by August 4, 2005 0 comments

Enterprise connectivity is no longer about just signing an SLA with your ISP for an Internet connection. Neither is it about deploying the fastest and latest communication technologies. This would be like taking a horse to water and trying to make it drink. In other words, you might deploy the fastest communications infrastructure available but unless the information that travels over it is used for speedy decision-making, it’s of no use. For instance, e-mail is an excellent tool for zippy communication. However, if the response to an e-mail takes time to come, you might as well use snail mail instead to send your messages. Here, you decide to buy more bandwidth for your mail server or implement instant messaging and online collaboration capabilities on top of all this, you’ll be wasting your investment. Enterprise connectivity should, therefore, be implemented with the objective of helping your organization in faster decision making. Whether you choose a 64 kbps leased line or a T1 line comes later. It doesn’t undermine in any way the choice of technology though. You still need to understand the various technology trends and connectivity options available, judge their cost effectiveness and suitability for your needs. Let’s look at some of these trends and their relevance in the enterprise space.

ISPs and convergence

How do you look at an ISP? As someone who provides Internet access, or someone who takes care of all your communications needs? Many national ISPs in the country, such as Reliance
Infocomm, Tata Indicom, and BSNL not only provide the communications infrastructure, but lots of services that an enterprise can benefit from. These include all possible ways in which an organization can communicate, whether using voice, video or data. One option is called 
Centrex, which is like having an EPBAX and providing everybody a direct telephone number. Another service could be to build and host
SMS-based applications. 

Business over broadband While broadband Internet was introduced in India several years ago, it never
really took off. What took off was 24×7 Internet access connections that were barely good for Internet and e-mail. While it were a big relief from the painful dial-up connections, it was not broadband. They were more focused on homes. It wasn’t until TRAI put its foot down and said that any connection of less than 256 kbps and not providing interactive services, Internet access, etc is not broadband that things have started happening. Any ISP worth its name today is offering broadband services for enterprises. Some of these include dedicated high-speed connectivity to the Internet, VPN connectivity, VoIP between branch offices, inter-office data connectivity, audio/video conferencing, wireless connectivity, etc. Not only that, but each of these services further has subcategories. For instance, there’re leased lines as well as managed leased lines, which cost more. So evaluate these options carefully. 

Centralized vs distributed infrastructure
Another trend in the connectivity space has been the reducing cost of bandwidth. For instance, the annual rental for a 64 kbps leased line between two cities used to be in lakhs. Today, it costs just under a lakh for distances of more than 500 kms. Moreover, the bandwidths that are available have also shot through the roof, and are available on demand, thanks to all the optic fiber cable that’s been laid across the country’s. A 155 Mbps data circuit up to a distance of 140 kms costs Rs 4.75 Lakhs a year (check out http://www. rates are being constantly reduced.
The reducing cost of bandwidth and the multitude of connectivity options open many possibilities for organizations. One of these is to consolidate the infrastructure so that it can be managed centrally. This was unimaginable in the past due to the prohibitive cost of bandwidth. It was cheaper to deploy multiple servers in different locations. Even though there were many administrative overheads including cost of deploying technical manpower in each location, it was cheaper than deploying everything centrally. Today the situation is different, and many large enterprises have shifted to central deployment. So evaluate how much is your organization spending annually to manage a distributed network. Match this cost against that of consolidating all your servers in one location and then letting all your branches, manufacturing units, etc access them remotely over leased circuits. 

Mobile workforce
While the trend at the back end is to centralize, that at the front end is just reverse. Let your users access your network from anytime and anywhere. Notebook prices have crashed, making it possible to buy them for your sales force, customer support, etc. Today, a PDA is as powerful as a regular PC. It’s capable of running regular productivity applications such as mail, Internet browsing, word processing and spreadsheets. Combine this functionality with the capability to connect to a back-end network and you can have a mobile and productive workforce. Your sales team can close orders in the field and intimate your accounts department to process that quickly. The management can respond to important e-mail from anywhere. Your network managers can get instant alerts on your network’s health and fix problems remotely. The possibilities are immense with mobile devices because connectivity is no longer an issue. 

DEFINITION : What is Broadband? 

“An ‘always-on’ data connection that’s able to support interactive services including Internet access and has the capability of the minimum download speed of 256 kbps (kilo bits per sec) to an individual subscriber from the POP (Point Of Presence) of the service provider intending to provide broadband service where multiple such individual broadband connections are aggregated and the subscriber is able to access these interactive services including the Internet through this POP. The interactive services will exclude any services for which a separate licence is specifically required, for example, real-time voice transmission, except to the extent that it’s presently permitted under ISP license with Internet Telephony.”

Mobility option comes with its own set of problems. As more people become mobile, giving them secure access to your network becomes an issue. Currently, this is tackled by using SSL or IPSec based VPN connectivity, but policies have to be defined properly. Another major issue is to fit the information that’s by default tuned to a PC format on mobile devices. There are many challenges in this. For one, there are so many different types of mobile devices, each with a different screen size. Then there is the problem of having too many standards-Wireless markup language, handheld markup language and compact HTML. Should you standardize on one standard, and also ensure that your mobile work force uses only compatible devices? Perhaps yes, but then perhaps the device itself is not suitable for everyone in terms of cost as well as features. Companies are designing mobile solutions for specific industries. For instance, a certain company has designed a software solution for insurance agents that runs on a regular PDA. Nokia has a solution called Nokia One Business Server, which takes care of translating between multiple devices as well as formats. 

Extend your network
While you’re mobilizing your workforce, another area also requires attention-extending connectivity to your branch offices, customers, and partners. How are you communicating with them? The scenario changes with the type of remote site. A bank extending services to its customers through ATM machines will focus at lower bandwidth and highly secure connections. A petrochemical company wanting to connect its various filling stations to the head office would use a low cost, low bandwidth and possibly wireless connectivity. A company with its manufacturing plant in a hilly area and wanting to connect to its head office in the metro would go for a leased line while that with offices that are miles apart with no obstructions in between could use RF links. 

A number of other trends are there that have acted as catalysts to the growth in connectivity options. Everything over IP is one such trend, wherein all communication, be it voice, video or data is pushed over the standard TCP/IP protocol. This means a converged network. Increasingly applications are becoming more Web-centric, making them more easily accessible from anywhere. At the same time, security threats are just as real and as an enterprise becomes more connected, so security needs to be focused.

Interesting stats 
  • More than 4.5 Lakh route kms of optic fibre has been laid out by
    BSNL/MTNL, and more than 1 Lakh by private operators
  • It’s estimated that there will be 40 mn Internet subscribers in India by 2010 while the count of broadband subscribers will be 20 mn

Overall, as the market becomes more competitive, organizations need to focus on stronger and more effective
communication. The technologies are available. It’s a matter of defining how you want to 
use them. 

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