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Issue of January 2005 
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Enterprise connectivity strategy

Taking an organised approach to connectivity

Instead of purchasing new links and upgrading old ones in a haphazard manner, an enterprise should adopt a connectivity strategy that helps it manage systems and control costs in an organised manner. by Soutiman Das Gupta

Purchasing bandwidth and connectivity without an enterprise connectivity strategy is like putting the cart before the horse. Without the use of a strategy, you can't get a clear picture of actual needs
S Krishnasarma, CIO, KEC International Ltd

In most organisations, the need for connectivity within an office building, between offices in a city, and between cities in the nation, is part and parcel of surviving in the corporate jungle. Organisations must share information between departments and units to perform basic and vital business functions.

The purview of today's enterprise, goes beyond its nationwide locations and includes its suppliers, distributors, retailers, and customers. Along with the need to be connected to these entities, an organisation has to communicate with its sales force and business executives who are on the move throughout the year.

This has lead to enterprise connectivity becoming a critical focus area in most organisations.

TOP priority

The Infrastructure Strategies 2004 (IS 2004) survey polled about 200 Indian companies and it was found that 92 percent of the respondents had spent on bandwidth or connectivity in the recent past. It was the highest area of IT priority in a list that also included enterprise hardware and security. See box: Technology areas invested in the past

The survey also reports that in the next year, the highest amount of investment will be made in the area of bandwidth or connectivity.

in the long run

Enterprises need better connectivity as they add new applications, set up new locations, add personnel, build DR sites, and set up data centres. Most simply purchase a new leased line or VSAT link or upgrade their existing links.

Not much thought is given to whether the capacity of existing links is sufficient to support these additional demands upon the network. Companies usually do not perform capacity planning and addresses the need of beefed up connectivity by throwing bandwidth and links at the problem.

While this may be all right in the short term, it isn't a good practice in the long run. Companies find that they have purchased connectivity haphazardly with little importance given to management, monitoring, capacity optimisation, and even security.

The Need for strategy

Companies need to create an enterprise connectivity strategy and use it to build a framework upon which an organisation can plan, deploy, manage, scale, and audit its connectivity set-up.

The strategy will help a company get a realistic picture of its present capacity so that it's easy to make a decision on whether new links need to be purchased. The strategy should ideally consist of policies and procedures to ensure that existing links are used to their best capacity and new links, when provisioned, have adequate scope for scaling up.

"Purchasing bandwidth and connectivity without an enterprise connectivity strategy is like putting the cart before the horse. Without the use of a strategy, you can't get a clear picture of actual needs," says S Krishnasarma, CIO, KEC International Ltd.

"An enterprise connectivity strategy helps organisations validate the need and reason for deploying new connectivity measures or upgrading existing links," says Manish Jaiswal, General Manager, IT, South Asia Middle East, P&O Ports Pvt Ltd.

"Our organisation could scale up and meet the critical demands of nationwide enterprise connectivity to brokers, exchanges, and various nationwide financial entities because we had created and deployed an enterprise connectivity strategy," explains SB Patankar, Director, Information Systems, The Stock Exchange.

The strategic approach

Many organisations approach the issue of connectivity from the angle of technology. If an organisation wants to connect its head office to its manufacturing unit in another city, it begins to explore options such as optic fibre, DSL, VSAT, and Radio Frequency (RF).

Although technology is important, it's necessary to approach the issue of enterprise connectivity in a strategic manner. An organisation must consider the following factors:

  • The types of applications being used on its network
  • The geographical spread of its IT infrastructure
  • The level of business-criticality of IT systems and the required uptime
  • The number of employees who need access to the information
  • The number of business entities that need access to the information
  • The cost of deploying, maintaining, and managing links

Applications and bandwidth usage

Companies use a number of applications like ERP, SCM, CRM, RDBMS, customised ERP systems, financial packages, as well as retail and distribution packages. These applications use varying amounts of bandwidth.

Organisations with large manufacturing set-ups tend to have a lot of ERP data and SCM information running around on their networks. For instance, a bank will need to transmit its core banking and CRM information, and will therefore need reliable means of connectivity.

