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Issue of January 2004 
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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.

Anil Patrick R

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 campus connectivity.

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.

Best: All those who have either invested in connectivity/net access to invest

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 links.

Wirefree enterprise

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 Dutta.

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 anilpatrick@networkmagazineindia.com

Denizens of the past
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 requirements.

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.


Solution provider perspective
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 bandwidth—200 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 possibility."

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, NetScaler
"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, Sify
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 enterprise."

 
     
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