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Issue of June 2004 

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Stabilized connectivity

Though most organizations expect bandwidth usage to grow this year, investments in this area are falling. Enterprise connectivity has entered the maintenance zone. by Anil Patrick R

Connectivity is essential for both, a university campus and a corporate setup. Over time the price of bandwidth/connectivity has come down and other options are available. Decreasing bandwidth cost is one reason why the investment amount seems to taper off. Organizations can now get the same bandwidth (or more in some cases) for less.

The thirst for more

But decreasing investment does not necessarily mean diminishing demand for bandwidth. Over 64 percent of organizations investing in this area expect a need for more bandwidth during 2004-05. And these are not marginal increases.

Close to a quarter of the organizations surveyed expect to ramp up their bandwidth usage by either the same or double the existing amount. Another quarter or so expect to increase their consumption of bandwidth by 50 to 100 percent. While about a fifth expect less than a 50 percent rise in bandwidth usage, 15 percent anticipate a greater than 300 percent leap.

Enterprise wide applications (EWA) are the biggest driver of bandwidth usage. 43 percent of the survey respondents identify it as the single, most important factor. 69 percent also identified EWA as one of the reasons for the increasing demand for bandwidth.

The centralization of infrastructure, intranet and messaging are other drivers of this trend. Indian organizations are centralizing IT infrastructure in a big way.

Prices are falling and the QoS levels are rising as service providers' fight for turf. Leased lines are no longer considered a luxury only for the head office. Be it Internet access or campus connectivity, leased lines top the list of connectivity options. VSAT and ISDN follow. Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi are yet to make their mark.

The external link

Most (78 percent) organizations have already bought leased lines. 47 percent plan additional or fresh investments in leased lines this year.

Dial-up connectivity remains the second most popular mode of accessing the Net or for tunneling into a corporate network. More than half the respondents use dial-up in some form or the other. ISDN is another popular option just five points behind dial-up, at 53 percent. The future appears to belong to leased lines all the way. However, only 23 percent and 22 percent plan to invest in dial-up or ISDN respectively.

VSATs have slipped down the popularity charts. A third of the organizations surveyed use VSATs. Worse, only 21 percent plan to invest in this technology in the coming year. VSAT costs are very high compared to other options and this is taking its toll. Despite that, VSATs continue to rule when it comes to providing Internet access in remote locations: the technology remains popular in WAN connectivity.

DSL and cable aren't as prevalent as one would expect after all the hype and hoopla around these two upcoming technologies. 27 percent of organizations use DSL, only 13 percent intend to invest in DSL this year. Cable is less popular; 16 percent of organizations use it today and 8 percent plan to invest in the future. The trouble with DSL and cable lies in their inability to live up to their promise of 'broadband'. Organizations will not tolerate (rightly so) the abysmal service levels that cable and DSL providers are doling out at this point of time.

There is still hope if TRAI's (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) broadband recommendations come into force and ensure that users get a minimal download speed of 256 Kbps for a broadband connection, at a lower cost than they pay today for slower connectivity. The recommendations will also result in cheaper VSAT services.

Connecting the corporation

Leased lines hold the pole position even in the LAN/WAN campus connectivity segment. More than half the survey sample, are using leased lines and this year will find 26 percent investing in leased lines.

VSATs come second with a third of the organizations using them. These are mostly deployed for hooking up remote locations; a fifth of the respondents intend to invest in VSATs for internal connectivity.

VPN usage has grown slowly but steadily over the past couple of years. 31 percent of organizations use VPNs and 21 percent will deploy them in the following year.

The use of VPNs for internal connectivity is due to its cost-effective nature and decent performance. Technologies such as MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) let VPNs offer good QoS and any-to-any connectivity. Organizations that need guaranteed services levels, but don't want to spend a bundle on leased lines find VPNs to be the ideal means of hooking up remote users or offices.

Point-of-sight RF links are being used by 18 percent, primarily at remote locations where there is no other feasible option. 14 percent of organizations plan to invest in RF links this year.

Gigabit Ethernet and WLAN adoption is slowing. 16 percent of organizations have Gigabit Ethernet in place and only 11 percent have plans to spend on it this year. IS 2003 had revealed that 10 percent of respondents had adopted Gigabit Ethernet during 2002-2003. As Fast Ethernet is good enough for most popular enterprise applications, Gigabit Ethernet has been limited to the server at the core of the campus network.

IS 2003 had shown that WLANs were in place at every tenth organization. This year's results show that going up by four points. Unfortunately only 11 percent of the respondents intend to invest in WLAN this year. Security concerns, the order of magnitude in speed difference between unwired and wired networks, high access equipment costs and interoperability concerns are some of the reasons behind the poor adoption of wireless LANs.

Research Snapshots
  • Though investments in connectivity are coming down bandwidth usage is on the rise. If that appears to be a paradox, it isn't. Competition has brought down the cost of bandwidth and that's why companies are enjoying better connectivity for a smaller outlay.
  • Most Indian organizations have got past the bump when it comes to buying the equipment and setting up their core network infrastructure and hooked it up to the 'Net. Additional investments are more by the nature of maintenance rather than into building networks.
  • Enterprise wide applications, IT centralization, intranets and messaging are the top drivers of bandwidth usage.
  • Leased lines still rule the roost for both Internet access (78%) and campus connectivity (51%).
  • VSATs are losing ground when it comes to 'Net access, but they still mean business when it comes to LAN/WAN connectivity.
  • VPNs are hot, particularly on the campus.
  • Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi adoption are slow to catch on.

NM Suggests
  • MPLS VPNs can provide good QoS and any-to-any connectivity. They're also quite secure when used for LAN/WAN campus connectivity.
  • Wi-Fi based on 802.11g is preferable to the existing 802.11b standard. But 802.11g is yet to be deregulated.
  • Consider other options like Wi-Max and GTRANS for wireless campus-wide connectivity.
  • Simple but effective tools such as MRTG (Multi Router Traffic Grapher) let you monitor if your service provider is adhering to the SLAs that you agreed upon.
  • TRAI's broadband recommendations will make cable and DSL a much more attractive proposition if they come to pass.

Sales force on the go

SRL Ranbaxy set up a connectivity infrastructure with its sales force to share vital information

SRL Ranbaxy needed to develop a Sales Automation System for connectivity between its internal departments like sales management, client service, logistics, laboratory and accounts through the Web. It also wanted to provide clients/doctors/patients a single window interface with the company through the Web.

G. Radhakrishnan Pillai, Head-Information Technology, SRL Ranbaxy, set up Ccom, a Sales Force Automation system.

It comprises an Intranet Portal, which can be accessed and updated through a cell phone using WAP. And now, the system is integrated with LMS (ERP) so as to enable internal as well as external entities to access the necessary information.

The Innovation

The implementation was done in two phases. In the first phase SRL Ranbaxy tried to connect its doctors and collection centers by providing access to its website for accessing lab reports.

Phase two of the Sales Force Automation (SFA) system keeps the sales team better informed about its achievements—so that they can improve their performance.

The Benefits

SRL Ranbaxy has revolutionized the lab testing report delivery mechanism from the conventional way of courier/post to Web-based and e-mail delivery. The cost has been reduced dramatically, and service time has improved. The company has created a new set of IT dependent doctors, by creating demand for faster report and encouraging them to take advantage of IT.

The Area Sales managers can stay in continuous touch with the Sales officers, and a Sales manager of a particular zone can be in touch with his Area sales manager.

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