Battle of the Global Backbones: What are Your Options?

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 Internet MPLS Cloud Network

Global Optimization

Packet Loss

No Yes Yes

Routing and Latency

No Yes Yes

Global Coverage

Complete Broad Expanding

Resource Access Optimization

Physical Locations

Yes Yes Yes

Hybrid Cloud

No No Yes

Public Cloud Apps

No No Yes

Mobile Users

No No Yes



No No Yes

Cyber Threats

No No Yes


Rapid Deployment

Yes No Yes

Policy-based Routing

No No Yes

End-to-End Analytics

No Yes Yes


Low High Medium