Battle of the Global Backbones: What are Your Options?

  • August 21, 2017

Globalization is driving enterprises of all sizes to expand internationally. Manufacturers create new facilities in Asia and Latin America and, more specifically, in China, behind the Great Firewall of China. Engineering firms need to extend corporate applications to their field personnel in temporary project sites. Retailers expand regionally to new countries where they have no existing footprint or IT capabilities. Professional services organization migrate to cloud services, such as Office 365, and need to rethink their global mobile connectivity as the sun sets on their regional distributed Exchange architecture. Young technology companies build global cloud footprints designed to deliver application services everywhere.

The common underlying theme underpinning globalization, is the need to keep businesses connected and secure. This is a tall order as the pace of business and the need for speed, agility, and cost control is critical to keeping the organization’s competitive edge.

What options are on the table to achieve optimized, secure connectivity at a global scale? There are three major options  — global MPLS, the public Internet and cloud networks.

The Public Internet

The Internet is the default backbone. It is the medium we use for our home and recreational activities. If the Internet underperforms occasionally, we accept it is as a fact of life. Enterprises that could not afford global MPLS had to use Internet-based services. IT often had to grapple with the inconsistency of the Internet due to its convoluted routing and susceptibility to packet loss. Unlike a short buffering on a Netflix movie, packet loss can severely impact business critical functions, such as Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) and remote desktops. In many cases, enterprises had to fragment their networks where key locations used MPLS connectivity while other locations, especially in remote regions, used site-to-site VPNs over the public Internet. Capital costs were reduced, but operational complexity increased and service delivery inconsistent.

Global MPLS Services

Large enterprises traditionally turned to global telecom providers to connect their international locations and enabled end-to-end connectivity using an MPLS service. The telcos’ MPLS offering included last mile services to the customer premise, a global backbone, and a set of guarantees around capacity, latency, packet loss and availability. This level of service required expensive underlying technology, sold at a high premium to enterprises that could afford it. One of the key drivers for the emerging SD-WAN solutions is to offload expensive MPLS bandwidth to the public internet for cost savings.

Cloud Networks

Cloud networks revolutionize global connectivity. Using software, commodity hardware, and excess capacity within global carrier backbones, cloud networks provide affordable SLA-backed connectivity at global scale. Cloud networks deploy edge devices to combine last mile transports, such as fiber, cable, xDSL, and 4G/LTE, to reach a regional point-of-presence (PoP). From the regional PoP, traffic is routed globally to the PoP closest to the destination using tier-1 and SLA-backed global carriers. By keeping the traffic on the same carrier backbone, packet loss is minimized, and latency can be guaranteed between global locations. This model extends to cloud services as well. Traffic to, Office 365, or cloud data centers, such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure, will exit at the PoP closest to these services, in many cases within the same datacenter hosting both the PoP and the cloud service instance. This is a dramatic improvement over the unpredictable public Internet and a significant cost saving vs the expensive MPLS option.

The table below summarizes some of the tradeoffs of these backbone approaches.

Public InternetMPLSCloud Network

Global Optimization

Packet Loss


Routing and Latency


Global Coverage


Resource Access Optimization

Physical Locations


Hybrid Cloud


Public Cloud Apps


Mobile Users





Cyber Threats



Rapid Deployment


Policy-based Routing


End-to-End Analytics



Dave Greenfield

Dave Greenfield

Dave is a veteran of IT industry. He’s spent more than 20 years as an award-winning journalist and independent technology consultant. Today, he serves as a secure networking evangelist for Cato Networks.

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Dave Greenfield

Author: Dave Greenfield

Dave is a veteran of IT industry. He’s spent more than 20 years as an award-winning journalist and independent technology consultant. Today, he serves as a secure networking evangelist for Cato Networks.