Why Caring About the ‘Middle Mile’ Will Help You Increase Enterprise Network Performance

By Michael Davies, Director of WAN Services Product Management at GTT.

With an ever-increasing rate of public cloud adoption and people working remotely, optimising the many routes data travels over the internet is ever more paramount for businesses. Often, internet buyers put a great deal of energy into considering what is commonly called the ‘last mile’ route for their data to travel through. As part of this process, they will evaluate key connectivity performance aspects, such as bandwidth, resilience, price and security. However, the so-called ‘middle mile’ is just as crucial a part of the route data takes and needs to be equally seamless.

Unseen and lesser known than its ‘last mile’ counterpart, it is in fact the middle mile that is generally responsible for carrying traffic the bulk of the distance across the internet. In essence, the middle mile is the route made up of the high-capacity IP backbone connections that your data takes at any given time as it moves from point to point around the globe. The middle mile hands off or picks up traffic where it connects with the last mile, ideally at the nearest point-of-presence (PoP) facility to where the data is processed.

Understanding how the middle mile works and why it is important to the way your business internet performs is a task in itself. But the experience your users have when connecting to cloud-based applications depends very much on the choices your business makes in regards to the middle-mile aspects of its cloud-connectivity strategy.

In this article, we delve into the what, why, and how of middle-mile management and its importance to your enterprise network’s performance and reliability.

Understanding the middle mile

The internet comprises multiple interconnected Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that operate networks, which are individually owned and managed. There are thousands of such networks. The middle mile can be described as a combination of multiple ISP networks that traffic may have to traverse on its way from one end of the internet to the another. These ISP networks are informally categorised as Tier 1, 2 or 3 networks — with Tier 1 generally being the largest and most global and Tier 3 the most local.

However, if traffic has to travel across a number of differing ISPs of various tiers (1, 2, or 3), then it will be subject to challenges. These challenges stem from how those individual networks route the data/traffic, where those networks interconnect and what points of congestion exist within and between those networks. One key issue that may arise is latency. The longer the route the data must traverse, the bigger the risk of latency. An enterprise connecting to a Tier 3 network may, for example, see its cloud traffic route to multiple Tier 2s, then a Tier 1, and then finally to the cloud provider. These extra hops can result in unreliable, end-to-end network performance that negatively impacts user experience.

For enterprises moving from traditional private MPLS-based networks to internet-based WANs, the quality of the internet is particularly relevant. Such moves are often

made to reap the benefits in cost savings, agility and cloud connectivity that the internet can provide. To avoid challenges and make the MPLS-to-Internet WAN transition simpler, businesses can choose to use a single Tier 1 provider that is able to provide a more direct route from one end of the internet to the other.

This choice ultimately allows for better route management, capacity and reliability and allows the enterprise to maintain a level of control from end to end. It is fundamental to have the right services in place so that the way data/traffic is routed via multiple PoPs within the middle mile ensures a smoother route.

How can businesses get better performance from the middle mile?

Here are five tips to make sure your business’ middle mile is in the best possible shape:

· Work with a top-ranked, Tier 1 ISP – Having a provider with direct control over the middle mile helps businesses avoid unexpected challenges, as they can minimise latency by sticking to one ISP network from one end to the other.

· Adopt networking fit for the internet age – GTT owns and operates a global, modern IP network that can deliver both MPLS and internet services, making it ideally suited to support the transition from MPLS to internet and hybrid MPLS/internet networks.

· Look for a provider with a strong PoP roster – Choosing a provider with globally distributed PoPs can ensure more stability, less latency and a smoother route to the destination point. With hundreds of PoPs across 140 countries, GTT can provide connectivity to any location in the world and every application in the cloud.

· Have last-mile flexibility as a priority – When it comes to last-mile connectivity, choosing a provider willing to offer a broad range of local access partners can help ensure you have the flexibility and agility you need to balance your cost-performance-risk needs and tolerances on a per-site basis.

· Take an intelligent approach – Adding SD-WAN technology to help manage your traffic will help you intelligently and dynamically adjust to network changes and traffic flows. SD-WAN ensures that traffic takes the quickest and most direct route to its destination.

The middle mile is your secret to cloud application performance success

Your cloud strategy needs the right connectivity to succeed. Placing a Tier 1 network provider like GTT at the centre of your cloud connectivity infrastructure enables your traffic to ride across a network backbone to the desired PoPs before travelling across the last mile to the service destination. It ensures low-latency connectivity and secure, private connections to cloud service providers. Your chosen provider should also offer extensive local access partnerships, providing you with the freedom to select any last-mile service.

When shaping your cloud connectivity strategy, paying attention to the middle mile should be high on your agenda. A reliable middle mile that avoids congestion and routes traffic effectively around the internet’s core will help deliver a better performance for your enterprise network and your users

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