Changing the conversation around ICT

Connectivity may have evolved, but investment in new infrastructure shouldn’t have to come at a heavy price.

According to Forrester, connectivity is the key enabler for agile services and customer-centric products and solutions. It’s a catalyst for innovation, an essential component of the infrastructure required to benefit from subscription-based models, and sits at the core of the organisation’s ability to innovate and pivot. This view is shared by Deloitte – the company points out that connectivity can ‘drive development of new products and services, transform inefficient operating models, and make digital transformation possible’.

As subscription-based solutions such as Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as- a-Service and Everything-as-a-Service continue to gain traction alongside deeper investment into public and hybrid cloud, connectivity has become the bedrock of commercial success. This is further driven by the rise of emergent technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things that have seeped steadily into infrastructure and innovation, providing inventive solutions to many persistent business problems. Automation is also gaining momentum – its ubiquity and cost-saving capabilities have already been proven in multiple operating environments. Each one of these solutions relies heavily on a reliable, transparent and powerful connectivity infrastructure to deliver results.

The Computer Weekly/TechTarget ‘IT Priorities Survey 2019’ found that network performance, network traffic and flow data were the key IT environmental factors under scrutiny by the IT buyer. Nearly half of respondents put upgrading their networking foundation at the top of their priority list. The business can no longer afford the luxury of being disconnected from the rest of the world – high-speed, reliable connectivity underpins growth and market reach.

The challenge facing the organisation as it moves away from the traditional weight of the MPLS network is not the availability of technology – SD-WAN has shifted gears considerably over the past two years – but rather the costs associated with its implementation. New technologies come with a price tag, one that rises the closer the solution comes to the so-called bleeding edge of innovation. It has to deliver return on investment that’s not at some far-off point in the financial future. It also has to consider the cost implications of remote offices, long distances, bandwidth, service provider and vendor, each one contributing a different layer to the budget and overall scope. Creep is easy; managing that creep, not so much.

Networking in the past was expensive. Today, SD-WAN is changing that, but not completely. Solutions can be negotiated, costs can be challenged in a competitive market, and the quality has improved dramatically. But there remains the risk of poorly optimised and badly specified implementations that end up being more expensive than the original network. To fully benefit from this new-found lease on connectivity life, without handing the financial benefit to someone else, the business has to work with reliable and capable last-mile connectivity partners, invest in well-managed and integrated support resources for ICT, and ensure ongoing visibility into all ICT expenditure.

Driving down the connectivity cost barrier

Strategic investment in a high-end connectivity solution was carefully managed to minimise expenditure and improve operational efficiency.

DMC, a market-leading South African debt collection company, had to invest in a new connectivity solution to drive costs down while increasing throughput. Re-negotiating the MPLS solution already in place had yielded minimal savings and didn’t provide the visibility and control that the company wanted. DMC had to consider alternative solutions that allowed for it to not only cut costs, but gain deeper control of its connectivity and the freedom to choose between multiple vendors.

“When we first decided to move away from MPLS, we wanted to see what solutions were available and went through all the major market players,” says Morné Owen, CIO, DMC. “We asked them about the possibility of an SDWAN solution and what they had to off er, but most were still busy looking at the technology and hadn’t yet come to terms with how they were planning to implement it.”

The vague answers did little to bolster the company’s confidence so Owen and his team moved from the service provider to the suppliers of SD-WAN solutions in the market in search of a solid solution that met their connectivity cost, visibility and control requirements. The process started out in 2017, and SD-WAN was a relatively new technology to the market, which meant that few companies understood its value or its implementation. To overcome this challenge, DMC partnered with CommsCloud, a managed IT infrastructure company, as it had the expertise and understanding required.

“We decided to investigate SD-WAN solutions back when there was a lot of talk about the technology, but not many implementations,” says Owen. “CommsCloud had helped us to reduce costs on a previous project and the team there had already established themselves as a trusted provider, so we leveraged their experience to find a solution that met our needs. At the time, we didn’t realise that we were sitting on the bleeding edge of the technology and this edge usually means that costs can spiral out of control. Fortunately, our ability to negotiate the best deal meant that this didn’t happen.”

The solution finally chosen for the project came from the Cisco stable of SD-WAN solutions – Cisco Meraki SD-WAN. The biggest switch bought by DMC for its SD-WAN platform was released the month the company started the implementation process – November 2017. Says Owen: “It was a bit more bleeding-edge than I would have liked, but the kit has proved itself.

“The biggest benefit of this solution is that we have end-to-end visibility into our lines,” he adds. “We like the control; we like being able to see where things break. The way in which the SD-WAN has been configured means that we can see exactly how traffic flows and this has opened up a whole new world. This fluidity and flexibility has eased our operational costs and reduced expensive downtime.”

