• United States

Connecting remote offices

Dec 02, 20023 mins

Nutter helps a user who needs advice on connecting remote offices scattered across the country.

My company has three offices – one in Manhattan, one in San Francisco and the other in Atlanta. Which is the best way to connect these remote branches together?

– Via the Internet

The answer is – it depends. What may be best for one company may not be the best option for another company. First you need to identify what kind of traffic you will be passing between locations. If it will be just e-mail and some file transfers, that will indicate a moderate amount of bandwidth (i.e., 256k to 384k for example). Depending on the size of the e-mail attachments or file transfers, you might need a larger pipe such as a T-1 or fractional T-3. If you are looking at videoconferencing or connecting the PBXs you have at the offices using voice-over-IP technology, you’ll want to look at at least a T-1, possibly more, depending on the amount of traffic in these remote offices.

Once you decide on the bandwidth, the next thing to examine is connecting the sites. You can install direct point-to-point circuits or use frame relay to connect the offices together. This is usually expensive as the costs are based, to a degree, on the distance between locations. You’ll need to be pretty versed in troubleshooting with the local exchange carriers or long-distance carriers you choose to provide the service as they may think a circuit is fine between two locations when it is actually having a problem. An alternative is to look at a managed service. Look closely at how this is defined by each carrier you evaluate. Some carriers will manage everything up to and including the router, so all you have to do connect your network at each office to the supplied router and you’ll see the other offices. This option comes at a price, but depending on your telco skills, it may be a good option to consider.

A popular option for the past several years is to link sites together with VPNs. This typically involves a local connection to the Internet and the use of some type of VPN appliance to build an encrypted connection from one office to another. As with how to connect your offices, using a VPN to connect locations can be expensive, but cheaper than running point-to-point circuits. There are several vendors in this area that can help you put together a VPN and even route that traffic over their own networks so you aren’t competing with other traffic on the Internet to get your data from one office to another. I know it doesn’t seem like I have gone into a lot of detail but there are several different ways you can do this. Talk to different providers and tell them what you’re looking to do. Look at the questions they ask to find the right solution for you and see if they’re giving you the best option or are just pulling a canned package off the shelf and selling it to you.