The manufacturing unit that runs ERP and SCM applications will need reliable connectivity to the head office from zonal offices. Companies that run media-rich applications such as video and voice will need greater bandwidth and throughput rates.

Applications, based upon priority, will need secure and reliable connectivity along with adequate backup and failover measures.

Geographical spread

An organisation's connectivity strategy will depend upon the geographical locations of its business units. An organisation can have zonal offices, manufacturing units and warehouses scattered across remote locations, a Disaster Recovery (DR) site, and sales teams in various places.

"The kind of connectivity technology that an organisation can use depends a lot on the location of its business unit," says Jaiswal. "For instance, availability of leased lines could be an issue at remote locations and one may have to go in for VSAT connectivity."

An organisation can also consider other wireless technologies such as CDMA and RF.

Business-criticality

In some organisations IT plays an extremely business-critical function. For example, IT and connectivity play a vital role in the case of a stock exchange. A minute of downtime results in huge financial losses for the exchange, brokers and stockholders. An FMCG company may get away with a few minutes of downtime, as connectivity is not vital to the core functions of its business.

So the decision will be based upon the criticality of the connection .

Giving access to employees

If the corporate strategy of an organisation mandates that access be provided to a large number of employees, adequate bandwidth must be set aside for provisioning during the capacity planning exercise.

"A thumb rule while provisioning bandwidth is to assume that at least one-third of the personnel will access the network concurrently," says Krishnasarma.

Employees can also be divided into groups with predefined access levels. This will help plan for the requisite connectivity, since all users do not need access to all the data, all the time.

Business units

How many business units are critical to an organisation? Do all business units need to be connected 24x7 to the head office all the time?

A close look at any business reveals that apart from zonal offices, a few key suppliers, and important distributors, many business units do not need always-on connectivity.

A company can use reliable high-bandwidth links between critical units and provide low-bandwidth VPN connections to other locations.

Costing trade-offs

The cost of any service has always been an important point to be considered and the relatively higher cost of long haul connectivity options such as leased lines and VSATs is leading to a gradual decline in their popularity. However, companies have to consider trade-offs.

A VSAT may be costlier than a leased line over a short distance. But it may be economical over a longer distance as newer locations are added. A company can use a service provider's DSL link to connect its city offices. However, with a larger upfront investment it can set up an RF link between buildings and avoid paying a monthly charge to the service provider.

A heady mix

Our organisation could meet the critical demands of connectivity to brokers, exchanges, and various nationwide financial entities because we had created and deployed an enterprise connectivity strategy
SB Patankar, Director, IS, The Stock Exchange

Enterprise connectivity strategy should be made keeping all of the above factors in mind, and should ideally be a mix of various factors according to the company's priorities. It should create policies regarding the deployment, use, monitoring, management, and bandwidth upgrades.

The company can create rules regarding the correct use of bandwidth in order to prevent misuse. Separate time slots in a day or week can be deployed for bandwidth-intensive jobs like NAS backups.

Policies can be made that optimise processes for the existing capacity. This will ensure that the current capacity is utilised up to a threshold (80-90 percent) before new connectivity is purchased. The policies can cover bandwidth prioritisation for critical applications.

"Companies that look for uptimes above 99 percent will need to, as a strategic move, subscribe to a mix of connectivity technologies. This will give them adequate scope for failover in case one link goes down," explains Jaiswal.

The strategy may lay down guidelines that a company will subscribe to links from two or more service providers for long haul connectivity. "Depending upon the application we have provisioned backup for all critical applications, and at least 50 percent backup for the remaining applications. All our VPN links are backed by 128 Kbps ISDN links," explained Krishnasarma.

Audits and reviews

After you've put the policies and procedures in place, the best way to ensure that they have been followed, is by conducting audits. These audits can be carried out by an internal unit or third party.

It won't be enough to hear from employees that the policies have been followed. The audit team should seek evidence that the delineated activities have actually been performed. The evidence can come in the form of logs and automated reports.

For instance, if the NOC claims that links have been monitored 24x7, there must be event logs and reports which clearly display the uptime status of a link every 15 minutes.

A company can set up an audit review committee that meets once a month to study the status of enterprise connectivity. This helps make any changes and modifications that may be needed to support an evolving business environment.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at: soutimand@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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