Cover Story: Enterprise Connectivity
A connected 2004
Along with falling connectivity prices, enterprises have
witnessed increasing demands for better connectivity among users. It is encouraging
to see the Indian enterprise users look beyond complex networking technology
into the real benefits of better connectivity.
Before examining what the trends of 2004 are going to be, we need to make a
status check on the Net access infrastructure used by Indian enterprises in
2003. Network Magazine's Infrastructure Strategies Survey 2003 highlighted the
dominance of leased lines followed by VSATs as the most preferred means of LAN/WAN
See Figure 1: LAN/WAN access infrastructure in 2003, for the survey findings.
Now the question arises, whether the same situation will apply
in 2004. Before that, we need to look at the main challenges faced by the Indian
enterprise in terms of connectivity.
Challenges in enterprise connectivity
Name any enterprise networking technology and we have it in India. But the story
is very different when it comes to service levels.
In 2004, the keyword in enterprise connectivity is going to
be higher service levels than just technology. SLAs are made in most cases,
to be broken time and again. Promised uptimes are yet to materialize. And unless
these issues are sorted out, falling connectivity prices do not necessarily
translate to better connectivity. This is one connectivity issue that most Indian
enterprises have started following up in a very aggressive manner now.
"The never ending pursuit of a higher SLA will drive
the connectivity market. While prices have been going down and will continue
to move in the same direction, higher uptimes are what IT managers will be looking
for," says Rajiv Gerela, AVP-Technology, Wipro Spectramind.
This is where the Indian government needs to play a proactive role. It is imperative
that a level field is available for more connectivity providers to enter, since
more competition is the only way to ensure better service levels from vendors.
A serious challenge in enterprise connectivity lies in the last mile. In spite
of claims made by connectivity vendors, it is not unusual to have unreliable
connectivity in the last mile, especially in the case of remote locations. Technologies
being used and reliability on this front is still a matter of great concern
to Indian enterprises.
Many of the problems surrounding connectivity ought to be ironed out in 2004.
Completely trouble-free connectivity is still a distant dream, though. But,
there is no doubt that a number of interesting developments are happening on
the enterprise connectivity front, which will no doubt benefit the enterprise.
Time to consolidate
Since businesses have grown over the years, organizations
have been more focused on getting connected, than on the technology. This has
led to a confused state of affairs with multiple connectivity means. Many of
these connectivity options may be obsolete, making the overall mix difficult
to manage and costly to maintain.
"In 2004, more of the strategy would be in consolidating the existing connectivity
infrastructure. Most organizations will be concentrating on getting more out
of the existing network that is already in place," said G Murali, Head
- IT, SBI Life Insurance.
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If an organization has been in business for a couple of years,
it will have spread into many different locations, decentralized in certain
locations, but centralized operations elsewhere. "In such cases, the enterprise
will have reached a stage where business has grown into those locations but
the technology has grown in spurts in different ways. This is why consolidation
and standardization is required," Murali said.
The main reason behind why these efforts haven't borne fruit
earlier has been the economic downturn in last couple of years. Organizations
tended to focus more on maintenance, rather than resource optimization. It was
because this effort implied new infrastructure spending in many cases. So companies
used to run on the 'why fix if it ain't broke' philosophy.
With the economy improving, organizations are moving away
from just plain maintenance to actual consolidation and standardization efforts.
This is a positive sign showing better connectivity infrastructure for enterprises
embarking on these ventures.
Fiber comes to the fore
The use of fiber for enterprise connectivity will be prevalent on a scale never
seen before in 2004. This is bound to bring in better QoS levels to enterprises
bogged down with connectivity problems.
Most of the major service providers have spent the last couple of years building
their optic fiber backbones across the nation. This is the year when businesses
will utilize these backbones in a major way.
"Fiber will be driving last mile connectivity in business sectors in 2004.
The important reasons for this is that service providers will want to reduce
the complexity of having too many connections, and make the infrastructure easier
to manage. The use of fiber is the best way to achieve this, since most of the
providers have already deployed their fiber infrastructures across the country,"
said Dr Sourav Dutta, DGM (Systems), Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited.
Leased to dominate
Ever-dropping prices have ensured that leased lines will continue to dominate
in 2004. One of the main reasons behind dropping prices has been the entry of
several new players.
Although there have been many new players, service levels are still a cause
of concern in the case of leased lines. A good sign is that the scenario improved
greatly during 2003. It still remains to be seen if 2004 will see service levels
occupying a much higher priority for service providers.
In spite of this, there is no denying that enterprises just cannot let go of
the leased line option as opposed to other options like ISDN and VSAT (See Box:
Denizens of the past for a status check on ISDNs and VSATs). The
main reason is due to the performance versus cost factor. Leased lines lead
the field on this front. To top it all, there are more signs of leased line
costs still coming down.
"Leased line prices are going to come down drastically due to stiff competition
during 2004," said Dr Dutta. Factors like these ensure that there is no
competition for leased lines whether it is for Internet connectivity or as WAN
Wireless, the buzzword much touted by technologists and media
alike will have a strong presence in the Indian enterprise in 2004. But, not
necessarily in areas like 'WiFi' or 802.11x.
