Next generation technologies are the future for all business communications – but how can a migration to NGN services be best achieved?
Technologies like optical fibre, IP and Ethernet are the future for all data networking needs. But the services on offer from many network operators are based around more traditional standards, with progress towards newer standards currently a work in progress – at best.
So what does this mean for an organisation keen to ensure their data and applications are supported by the best possible class of connectivity solution? What kind of network will best suit their needs? Who can they look to in order to manage their own transition to a next generation world? What role does a provider of business services have in this process?
Let’s define the essential constituents of a next generation network and their properties:
- Ethernet was once a local area network solution, but has evolved so that it’s now the only serious option to satisfy both the current and future connectivity demands of network operators and their customers. It’s perfect as a metro and national network solution and is also the future of long-haul networks. Ethernet is simple to provision and cheap to operate compared with traditional alternatives, and makes it easy to manage the all-important convergence of different communication streams onto the same pipe. It’s great for organisations that want to satisfy major requirements over a simple and cost-effective infrastructure – data centre interconnection, software as a service and cloud computing, remote back-up and storage of data, business continuity.
- Optical fibre networks are solving the connectivity needs of the UK’s major public and private sector institutions, helping to move data around speedily and safely, from office to office, in and out of data centres and beyond. But not all of the UK is equally well-endowed with fibre, so it’s worth looking at the network map of any prospective connectivity partner. In the City of London, for example, with its major financial institutions, there’s plenty of modern fibre, but if you go to the fringes of the country it’s a different story.
- We may be long past the era when the internet was considered an inappropriate conduit for important corporate data, but we’re still some way from the universal adoption of the IP protocol as the basis for all networking services. There’s certainly residual concern about the quality of service offered by voice over IP (VoIP) as an enterprise-class communication method, but for packetised data there’s nothing simpler or more cost-effective.
“It’s easy to compare one solution with another and see which is best,” says Andrew McGrath, Commercial Director of Virgin Media Business. “But the real challenge is how to migrate from one to another without undue disruption to the organisation.”
The service provider wanting to facilitate a migration for their customer will need to realize that nobody buys services purely for the love of the core technology. “They do it in order to support their organisation and to meet business challenges,” says Andrew. “Technology is a low priority – it’s efficiency that counts.”
The path that gets the customer where they want to go with the least disruption is best. “How you move to all-IP, all-Ethernet depends on circumstances and priorities,” says Andrew. “Some organisations will have the capabilities to manage this migration in-house, some will want to outsource it – ideally, to you. There will be cases where the end-user customer is taking network services from a number of suppliers, so they’ll want to know that you’re partnered with a network supplier who has done more than simply invest in their own technology, and can co-exist with other suppliers.”
Andrew warns against seeing successful migration to a next generation future as simply a matter of one technology over another. “It goes well beyond just technology,” he says. “The customer service side is crucial to a successful migration. To oversee a migration, you need people who are skilled and ITIL-accredited.”
How we can help
Andrew McGrath, Commercial Director of Virgin Media Business, says the network operator is perfectly placed to work alongside the provider of business services, helping them and their customer with the process of transition to a new generation of services.
“We’ll go to meetings with the service provider and their customer,” he says. “We have teams of engineers, pre-sales consultants and professional services people who can help manage transition. We were the first network operator in Europe to be both MEF 9 and MEF 14 accredited, so we know all about interoperability between different suppliers. We’re experienced with IP VPN too, and have NNI agreements to allow class of service connections from our network to others.”
He says that Virgin Media Business has invested not only in the right NGN technology and interoperability skills, but also in managing the complex details that arise when moving from one network to another. “You need to get the timing right so the customer isn’t paying for two networks at once,” he says. “We have a transition team to manage the process for customers. We’re not saying, ‘Here’s our technology, now buy it.’”