Archive for the 'IT' Category

Adding value with broadband

Thought I’d include an article that I’ve recently written for the channel. It’s quite easy to read, but any feedback would be appreciated.

Thanks

Broadband has come a long way since it’s inception. For businesses back in the day, it was seen as a key marketing and communication tool as companies paid through the roof to have a static website with 5 pages. Email was revolutionary, and was quickly seen as the main way to communicate with clients, with their permission or without.

Now with the advent of converged or unified systems, it’s not surprising to have a company use their broadband for phone calls, data, video and even an alarm system. The advance of broadband has been the key driver in so many industries, each with their own confusing terms and acronyms. FMC, UC, SIP, Telepresence, VOIP, IPCCTV. The list goes on, but the common factor is IP – Internet Protocol. All the aforementioned use the internet.

On it’s own, its a cost effective method to transfer data, and because of it’s universal acceptance, is widespread across a number of mechanisms. Packaged with an IP application, broadband becomes fundamental for the efficient use of the respective device. For the channel, it provides a number of opportunities for vendors, distributors and system integrators alike to provide a necessary value add to their portfolio, and this is further pushed by the rise of alternative networks to use. This in itself has promoted competition and innovation in product development, and the channel has inevitably benefited from the options available. Now technologies such as Annex-M can help a reseller by going to market with an ISDN alternative, whilst also aggregating two or more to attack the leased line market.

At the top end of the channel, mobile operators have got into bed with Telco’s to have a network of their own. Large system integrators are courting network operators for a primary service. And at enterprise level, the wrath of mergers and acquisitions have left some in the enviable position of being a one stop shop for your every need, budget permitting. At the lower end, traditional resellers and SI’s have forged relationships with mobile and network operators to get the best out of both worlds. This is where the value has been added, as now an integrator has a platform to showcase their primary offering.

Lets look at one industry where this is rife, voice. Hosted voice providers who have been brave in embracing SIP have realised from a very early age that the quality of broadband is key to their offering. Therefore they have been vocal in their search for network operators who have an offering that can allow for a high quality and a high volume of calls.

Enter DSL. In it’s various guises, it’s been able to offer a low cost platform to end users wanting access to the benefits of a hosted voice offering, as now the high upfront costs of an ISDN 30 can be waived for a similar DSL service. In this instance integrators have been quick to partner with network operators to offer their services as part of a package, adding to their bottom line by boosting their margins and increasing that customer ‘stickiness’ we all strive for.

The same is now happening in a number of industries. Integrators in the fast developing video sphere are reaching out to networks with a reputation for performance. Digital signage architects are holding hands with networks with good national coverage. And for the end user, this is compelling as they have one port of call for the majority of their IP requirements.

It’s an easy story to tell. To borrow a much used analogy, selling a road is pointless without drooling over the performance of the vehicle that’s on it. And to translate this to the internet, it’s hard to get excited about fibre to the home for example, without thinking about all it’s possible uses.

All these present the opportunity for more convergence, more applications, but over one central pipe, which is where the value is provided, as if you provide the central pipe, there is always the possibility to provide other services based on that. An old director of mine used to term this “The Whirlwind model”, where you provide something small, but essential, and then provide additional services required by that initial item. However you define it, the benefits of this are unparalled for all parts of the channel, as with the technological advances being made in the numerous access methods used to provide broadband, the channel now has a chance to offer a key value add to their IP applications.

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Fluidata/Be Wholesale offering

It’s been an exciting couple of months at Fluidata. We’ve always known the potential of AnnexM as a direct replacement for legacy SDSL. We’ve gauged how popular it’s been within our own client base. And we’ve been successful in aggregating it with services from other carriers. However, my own feeling that there has always been potential to offer a true wholesale platform around AnnexM is now being realised. Over the last few months there has been a lot of discussions between ourselves, Be and O2 regarding the best way to make this viable. Sometimes these conversations have been prolonged, but it’s now a reality. And a unique one at that.

Because initially the Bethere network was deployed specifically for transferring data, they have always made the invesmtent to provide services that allow for high speeds and little contention. By provisioning NTL based 1Gb and 10Gb fibre backhaul at their majority of their DSLAM’s, they’ve limited the possibility of contention arising at these points. Also, backed by O2, they’ve been able to proactively monitor contention throughout their network. This has proved attractive to a consmer audience that regularly uses services such as online gaming and P2P. However, this also has had it’s advantages to businesses who also hold similar values.

Now other ISP’s and service providers can have access to the largest AnnexM ready network in the country. With an ethos of ‘ease of use’, the flexibility afforded allows for maximum control of each tail. From full port functionality to no capacity charges, this offering really does make it easy for partners to fully provision, maintain and support their circuits in a way rarely seen within the industry. By delivering the platform via L2TP, partners now have the ability to compliment their existing centrals with a progressive NGN offering.

For me personally, managing this offering will be a new challenge. After being on the receiving end of a few channel offerings, I have an insight into the levels of service a channel partner may expect. Hopefully this will translate itself into a channel experience beneficial to both ourselves and our partners. If the last few months were exciting, the next few will be even more so!