WiFi LANs are still very far from making its presence felt in the Indian enterprise.
Except for certain specific services industry segments like hotels and airports,
WLANs will still be considered an 'extravagance' by and large in India. Technologies
like 802.11g/a with superior capabilities than the traditional 802.11b, will
be treated on a 'watch and wait' basis by Indian enterprises during the coming
year. This approach will be mainly due to their relatively new nature (802.11g)
and licensing issues (802.11a).
RF links will occupy a much stronger position in providing last mile connectivity
during 2004. "Wireless in the last mile is taking off in a major way with
most of the major service providers giving their connectivity," said Dr
Year of the Gigabit
As a concept, Gigabit Ethernet has been appreciated by the Indian corporate
for long. However, the actual time lag between 'appreciation' and actual implementation
will be bridged this year.
The reason behind Indian organizations deploying Gigabit Ethernet is that most
organizations use CAT 5e or CAT 6 cables throughout their networks. With LAN
capacities getting increasingly choked, 2004 is the right time to go the Gigabit
way. As is usual with most technology adoptions in India, we can expect companies
in the BFSI, Telecom, and IT segments to start this trend.
Other than Gigabit Ethernet, there are new entrants to enterprise connectivity
that will make waves this year.
New kids on the block
Several new technologies are going to have a strong presence for connectivity
of regional offices and mobile users in 2004. Some have been around for a while
whereas a couple of them have just stepped into the arena.
When it is a matter of regional office connectivity, broadband connectivity
technology like cable is catching up rapidly. With the increasing capabilities
of cable connections, enterprises, especially SMEs are increasingly adopting
this technology to provide connectivity for regional offices. DSL is yet to
make its presence felt as a competitor to cable. The biggest problem that DSL
faces is its inability to provide service levels comparable to cable connections.
CDMA, the relatively new entrant in India is a viable proposition for organizations
that need to provide connectivity to mobile users. This technology can provide
speeds of up to 144 Mbps and is an attractive option economically as well. GPRS,
its competitor still lags way behind in terms of performance and cost. In such
a scenario, there is no doubt that CDMA is going to emerge as a preferred mean
of providing net access to road warriors.
Anil Patrick R can be reached at email@example.com
|Once the preferred choice of enterprises worldwide,
VSATs are slowly passing into obsolescence. High costs and lower speeds
than its competing options have made sure that VSATs are used only in niche
The biggest setback that VSATs are facing is the
increasing categorization of connectivity options. Today's enterprises
use the VSAT option only if no other option is available. The only area
where VSATs have retained their foothold is in providing connectivity
to remote locations where its competitors have no place.
"VSATs are being used, but only for connectivity
to remote areas. Organizations are not using these because of their expensive
nature, low bandwidth, and problems like management of hopping,"
said Dr Dutta.
ISDN is yet another technology that is being increasingly
disregarded during connectivity selection. While costs are not such a
major concern, lesser performance characteristics have ensured that ISDNs
have less preference than leased lines. Today, the Indian enterprise uses
ISDNs only as backups for leased lines and as low budget connectivity
options. This technology is fading out slowly, but surely.
|Here's what a few vendors and solution providers
have to say about connectivity in the Indian enterprise in 2004.
Joyjit Chatterji, Vice President, Comsat Max
"The key drivers for enterprise connectivity in 2004 will be
higher reliability, reach, and more bandwidth. A mix of multiple technologies
will be available and used for a single network. Cost of bandwidth will
fall and quality will improve. Organizations will have to plan multiple
media options to meet reliability needs."
Deepak Jagtiani, Technical Services Manager,
Molex Premise Networks
"For the moment, CAT 6 seems to have whetted the appetite of
the market with its overdose of bandwidth200 MHz as compared to
100 MHz for CAT 5e. Multimode fiber has also witnessed a fair amount of
churn in the past few years. It has become more application-specific now.
Evolution of VoIP in conjunction with the falling cost of Vertical Cavity
Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) transmitters makes fiber-to-the-desk a
Sharad Sanghi, Managing Director, Netmagic Solutions
"Connectivity prices are falling now that performance issues
and bottlenecks are becoming a thing of the past especially in the metros,
and there is an increase in the number of providers. Carrier-neutral providers
in conjunction with their connectivity partners are offering a slew of
connectivity options, like DSL, cable, ISDN, leased lines, VSATs, and
radio links. Also proliferating is wireless connectivity, based on the
802.11b and 802.11g protocols, which albeit cautiously, are starting to
mushroom in campuses, hotels, airports, and even offices premises."
Rakesh Singh, General Manager, Asia Operations,
"In 2004, we expect much greater demand for networking technologies
driven by the improvement in the global economic climate. Immediate areas
of investment for enterprise networks include greater optimization of
resources, faster application and content delivery, and increased security.
Moreover, fast emerging technologies like SSL VPNs and dynamic caching
are rapidly gaining widespread acceptance."
Rahul Swarup, President, Enterprise Solutions,
Internal connectivity requirements will grow this year. More of buy
and less of building will be happening with optimal resource utilization
in focus. Converged networks will be the only choice. On the external
connectivity front, international connectivity will be using VPNs. Extranets
will become simple and security awareness will increase in the Indian