A few years ago, the idea of using the public Internet as the primary network connection at MasterCard International's branch offices wouldn't have been a serious option. Today, some of the financial services company's smaller offices are doing exactly that. For those locations, the Internet has become the access point for data entry, email and other internal functions.
Vice-president of engineering services, Jim Hull, said, all of those functions were supportable because end-to-end reliability and performance had improved to the point where the Internet was now good enough.
MasterCard isn't the only organisation to take notice. "The Internet is improving in its performance and in its price point," associate technical fellow and network chief architect at The Boeing Co, Doug Hill, said. "We're using it a lot more than we used to."
In addition to supporting smaller remote offices, Boeing even ran some voice-over-IP traffic over the Internet, although broader adoption would need to wait for quality-of-service (QoS) functions to evolve, Hill said.
By using the Internet, both companies cut operating costs because the traffic no longer moves over ISDN, leased lines or other private network services.
"Enterprises are increasingly interested in Internet substitution. They're finding that they can offload a great deal of [network traffic]," Burton Group analyst, David Passmore, said. Today, the Internet is chipping away at the periphery of the private network services that make up global networks. As the Internet continues to evolve, more of corporate IT's global traffic will be routed over it.
Although the Internet is likely to play a bigger role in corporate networks, it isn't likely to replace private network services anytime soon. Among the limitations are a lack of QoS capabilities needed for multimedia applications and relatively weak security.
Faster, Better, Cheaper
"The Internet is larger than it was five years ago by a factor of at least five," co-inventor of the Internet and chief Internet evangelist at Google, Vinton Cerf, said. "It continues to function reliably, and the underlying systems have higher absolute capacity."
Long-term studies of the Internet back up Cerf's assessment. At Stanford University, International Committee for Future Accelerators tests show that the global reliability of the Internet has been improving by 40 -50 per cent annually, while performance has increased at an annual rate of 10-20 per cent. Even carriers acknowledge the growing role of the Internet. "Performance on the Internet is great," vice-president of network architecture and enterprise technologies at Verizon Communication, Stu Elby, said.
But the Internet still can't deliver for critical applications that require a guaranteed QoS, and it doesn't offer the same level of security as private network services.
"What we haven't gotten is services and features such as QoS. That's our motivation for building private infrastructures," Hill said. Boeing is well into a massive project to recreate its global private network services built on Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology. Carriers use the IP-based network service to tag and logically separate IP traffic into secure virtual private networks for different corporate clients, as well as to route traffic using the shortest possible path. Service providers see an MPLS-based infrastructure as a consolidation platform that lets them efficiently deliver all traffic types, including voice, video and data.