Maintaining Network Access at Widespread Locations Requires Flexible Approach
Enterprises today need network connectivity in every nook and cranny of their distributed branch sites. Staff needs range from VoIP and inventory management to real-time surveillance and cloud-based apps, while customers expect digital Point-of-Sale (POS), in-store e-commerce, digital signage, guest WiFi, and much more. As a result, traditional MPLS-based wide area networks (WANs) have been pushed beyond their limits.
Constant WAN uptime and the ability to quickly respond to changing demands are more important than ever before. Meanwhile, many network administrators and IT managers are being asked to manage all of this without adding personnel or increasing their man-hours.
Organizations that have expansive network needs at branch sites but also have relatively small IT teams need branch continuity: the ability to keep the branch up and running at all times.
Addressing Network Availability Challenges at the Branch
With the ever-growing needs and finite IT resources of enterprises that operate branch sites, optimal branch continuity requires WAN path diversity that is highly reliable, flexible, and cost-effective, and that can be managed from anywhere. Many enterprises have moved from MPLS to broadband Internet for primary connectivity, with LTE — and eventually 5G — serving as the backup, or failover, link. Here’s why:
Cellular towers don’t reside in a trench with wired links, so when backhoes accidentally sever lines, LTE is unaffected. Cellular serves as a resilient WAN link in poor weather conditions. Also, compared to wired connectivity, many enterprises actually report better reliability and performance with wireless WAN.
Variables such as geographic location, proximity of ISPs, existing infrastructure, and more make every branch setup unique. Organizations with sites spread all over the map can use LTE-enabled solutions that support multiple SIMs and carriers in one embedded modem to react to signal fluctuations and location adjustments quickly and easily, without setting foot on-site.
Some wired and wireless routers have dual modems, providing the flexibility to perform load balancing, set up cellular-to-cellular failover, or even leverage SD-WAN technologies for automated traffic steering.
Widely distributed enterprises often spend excessive man-hours managing dozens of ISPs throughout the U.S. and the world. The ubiquity of cellular carriers can drastically streamline an organization’s roster of WAN providers, enabling enterprises to share data across all LTE connections and to spend far less time and resources managing Internet contracts.
Additionally, some carriers are beginning to trial flat-rate business data plans that work like a cable subscription; the enterprise selects its bandwidth and receives a flat rate every month. Flat rates will greatly expand the breadth of companies for whom wireless WAN is a cost-effective option.
Managers who oversee multiple WANs at dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of branches can’t afford to constantly visit each site or send frequent truck rolls. Cloud management platforms give remote visibility into and analytics of data usage by each router on the network. IT professionals in charge can reduce costs by immediately recognizing and responding to trends in signal strength, signal quality, and other metrics.
Ways to Achieve Branch Continuity
Branch continuity solutions provide seamless failover functionality to ensure maximum uptime in various situations.
Cradlepoint’s enterprise-class LTE adapter converts LTE to Ethernet by providing the existing primary router with a second WAN connection that acts like a wired link but is not reliant on last-mile connectivity in a trench.
Brooks Brothers deployed this solution in its North American stores, providing nonstop primary and failover connectivity for critical applications using cellular WAN. This approach enables the organization to leverage AT&T and Verizon through the same device based on multi-SIM functionality. LTE combined with wired broadband gives Brooks Brothers the highly reliable, low-latency WAN connectivity critical for retail store operations and an optimal customer experience.
Connection & Router Redundancy
Connection redundancy is very important, but what is the backup plan when the primary router itself malfunctions? An all-in-one wired and wireless router that supports Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol (VRRP), a layer 3 protocol, can serve as a backup hardware solution for the primary router.
With a Cradlepoint branch router serving as a backup device, if the primary router goes offline, enterprises can have instant WAN failover and router failover simultaneously through VRRP. This solution automatically takes over all network duties and serves as the primary router — with the LAN and WAN uninterrupted.
When a primary router at a remote location goes offline, there are only a few options for getting it up and running. Sending an IT professional on-site can be costly, time-consuming, and unsustainable. Enterprises traditionally have used Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) for Out-of-Band Management (OOBM), which is challenging because POTS lines are slow, expensive, and unreliable.
With one of Cradlepoint’s LTE-enabled bridge adapters or branch routers connected to a primary router via the Ethernet and console ports, enterprises can utilize cloud-based OOBM, eliminating the need for POTS lines. When a primary router fails, IT professionals can troubleshoot the problem remotely through cloud access to the command-line interface (CLI). It’s a secure solution that doesn’t require in-bound secure shell (SSH) or publicly routable static IP addresses that are susceptible to cyber attacks.
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