Have we seen the death of the ISP?

The good old days

The good old days

I must admit, the telecomms sector is a fascinating sector to be involved in. Always changing, always evolving, always innovating. The market is almost unrecognisable to 8 years ago, when BT ruled the roost, and we were all left to pick up their scraps. However, the rise of LLU networks has really provided end users with a plethora of choice in terms of obtaining a service that is more suited to their needs. Now one can choose from a range of acronym-ed services to help them support their business. And that is exactly what these services are doing. With the increased pace traditional businesses have moved to obtain a presence on the web, it has become more and more important for them to assess their WAN, starting at the provision of bandwidth. This means agreeing SLA’s with suppliers, obtaining redundant links and having dedicated support lines to access, as well as other key issues. And service providers have responded. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of traditional ISP’s not only providing connectivity, but also diversifying into providing value-add through applications such as AV software, bandwidth optimisation modules and relevant hardware. But even more importantly, we’ve seen a rise in smaller ISP’s taking multiple feeds from multiple networks to increase their offering to their client base and substantiate upon their skill set.

Within the SME market, this was always going to happen, as clients tend to be more loyal to suppliers and consultants who have intimate knowledge of their business practices. However, within the Mid Market and Enterprise sectors, there was still a lot of scepticism around ‘placing all your eggs in one basket’. This is starting to change. With the rise of converged communications, larger companies especially are realising that placing their business with one supplier has a number of benefits that may outweigh the negatives. These suppliers however do not just provide their own solutions. Through a range of partnerships and arrangements with companies who recently may have been deemed as competitors, they have been able to penetrate their market with a unified solution that has a lot more credence than any offering they may have had previously. Take our Advance solutions. One IP range. One router. Two underlying networks. Should one of the networks fail, then traffic is seamlessley routed via the redundant network. Great for business critical applications. Great for the end user.

The rise of the VNO; who has multiple feeds from multiple carriers, has a VOIP offering through an arrangement with a SIP provider, who can offer video conferencing through one it’s partners and privatise a network by offering CPE through a trusted vendor, is becoming a lot more attractive. The key to this is the consultation that happens prior to any agreement. And this is key. In a market where consultants have always had a negative reputation, it’s interesting to see the role they are playing in driving convergence. Because of their expanding product suites, consultants now have a wide range of themes to discuss with their prospects, and more importantly, a wider range of solutions to offer them.

We’ve come a long way since the start of the noughties. And with issues surrounding convergence and virtualisation still unresolved, have a long way to go. To throw my 2pence into the mix, I still think that there is a lot of mileage yet, as ISP’s start to turn into utilities companies through their offering’s and pricing structures. So much to look forward to!

The mess that is Tiscali

It’s been an interesting last few months for all connected with Tiscali. Back in January last year, there was a glow of positivity surrounding the Tiscali group, as they went ahead with their phased roll out of Annex M ADSL2+, helping them to get a foothold ahead of their competitors. Coupled with their new wholesale programme, things were looking up for the group. Their PR team was doing a good job of diverting attention away from the internal issues that were surrounding the amalgamation of so many conflicting systems, obtained through the acquisition of smaller ISP’s. And their marketing team loved to portray their beleaguered employers as a victim in the row with BT back in the summer of 2008. So where did it all go wrong for Tiscali?

Well, first of all, some connected with the group refuse to even admit that the group is in trouble. Despite being left with a battered reputation after being passed around between Carphone Warehouse and Sky for the best part of a year, they have been relentless in their pursuit of new customers. Witness the mess with 186K/Eezee DSL/Mailbox which left their clients without Internet access for as long as two weeks. Unless they changed to a Tiscali-owned supplier (ie Nildram or Pipex). Still there has been no official word from Tiscali as to the reasons behind the mess with 186K. However, this has been merely one of the number of issues effecting the group.

It is well known that there are a number of big hawks circling Tiscali’s carcass. Last year, Vodafone had a £1.3bn bid for the global group rejected. This set the wheels in motion for both Sky and Carphone Warehouse to test the waters of the UK arm, with bids in the region of £450mil coming thick and fast…and ultimately being rejected. However, only recently the Group has now relinquished it’s International Network (TiNet) to a private equity firm. Whilst in a statement made during the acquisition Mario Rosso, CEO of the group stated that he hoped to conclude the sale of Tiscali UK by the end of march.

So where does this leave Tiscali? Well if you have a service through them, expect a different name on your bill for starters. I doubt much else will change, as TiNet will still supply Tiscali (Both Italy and UK) with IP services, and Sky or Carphone will now probably have a unique agreement with an international carrier to extend it’s product portfolio. However, it will have a major bearing on the ISP sector within the UK, as no longer will there be just Virgin and BT offering triple play, but by acquiring Tiscali, Sky will also have that ability to provide triple play services. And what if they are a supplier to you? Well tread carefully. Very carefully, as they could be here today, but gone tomorrow.

