The most dynamic, digital enterprises need a different approach to networking.

When enterprise workloads were little more than batches of data, it didn’t really matter how fast or flexible the network was.

But when you’re dealing with AI making complex decisions in real time, IoT implementations that span several kilometers and advanced analytics use cases, your network needs to be able to deal with highly variable demands.

By time of day, by volume of data, by latency requirements.

It’s why it’s so vital that enterprises have a diverse range of access methods. The real problem is that while most enterprises think they have access diversity, they really don’t.

Availability is key.

What hasn’t changed for dynamic, digital enterprises is the mission-critical need for reliability. If anything, the more dynamic your workloads are, the more important it becomes that your network is available.

It’s why so many enterprises maintain primary and secondary (or backup) wide area networks (WANs) for critical communications, so that in the event one network drops out, the company can failover to the secondary network uninterrupted.

If not, it can bring a company’s communications and operations to a screeching halt. In the case of vast logistical operations, every second without availability has a direct impact on the bottom line.

But what if your backup isn’t as fail-safe as you thought? Whether they know it or not, this is where far too many businesses find themselves, and it’s only a matter of time before they suffer as a result.

True diversity happens at the last mile.

You may have two separate service providers, but that doesn’t guarantee full network access if the primary one goes down. If both those service providers are using the same circuit from the same local access service provider, they have the same last mile connectivity—and your network has a single point of failure. So if one goes down, they both go down.

It’s surprisingly common for providers to use the same access network for the last mile, so that’s a realistic possibility.

Even if other parts of the network are successfully backed up when the primary one fails, it still means that if the last mile of connectivity fails, your business is powerless to prevent the damage. And that’s a problem.

Not only could it lead to costly downtime, but it brings other factors into play:

  • You’re paying for dual network access, but shared last mile connectivity negates its value. Which means you’re probably overpaying.
  • You have lower network availability than you thought, increased risk and less flexibility

For many organizations where the operations are truly critical—in industries such as transportation, healthcare, and financial services for instance—the network access they count on may actually be an illusion.

Here’s the problem, using a power utility as an example. This utility has two major WAN service providers, one delivering the primary network and the other the secondary. In those rare instances where the primary provider has a problem, switching to the secondary can be done so quickly and smoothly that it’s barely noticeable.

But they use the same last mile circuit, and if it fails, both the primary and secondary providers will be down.

That’s why the utility opted to replace that single circuit with an MPLS and Ethernet network to provide access diversity and ensure maximum availability and uptime.

This type of network arrangement is surprisingly common. WANs tend to have resiliency, and many types of failure can be repaired quickly without a technician visit.

In contrast, local network failures tend to have a great risk of single points of failure and typically require field dispatches, requiring more time for repair. And a local outage in an environment such as an airport or other large operation can completely choke off critical data traffic.

The solution to this network diversity problem is simple: deploy other local options that can serve as an alternative to the local exchange carrier. These can provide a completely separate circuit, ensuring that there are not only two WAN providers, but two local network paths as well.

And there’s no lack of access diversity options available: Microwave ethernet, MSO fiber ethernet, Satellite access, MSO cable broadband, LTE/5G broadband and Metro Fiber ethernet can all be used as backup access diversity if your primary network fails.

They all vary in terms of reliability, simplicity, cost, speed and bandwidth, and it is worth investigating which will best suit your company’s specific needs.

Fixed wireless (4G/5G) access is a great choice for back-up or secondary connectivity, especially for small sites that need to be spun up quickly. But larger network deployments that require maximum performance and high bandwidth would benefit from more traditional access options like Ethernet

Crucially, true diversity eliminates the single point of failure—which can be catastrophic for your business.

100 percent SLA is possible. Really. 

If you really want 100 percent network access (who doesn’t?), you need to buy two separate networks, with two different WAN providers routing traffic through two different access providers.

It’s not complicated—and it should be expected of WAN providers.

Another option is to choose a single WAN provider, but one that uses two separate local access paths – one through a traditional local exchange carrier and the other via an alternate fiber or microwave provider.

As long as that WAN provider uses two different access routes, connecting them at geographically and logically separate entry points into its network, it can offer essentially never-failing availability.

These approaches may not be the cheapest, but they are the best. They deliver a far more reliable network architecture than maintaining two WAN providers that both rely on a single common local access connection, and could cause costly outages if that connection fails.

As long as there is a potential single point of failure in your network, your company remains at risk. It can be costly to ensure complete reliability and network availability, but if your business can’t afford any downtime, true access diversity is worth the investment.