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Outsource magazine: thought-leadership and outsourcing strategy | April 19, 2014

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Don’t let clouded thinking make you forget the network

Don’t let clouded thinking make you forget the network
Michel Robert

According to a recent study by the Cloud Industry Forum, nearly half of UK organisations are using some form of cloud computing, and almost all of the other organisations surveyed intend to do so. Key drivers of this move include a need for greater flexibility and cost reduction. All businesses that have outsourced, or intend to outsource, parts of their IT infrastructure should consider the vital importance of the network to the successful operation of their cloud service, and the many networking options and service providers now available to them. In our experience, many haven’t, and the consequences of this include them paying over the odds for a networking solution that is often not suitable for taking advantage of the cloud, with businesses suffering from poor application performance as a result.

New networking in the UK: more choice, more cost-effective, more reliable

Much has changed in the networking space over the past decade: incumbent carriers are no longer the only providers of high-quality connectivity. The market has greater competition than ever before, thanks to the rise of new network providers. In addition, a new breed of IT outsourcers has arisen – managed service providers – who can leverage the array of networks available and combine them with other technologies in one complementary service that suits the specific needs of each customer.  All of this has had a positive effect on prices, choice and service quality.

Ten years ago, there was only one main network carrier in the UK, BT, who reigned supreme in the internet connectivity arena. In those days, networks were designed primarily to carry voice, and so data carriage was effectively an afterthought. The broadband revolution, however, brought about faster connectivity and an increasing demand for next generation networks that could support greater voice and data traffic volumes at greater speeds. This led to Local Loop Unbundling (LLU), which allowed new network providers, as well as more established players, to reach more consumers and businesses.

As a result of LLU, healthy competition was fostered. This meant that businesses and consumers had more choice regarding network providers and services than ever before. And with more carriers came more LLU exchanges, and a reduction in ‘last mile’ length. Consequently, the cost of business connectivity came down and reliability increased. Increased competition, combined with recent networking technology breakthroughs, has driven connectivity costs to an all-time low.

New networking technology also gives businesses unprecedented freedom regarding the types of networks they use for cloud services. For example, instead of having to utilise fibre-based networking technologies, carriers can now combine multiple legacy copper lines – traditionally used for phone and broadband services – to create a lower-cost, copper-based Ethernet connection with data transfer speeds, both up and down, of up to 20Mbits/s.

Speeds like this, whilst falling far short of those provided by fibre-based technologies, would be sufficient for a small business that wants to access some cloud services.

The drop in connectivity costs and the increase in the choice, reliability and sophistication of networking solutions mean that cloud services are potentially available to businesses of all sizes. They also mean that businesses should assess their network provision as part of a move to the cloud if they are going to ensure it is as cost-effective and seamless as possible. In some cases, it may be worthwhile to, for example, break a contract with a carrier and incur related penalties in order to get a new service that is much faster, cheaper and more reliable.

Assessing your networking provider for cloud capacity

It goes without saying that you need the right network for the job, and if you are going to outsource business-critical IT functions to the cloud, then you need a connection with strict performance and availability guarantees. But who is responsible for the performance of the network and the overall cloud service?

Whether a business is moving to the cloud, or just thinking about it, they must consider who is accountable for the performance and availability of whatever might be outsourced. If multiple providers are involved in an overall cloud service – e.g. a carrier, hosting company and application provider – there may be problems when it comes to identifying the root cause of service disruptions and fixing the problem. For example, a number of businesses that have come to us for combined cloud hosting, application management and networking services have done so because they were frustrated with the finger-pointing by providers of different elements of their outsourced service.

The most obvious solution to this is to secure a Service Level Agreement (SLA) for the overall service, not individual elements. However, this is only possible if the service provider controls both the cloud hosting and network services. If a business has multiple providers, it will need to ensure the company’s SLA with their network provider covers the cloud application, and consider what headaches may be caused if it doesn’t. Businesses need to weigh up whether they’re prepared to take this risk or whether it’s more worthwhile to place networking and cloud hosting with one provider.

The future untold

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the wonders of the cloud and the business benefits available, and only consider the means of accessing and retrieving your data as an afterthought. The good news is that, with good due diligence, it’s relatively easy to have the right networking solution and cloud service provider for your business. This in turn will ensure cost-effective and reliable access to, and operation of, your cloud-based infrastructure.



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