The Internet is down but who really fixed it?

The Internet is down. If you've been involved in networking for more than six months, you have probably heard this statement. You or one of your team sprang into action, identified the problem and resolved the issue.

"The Internet is back, the network guy[s] fixed it." And you didn't think you had any power. The Internet went down, and you fixed it!

In reality, you know the Internet did not go down. You also know your ability to affect its operation is close to nil. But that seemingly innocent and trivial misstatement is creating a misunderstanding that could potentially affect a company's revenue stream, profit and customer satisfaction.

To reduce operational costs, companies are evaluating Internet-based VPNs as an alternative for costly dedicated circuits. Internet-based VPNs have many advantages. They can reduce or eliminate lead times required for circuit installation. They let companies easily establish connectivity with business partners and provide a level of security compliant with most policies. And they enable literal global connectivity. If you can get Internet access, you can establish a VPN.

The one potential issue with VPNs is stability -- and here is where the confusion comes in. VPN supporters argue the Internet is fully redundant and has never gone down -- and they are correct. VPN opponents argue Internet connectivity can be unstable, with extended outages that can impact the revenue stream -- and they too are correct. How can both be right?

If the Internet is defined as the interconnection of multiple networks via network access points, Internet exchange points and ISP peering points, then it is correct to say that the Internet has never gone down. This global "network of networks" has never had an outage -- as a whole.

Outages have occurred in specific service provider networks, but as a whole the Internet has never gone down.

However, if the definition of the Internet includes the access connection into the network of networks, then the Internet can go down. Access problems are not unusual. A branch office asymmetric DSL (ADSL) connection can go down for a variety of issues. Since ADSL has much lower service levels than dedicated connectivity, an outage of 48 hours or more is not uncommon, which can affect the revenue stream.

But this does not mean VPNs are not a viable connectivity option. As noted above, the network of networks has proven to be very reliable and stable. It's the access method that can cause the problem.

Many people equate VPN connectivity with DSL access, but dedicated access methods such as frame relay, private line and ATM can still reduce costs while providing service levels equivalent to those of dedicated connectivity. By using site revenue generation as a guide and implementing dedicated access in high-revenue-generating locations with DSL utilized in sites that can accommodate an extended outage, you can create a corporate VPN network that reduces operational costs and still provides appropriate revenue stream protection.

Chuck Yoke is director of strategy and architecture for a global travel and real estate company.

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