A quick update on Cloud Computing…

UBS logo
Image via Wikipedia

Came across this article in Reuters stating that in a survery conducted with leading CIO‘s in both Europe and the US by UBS, they expect to spend 2% less on their IT systems. However, in contradiction to my article yesterday, it goes on to state that based on their findings, there will be a slowdown in the sales of virtualisation software by roughly 6%, down from a 10% growth in 2008.

I found this quite surprising. The survey by UBS concluded that “This may suggest that while virtualisation is a trend that is no doubt here to stay, it still does not have the collective mindshare as many might think.”

There can be many reasons why leading CIO’s may not see virtualisation as a prominent sector in 2009. However, if we look at the report in a bit more detail, there are clues as to why these opinions exist. The report did not ‘expose’ the CIO’s who took part in the survey. However, revenues of companies involved in the survey “ranged from $2 billion to more than $10 billion annually and they represented industries ranging from communications to healthcare to utilities”.

Personally, I agree with GigaOm, who also suggest that virtualisation will be something that will be extremely popular among SME‘s’ and smaller corporate entities, as they will see more benefit in moving to a more centralised method of computing. As sighted yesterday, there are still many privacy and security issues to be tackled for virtualsiation to be seen as a defacto method of choice among large conglomerates, and it may be due to this that they are still timid about getting on board.

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The advent of Cloud Computing…

Partial map of the Internet based on the Janua...
Image via Wikipedia

Working for an Internet Service Provider, it is imperative we understand the requirements of our clients. Why do they need low contention? How is resilience going to benefit them? Why are they trying to reduce their Capex? These are all issues that are prevalent in this day and age, as IT Managers/Directors try and increase the efficiency of their WAN solutions without exploding their budget. One method of doing just that, which I feel will be a big market for ISP’s in 2009 is the general shift to Cloud Computing.

First of, what is Cloud Computing? Well there are various definitions of it, however, generally it is the means by which an individual or company moves their IT portfolio into the cloud. Why cloud? Well if you’re an old-school comms person, then the ‘cloud’ was the symbol which denotes the Internet. Another term for Cloud Computing is virtualisation, as you are moving into a virtual environment. Now the term itself is extremely general, as already there are many different ‘versions’ of cloud computing. The Register recently ran a workshop, where they broke down cloud computing into more specific areas; software as a service, utility computing and onlin

e platform provision. All offering different services to the end user within the cloud.

Lets not kid ourselves. Virtualisation has been around for years in various guises. However, its popularity is suddenly beginning to rise as internet users require more bandwidth, security and processing power. However, how does this effect ISP’s?

As more and more companies move to hosted environments, it becomes more and more imperative that they have robust stable connectivity to be able to access their business critical applications 24/7. This can be shown in the rise in attractiveness of virtual network operators and the use in data centres. One method of connectivity that is becoming more attractive to end users is Leased lines via fibre, which is markedly cheaper than it was a few years ago. However, still there are lengthy time delays, spiralling hidden costs and complicated installs associated with true leased lines. So what is the solution?

Step forward ADSL2+. Although BT has been traditionally late to the party with their deployment, many incumbents such as O2/Be, Tiscali and Cable and Wireless have been offering ADSL2+ products for the best part of 3 years. And although BT are finally getting their act together with the roll out of their 21CN, many operators have already got such a head start with the diversity of their product portfolios that it will be hard for BT to catch up. I don’t usually praise the government, but if there is one thing that we should give them credit for, it is the deregulation of the telecomms industry. As without doubt, the number of innovative solutions now available is testament to that policy change.

Without blowing our own trumpet too much, Fluidata is a prime example. Not only have we been offering ADSL2+ for the best part of 2 years, but we also standardise on the AnnexM variant, meaning more bandwidth on the upstream. Perfect for applications such as video conferencing and VOIP. With national coverage of 1200 exchanges and growing, this already out-does BT’s own 21CN, and by their own admittance, they will not have this number of exchanges ready until at the earliest least 2010. Because of the knowledge and experience we have of using AnnexM, we’ve been able to manipulate it to provide a synchronous solution, comparative to SDSL, but more robust and at a cheaper cost to end users.

However, the area in which we’ve been particularly unique in has been deploying a true bonded solution, comprising carrier resilience, true aggregation at the IP level and low contention. Different from bonded solutions, we’re unique in being able to offer high amounts of bandwidth with 1IP address/range and one termination unit, unlike others who provide up to 4 routers and then a bonding ‘device’. This has proved to be ideal for people who need the functionality of a leased line without the costs involved. Also ideal for FD’s who need to reduce their Capex. And more importantly, it has proved to be very attractive for those looking to move into the cloud.

There are still a number of issues that fully need to be addressed with Cloud Computing. Will my data be secure? How will I be invoiced for it? How much control will I have over the underlying infrastructure? What happens if the DC goes bust? As yet, no one has definite answers for the above, and it may be some time until someone does. However, what can firmly be said is that finally there are a number of cost effective robust solutions, enabling one to connect to a hosted server. And while that underlying structure remains, I am sure that the uptake in virtualisation and Cloud Computing will continue.

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