Network solutions: Bridges and VPN
One of the many problems when you expand your business is a problem of extension of your network to another site. You might simply want the other site to have an Internet connection or you also can make entire LAN and its resources available to the other site. For those purposes you may simply request a new connection from an Internet Provider (IP) or use a bridge. Let’s take a closer look on these options.
IP and VPN
You can install a network and arrange an Internet connection with an IP (Internet Provider). Now you as an owner pay a monthly fee for two connections, which would be around £40 a month for an additional connection. In addition, you would have to set up a VPN (Virtual Personal Network) to connect two LANs together, which requires special routers, fixed IP address (for additional £15 a month) and a team of highly trained monkeys to set up and maintain this whole ridiculous thing. Well, sometimes it is quite a good solution – VPN is widely deployed in banking: it’s secure and allows you a certain degree of mobility. However, it might me quite costly for small businesses.
What is a bridge? A network bridge is software or hardware that connects two or more networks so that they can communicate. Simple.
As it has been said bridge could be a piece of hardware or software. But you will need a piece of hardware, a computer, for a software bridge anyway, that is connected to both networks. And you simply drag wires to connect networks to the computer. But do take into account that it is something that, again, needs maintenance.
The most reliable way, however, would be to use a dedicated piece of hardware. This is a special “box” where you plug your cables in, sort of a switch. Traditional bridges support one network boundary, whereas switches usually offer four or more hardware ports. Switches are sometimes called “multiport bridges” for this reason. They are much cheaper, easier to set up and maintain, compared to a computer.
But it is not always possible to connect two sites with wires. Then you might need to use a wireless bridge for this purpose. Wireless bridge is a set of two directional antennas. Some of them are able to communicate on a distance up to 10 km, but you would need to make sure that there is a clear line of sight between both of them, no obstructions, no trees or walls. Sounds very convenient, but, nevertheless, I repeat, the most reliable way would be a hardware bridge, with wires connecting both sites.
A model we have recently used is UBIQUITI NanoStation Loco M5. It is compact, weather resistant and easy to install.
We will exclude the price for wiring, as it is a variable and any type of connection will require some of it.
Separate Internet connection would cost you around £40 p/m [some Internet providers offer a special Business connection which will cost you around £300 p/m (For example Virgin offers one for £400 p/m)], £15 for a static IP address, VPN compatible routers from £50 to £150, but main cost of this setup is your trained staff. Weather you decide to employ someone on a permanent basis to set up and maintain VPN or have a contract with IT suppot company that will cost you a lot.
Software Bridge: you may find a computer for as little as £200, but security, maintenance, power consumption will make a significant topping to this price. That makes the least reliable solution the most expensive one. However, again, you will need some quilified staff looking after this set up.
Switch (or bridge), on the other hand, would cost you only £20-50. While a wireless bridge would be slightly more expensive, £40-100 per unit, that makes £80-200 in total. Maintenance is required, but in significally smaller degree.
We can see that the bridge could be the best solution price-wise as well as reliability-wise for small businesses. Howewer, big compnies who have already IT personel emplyed may benefit from using VPN.