Tipping point: Four indicators your ageing network needs a makeover

Ian Pepper is Ciena’s Senior Director for Regional Professionals Services, and leads Ciena’s Network Transformation Solutions efforts in EMEA.

Today’s service provider model is being squeezed from all sides. Providers are seeing rising costs in areas such as energy and rack space, customers are rapidly shifting to evermore bandwidth-hungry services, and the current unprecedented global economic situation is helping put constant downward pressure on end users and pricing demands.

This “perfect storm” has created an environment where nearly every operator is laser focused on maximising returns from their existing network infrastructure.

However, there are always “tipping points” beyond which that infrastructure may become overly expensive to operate, exceed available facilities, and may be unable to support bandwidth growth or service demands.

When a network reaches its tipping point, the actions taken by the service provider not only affect the operator’s business efficiency, but maybe even the future wellbeing of the business itself. Furthermore, the assessment and identification of a network’s tipping point is often subjective and often the recognition comes too late, resulting in lost revenue and wasted investment in a now obsolete network.

A dose of hard-nosed business and technology analysis and decision-making is required well before these events occur, to predict their eventuality and allow operators to take appropriate steps to forestall them and thereby maximise returns.

So what are the signs to look out for?  Here are four primary indicators that your network infrastructure has reached a tipping point and needs a make-over:

1) Poor visibility of existing assets: hidden costs

Networks that are built and then adapted over many years test any operator’s staff to keep accurate records of exactly what has been deployed. Poor record keeping affects the ability to audit physical infrastructure and connection topology, and also its management and maintenance.

This is especially true when there are mergers and acquisitions; not only may there be many inconsistencies in each company’s records, but there is also a significant challenge to integration of often disparate management and inventory platforms.

2) Rising infrastructure costs: depleted margins

Legacy infrastructures, even those just a few years old, would have been designed for far less traffic than present demand requires after almost two decades of inexorable acceleration of bandwidth consumption.

Many operators have maintained an investment in a given infrastructure technology, and kept pace by simply expanding this infrastructure, adding nodes to increase capacity.

The problem with this approach is that, unless technology is optimally suited to the nature and type of demand, for example, by carrying Ethernet natively rather than over SDH—these actions give rise to significant increases in network complexity, with concomitant issues of performance and reliability.

3) OPEX squeeze

Legacy networks often generate huge demands on power, air conditioning, space and skilled resources – resources that could be better employed in support of new technologies or revenue generating services.

A detailed analysis of potential scenarios to address these issues can bear significant fruit for operators.  However, modelling such scenarios can be time consuming and complex with a multitude of possible options for consideration.

Operators may know they need to change but may also be unsure of how to change and what the economic and business benefits of each option may be. This complex conundrum requires careful planning and often, specialist skills to resolve.

4) Inability to satisfy demand: unprofitable services

Whether on the consumer side of the market in the form of audio and video streaming over fixed and mobile broadband, or in the business environment where client-server distribution favours data centres and cloud application hosting, today’s consumption of mass bandwidth means an explosion of demand that is not necessarily aligned to legacy technology.

Without alignment, trying to satisfy this demand will prove challenging and is highly unlikely to generate revenue faster than increasing costs.

When a legacy network is no longer able to support bandwidth growth or service demands technically and/or profitably, operators often overlay a new network to overcome these limitations. However, and crucially, the legacy network remains unmodified and continues to support existing services.

A Holistic Network Modernisation Methodology

For operators who recognise any of these symptoms in their networks, there are very likely one or more compelling business cases for undertaking appropriate network modernisation.

Network modernisation is a process, both of optimising existing infrastructure to present demand and business priorities and reaping the benefits that more modern technology can provide.

With a properly planned and implemented network modernisation program, a service provider can see a significant impact to both operations and margins, including:

  • An increase in available bandwidth by an order of magnitude for the same energy consumption.
  • Significantly enhanced ability for rapid deployment of new services.
  • Minimisation of operating costs from power, spares, space, fibre and manpower requirements.
  • Reduce risk of services, loss of vital knowledge and experience, and thus business risk.
  • Ability to ensure consistently excellent services and expedient delivery and reliability for customers.

Whether business priorities are focused on maximising top-line revenue or optimising bottom-line costs, they should be considered holistically: Monetisation and modernisation are the obverse and reverse of the same business value coin.

Otherwise, chasing demand growth and revenue streams without considering network modernisation begets infrastructure overlay, forgets infrastructure upgrade, and reinforces a negative value cycle. Ultimately, business value stems from business efficiency and minimises resources in order to maximise return.

The Right Support for Network Modernisation

Many operators are used to managing network changes themselves. However, network modernisation goes far beyond normal network projects, both in terms of scope and complexity.

Due to lean staffing policies and a keen focus on core activities, operators rarely have the time, skills, or experience to deliver network modernisation activities in-house.

Implementing effective network modernisation requires support from dedicated teams of consultants and engineers, sometimes working on site for weeks or months at a time. If this resource cannot be made available internally, operators must enlist support from trusted network partners.

To minimise risk, operators should choose partners with extensive experience planning and executing network modernisation programs.

While many generalist IT companies claim to deliver end-to-end network modernisation, it often pays to work with specialist network partners. Ciena has developed a methodology and solution set that can help customers navigate their way through this complex set of issues.  We have tools that can not only assess the technical requirements but we can translate any change into financial benefits, model different scenario’s and assess the impact of different approaches to modernisation.  This capability, combined with our consulting approach, flexibility and specialist knowledge, makes Ciena a credible partner for such an engagement.

Network modernisation starts with consideration of a business issue and the factors that create such a situation to arise.  Resolution can be complex and incorporates input from technology to process to economics, to name just a few.  All are equally important but must be viewed holistically if the right decisions for future investment and business success are to be realised.

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