The implementation refined how the company approaches large-scale implementations. DMC has walked away with a fully operational SD-WAN solution that has cut costs, improved connectivity and transformed operations.

“With this solution, we were also able to choose our connectivity suppliers and negotiate for the best possible price on our connectivity,” says Owen. “We had a saving in year one of 30% off our previous system. Coupled with that, we have a fully redundant solution with more control and visibility than ever before. Our connectivity costs, overall, have come down by 35% and our bandwidth has increased by 100% to 150% and delivered increased resiliency thanks to our multi-vendor approach.”

Manage connectivity expenditure, like a boss

Brainstorm: How can the business invest into a capable connectivity platform without breaking the bank?

Peter Walsh, MD, CommsCloud: Maximise the existing operational expenditure and optimise existing costs. This will free up cashflow for mission-critical projects. Then dump your MPLS VPN and migrate to SD-WAN and minimise the number of vendors you need to support without compromising your competitive edge.

Greg de Chasteauneuf, CTO, Saicom: Without a doubt, moving to SD-WAN as it’s ideal for connecting multiple branches into a single network dynamically and securely, and more cost-effectively than traditional networking solutions.

Hein Witte, specialised sales executive for Telecommunication Services, TSSA: The migration to a modern network and the operational costs of such a network over a period of time can be contracted in such a way that it’s completely predictable and flexible to accommodate business changes.

Neil Buckley, MD, Apex Business Intelligence: Be sure to negotiate. It’s a competitive market and there’s always wriggle room.

Brainstorm: What are some of the biggest costs associated with connectivity infrastructure today and which are the most important to ensure relevance and sustainability?

Michele McCann, head of Interconnection and Peering, Teraco: Terrestrial fibre costs are still high compared to Europe and Asia; however, it’s important to ensure that connectivity to the cloud, third parties and ISPs is always reliable. Fibre is here to stay.

Brian Timperley, MD and co-founder, Turrito Networks: The biggest costs are typically having a network over-architected, which happens when the service provider takes little interest in the customer’s actual requirements.

Peter Walsh, CommsCloud: Bad planning costs clients money all the time; so, too, does not managing your ISP, WAN provider, VoIP vendor, and PBX service provider billing and associated contracts effectively as these are the single biggest reasons why costs escalate in the business today.

Hein Witte, TSSA: Current corporate connectivity is costly due to the hierarchical design of a typical corporate network where all network traffic has to traverse the entire network to reach centralised systems and internet breakout.

Sean McCormick, MD, Globalstar Africa: Infrastructure, staff costs and goods available are resources that would contribute to the organisation’s bigger costs. You need to have good people who are productive and efficient in what they’re doing to remain sustainable in your business.

Neil Buckley, Apex Business Intelligence: The supplementary or auxiliary services applied, in addition to the core connectivity. Examples include SLA fees, security services, hardware rentals, failover and redundancy.

Douglas Turner, senior manager, Broad- Vision Technologies: Security. You’ll need to purchase appliances that have annual subscriptions attached, licensing, firewall units, intrusion detection, load balances.

Anthony Laing, GM of Networking, NEC XON: SD-WAN can offer you a good deal, but hidden costs such as licence, throughput, and other fees in some cases have actually ended up making these SD-WAN services more expensive than the ones they replaced.”

Brainstorm: What would you consider to be best practice in terms of managing connectivity expenditure?

Peter Walsh, CommsCloud: Understand your business need and align it with where the C-suite is taking the business – this is key to IT delivering solutions that work for end-users.

Hein Witte, TSSA: Understand current and future network budgets, traffic flows and capacity in demand, network user expectations and security requirements.

Greg de Chasteauneuf, Saicom: Work with a network-agnostic service provider to ensure you get network diversity and maximum uptime. Don’t sign long-term contracts; they lock you into a single connectivity solution that doesn’t provide for the changes in your business over the duration of the contract.

Brian Timperley, Turrito Networks: The ability to monitor a network’s performance, usage and data trends is critical to ensuring you’re getting the most from your spend and that your connectivity is correctly sized and specified to perform for your business.

Sean McCormick, Globalstar Africa: Find a good balance between cost and function – cheap isn’t always better. And ensure you give your resources proper training and skills so they can perform with confidence.

Michele McCann, Teraco: A clear interconnection strategy that provides direct interconnection between the enterprise network to cloud operators, ISPs and content providers. This will de-risk current and future strategies.

Neil Buckley, Apex Business Intelligence: Have a baseline benchmark and starting point from which to measure your future costs and consumption.