Net neutrality and the corporate IT infrastructure

As discussions once again come to the forefront concerning the Internet and net neutrality, we feel compelled to raise the issue of what this might portend for the corporate network, especially since the current focus on consumer-based services could easily shift to commercial services.

As you're doubtlessly aware, the issue is whether the ISPs can/should give preferential treatment to traffic to and/from given sites (or conversely stated to degrade/limit traffic from certain sites).  And for the corporate IT infrastructure, this could have a major impact in several areas.

One of the first areas of impact would, of course, be Internet-based VPNs by which organizations have over the past 10 or so years been able to take advantage of extremely inexpensive bandwidth and have received better-than-expected results in most cases.

This usage is widespread for companies of all sizes. According to some of our recent research, 48% of the respondents to a survey indicated that their companies used "Internet-based VPNs with T-1/T-3/OC-3/OC-12 for access" and 54% indicated use of  "Internet-based VPNs with DSL/cable for access" either "Some," "Quite a bit," or "Extensively."

The issue with net neutrality and Internet-based VPNs is that there is absolutely no QoS guarantee. So, without these guarantees, one or more ISPs could arbitrarily decide to start limiting bandwidth between sites and there's little that can be done about it. After all, even though you may have a single ISP as your provider, there are no guarantees that your traffic stays on that ISP's network from end-to-end.

This becomes even scarier when you consider dependence on a cloud-based service that is accessed via the Internet. For example, most access to Salesforce.com at this point is via the Internet. Just as the current consumer controversy is primarily surrounding access to sites like those providing movies – which could be viewed as charging fairly for resources used (optimistic view) or protecting other revenue streams (cynical view) – an ISP could decide to limit access via the Internet for anything from Salesforce to a cloud-based VoIP service.

Our bottom line take on this is that wise organizations will be making contingency plans and be ready for changes in "almost free" Internet access as needed. For instance, if a cloud-based service is critical to your business, you need to have access options in addition to the Internet on standby. The future is just too uncertain right now.

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