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Mobile Data Meets Infrastructure--The Time Has Come

The usual scenarios discussed for mobile data tend to involve either single-user connectivity or mobile hotspots, and rarely get into the notion of using mobile links for "important" business connections. But that is changing, as more manufacturers work the value afforded by fast-enough carrier-provided network connections into their feature sets and more customers buy in. Whether used in a primary service role, or more commonly as wireless failover, 3G and 4G data links provide some interesting options to those who build networks.

With throughputs that rival or exceed other broadband services, the mobile carriers provide a new option when it comes to architecting and administering business networks. For the small business or branch setting that can get a decent plan, a 4G connection can be more than enough of a pipe to the rest of the world, allowing for extremely low operational costs by reducing wiring and complexity of topology. This isn’t exactly a big deal in and of itself, but does herald changes that are coming from other directions. That mobile data might be a good fit for small businesses is somewhat interesting, but there’s a bigger story here with mobile networks playing a part in enterprise networks.

Recently I kicked the tires on SonicWall small-business-class security appliances, and also installed yet another small-site Meraki site-to-site VPN. Sure enough, both vendors ship gear with a USB connection for a 3G or 4G modem. Usually the premise is simple, in that if the primary ISP connection is lost, the mobile data option automatically takes over. As mobile connectivity gets more robust, it’s quite possible that the failover path is actually faster than the "preferred" wire link.

In my case, I have a couple of 50-Mbps-down/5-Mbps-up remote links that are the biggest available by the local wired carriers. When comparing cost and symmetry of throughput for both the uplink and downlink on a path that serves in a site-to-site VPN role, the mobile carrier options do get more interesting, with only subscription price and variability of performance if you are in a frequently saturated cell being potential buzzkills.

Beyond the ISP role, there is another side to mobile service in support of the business network. I recently had the pleasure of spending some time talking with folks from Opengear, a company that specializes in infrastructure management. Opengear lives in the world of power management, data center monitoring for environmentals and the like, remote site management, and more. After getting the very interesting rundown on the company's second consecutive year of providing management and monitoring for the complex data center environment for Interop (which takes place in early May, in Las Vegas), we got into the nitty-gritty of the cellular side of its product portfolio.

From case studies of far-flung backup generators sounding the low-fuel alarm through the right combination of Opengear sensors and cellular modem to routine out-of-band management application for up to 16 network devices through a 3G modem, Opengear got my wheels turning on the many possibilities for monitoring critical parts of the network wirelessly, not relying on your own network for transport.

One of Opengear's most impressive case studies is an implementation along the Ipswich Motorway in Australia. Along 8 kilometers of roadway, more than 40 cabinets are equipped with fiber connectivity backed up by Opengear’s wireless alerting gear. Regardless of fiber integrity, each location has enjoyed "always up" connectivity for SMS and email alerting on flood conditions and other causes for concern. Even when fibre is compromised, Opengear’s stuff provides access to real-time and recorded video from afar, and has saved countless man-hours in travel to each cabinet just to check on things.

As a builder and maintainer of networks of varying complexity and size, I am definitely starting to ponder where mobile data can be leveraged in my world. I know I’m not the first to go down this road, but it’s still pretty fascinating.

I have no relationship with these vendors beyond the brief mention of Meraki.