Business
There are lots of different ways of looking at networks. You can see them as ways of bringing things together, or as a means of communication. Some consider them to be an essential utility and others think of them as a medium for entertainment.
For me, I don’t want people to think about the network at all. I want them to be completely unaware that they’re using an incredibly complex series of routers, configurations, cables and radio waves. I want the network to be invisible.
Now, in order for that to happen, it needs to work well. If the experience of accessing applications or content is poor, the network often takes the blame. But, if everything works seamlessly and you can connect in real-time, no-one stops to consider the component parts that have come together to make this a reality.
So, let’s look at one way of compartmentalising the network and how each one impacts your experience. This is what we’re going to be describing – the three miles to the cloud:
The last mile
The first part we tend to look at is, counter-intuitively, the last mile. This is the part of the network path that connects a customer site to the service provider’s core network. This is usually a physical building called a Point of Presence, or a PoP. This is where service providers like us have lots of network equipment and high-speed uplinks to our core network.
Now, the last mile is the area most susceptible to challenges. There are lots of reasons for this, but the biggest is the relative lack of resilience.
From the PoP onwards, service providers like us, operate huge amounts of capacity. We use multiple routes to connect our core locations together so if one breaks, we can just shift traffic to another one.
This level of resilience isn’t a common deployment model for individual sites. This means that the impact of a cable break, or a router issue, is far higher to the customer.
The last mile is also usually the smallest in terms of bandwidth because it is just there to support a single site. Most circuits will be in the range of 10Mbps to 10Gbps, depending on the requirements of the site. Some scale to 100Gbps for sites such as data centres, but these are in the minority.
The middle mile
The middle mile is often the longest of the three in geographic terms. It can span countries and continents, providing the bridge between you and your application, wherever it is. But, it’s also important to note that it could just link to the next PoP a few kilometres down the road.
Either way, you will be using a high-speed, resilient set of network connections to stitch the two outer miles together.
One thing that is common across all miles is the type of network – it will either be a public one (the Internet) or a private one. The architecture is the same regardless, but there are a couple of minor differences.
The big one is that for the Internet, the middle mile might cross more than one Internet Service Provider (ISP). This can cause performance issues so it’s important to find an ISP with the right levels of peering and presence.
The first mile
Up last is, naturally, the first mile. This is the part of the path that connects the network provider to the application provider.
In 2021, the application will frequently be living in the cloud, but it could also be in a private data centre or head office. Either way, the first mile is all about handing off responsibility for the traffic from the network owner to the application owner.
As with the middle mile, the first mile is normally a high performing, resilient part of the infrastructure. It can support lots of users and lots of applications. There will also be resilient connections, meaning that there is a reduced risk of outages or impacts to the performance.
The end of the road?
There you have it. The three miles to the cloud. Each one is important and can decide whether or not your connection succeeds or fails.
That’s why it is important to partner with a business that understands each and works hard to ensure a smooth experience for you and your customers.