Hierarchical structures show up in numerous areas of business, technology and society at large. The various internet service providers (ISPs) of enterprise-scale dedicated internet access (DIA) are ranked using such a framework, divided into Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 – in descending order of scope and raw connective power. Only an organization with the scale, infrastructure and resources to earn classification as a Tier 1 ISP is capable of offering truly globe-spanning DIA. That's the basic gist of it, at least. But there's considerably more you will need to know if seeking to establish a relationship with a telecommunications vendor that can set you up with Tier 1 connectivity and all the advantages it offers.
For our inaugural "Techtorial," we present you with a deep dive into the ins and outs of DIA across the three tiers to argue for the unmatched value of Tier 1 networking and help you make the most informed decisions regarding your organization's telecom needs.
If you envision the internet as a massive building, it logically follows that Tier 1 networks (and all their related infrastructure) represent the foundation. The internet couldn't exist as a global presence without networks of this scope that can connect to any other network (or other online destination) in the world.
Tier 1 networks include some organizations that are household names to consumers worldwide and others that are best known in B2B circles at the enterprise scale: AT&T, CenturyLink, Telia, Tata Communications, Verizon, Orange and GTT, to name just a few. Altogether, fewer than 20 Tier 1 ISPs exist worldwide, and together - functioning as an effective oligopoly - they form the basis for the vast majority of internet activity on Earth.
While these organizations certainly compete with one another in many ways, they cooperate to share web traffic on a massive scale via contracts known as peering agreements. Based on mutual need, which often stems from covering the same geographical area(s), facilitating the same volume
of traffic and other similarities, various Tier 1 providers agree to help one another connect themselves and their clients to the internet. Companies at the Tier 1 level often do this for each other at little or no cost, which is why the process is sometimes called settlement-free peering. As we will explore in greater detail shortly, ISPs from Tiers 2 and 3 cannot share peering in this manner.
A business seeking DIA services that meet its traffic requirements and facilitate reliable connectivity is by no means obligated to choose a Tier 1 organization as its ISP. Companies the world over solicit Tier 2 and 3 providers for this purpose and do absolutely fine with such networks. However, any organization operating at even the lower end of the enterprise scale will typically be best served by Tier 1 providers due to the sheer scope of the IP: It allows such organizations to handle traffic at high volumes, with a stable performance level, whether their communications are flying back and forth between two states or two continents.
As alluded to above, the first major difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2 networks (and their respective providers) is scale. With some exceptions, even the largest Tier 2 networks are considerably smaller than their Tier 1 counterparts in terms of geographical reach and capacity. Most Tier 2 networks operate in single countries or regions.
That fact brings us to the second major contrast between Tiers 1 and 2 - the latter must pay for the privilege in terms of peering and IP transit, usually by negotiating deals with one or two providers that belong to the former category. (As the various issues between Cogent and more than a few of its partners prove, this process can sometimes lead to contentiousness and even enmity, but it is not the norm; it typically is only a matter of settling on pricing and breadth of services.)
Tier 2 providers are thus the primary downstream IP clients for Tier 1s - and in turn, they typically serve as the main source of IP transit for Tier 3 ISPs. That said, Tier 3 companies can (and sometimes do) go directly to Tier 1 ISPs for their transit.
The organizations that are designated as Tier 3 often solely serve as "last-mile providers," offering local internet access mostly to residential and small commercial customers. Additionally, the Tier 2 and Tier 3 designations are sometimes considered interchangeable - and given how limited their resources are by comparison to organizations at Tier 1, they effectively are.
Tier 1 ISPs' initial value proposition is that they offer a broader global reach than Tier 2 or 3 ISPs, because of their settlement-free peering agreements with other businesses on their level. Any multinational or international enterprise-level business will most likely need the room to breathe that Tier 1s provide based on their scope, and these large ISPs can offer this exact kind of raw networking power - at much more competitive prices than their lower-tiered counterparts.
Also, when managing traffic on a global or near-global scale, enterprises' network administrators need as much control as they possibly can get. By taking advantage of DIA at the Tier 1 level, the number (and diversity) of routes available to them means that admins can exert that high level of control. This results in a more reliable experience for the end user - and a better one overall for organizations.
Furthermore, for any company that aims to implement a cutting-edge networking solution such as software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) and use it to its fullest potential, Tier 1 DIA is all but mandatory to put as much power as possible behind it. (For companies sticking to MPLS, or placing an SD-WAN overlay atop that infrastructure, Tier 1 also helps make the most of things.)
Customers of Tier 1 ISPs only need to deal with one provider - at least for DIA - if they so choose. By contrast, Tier 2 and 3 enterprise users must deal with a host of different vendors and endure all the red tape and confusion that results. Tier 1 DIA providers pool bandwidth across clients sites so it can be aggregated across offices and facilities more easily, unlike the scattershot performance that results from a using coterie of Tier-2s and Tier-3s for the same purpose.
Tier 1 is without a doubt the best DIA option for any enterprise-scale business looking to oversee its network traffic across large swaths of the globe, without sacrificing performance and at a reasonable bottom-line cost.
GTT Communications has the points of presence and infrastructure to provide
customers with Tier 1 DIA across more than 140 countries - as well as a great deal of other telecom services, including SD-WAN, MPLS, public, private and hybrid cloud services, equipment configuration and more. Contact us today to learn more about our Tier 1 DIA and other offerings.
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