How technology chiefs are overcoming their network challenges
- 20 March, 2019 10:54
Like other senior tech execs across Australia, Rohan Penman, global head of technology at tea retailer T2, has faced challenges around providing a network with the speed, scale and security that his organisation requires.
In his experience, challenges arise when an organisation attempts to stay with a single provider for a managed wide area network (WAN). This has certainly been the case for T2.
Highly scalable bandwidth with reliable low latency connectivity to the Australian Securities Exchange is critical to our financial trading
“Consolidation can sometimes be a curse. Quite often, there will be ageing infrastructure across the country, significant variances in the understanding of shopping centre communication distribution frames and issues of actual delivery in some areas classed as regional,” he says.
Since joining the global retailer T2 in May 2018, Penman has been addressing issues with its existing WAN and local area network (LAN). Across the WAN, these challenges include the time it can take to deploy network infrastructure, limited flexibility and, most importantly, communications security across the enterprise.
Aged care provider, BaptistCare, operates some services in remote areas and faces the typical challenges of insufficient network bandwidth or high cost of infrastructure to support its centralised cloud computing model.
Daniel Pettman, the organisations chief information officer, noted that carrier responsiveness falls short of expectations. He said “There are still limitations around carrier responsiveness” and having access to enhanced customer service support helps to minimise overall impact to business.
Conquering network challenges
The concerns Penman and Pettman highlight are not unique. Network reliability, solution flexibility and choice of providers were key issues that influenced the design of nbn’s wholesale business nbn™ product and service offerings in market.
Understanding the challenges businesses face and the products and service features that are important to them has been key in designing our wholesale business nbn™ portfolio, according to nbn’s chief technology officer, Ray Owen.
For service provider responsiveness, nbn has established a dedicated business nbn™ Operations Centre and enhanced Service Level Agreements that service providers may use to create a business’ network solution and help to address some of the responsivity concerns. “As a wholesaler, we look at how our product or service feature offerings to service providers can support the business end-user experience, from enhanced service levels to network capability,” said Owen.
I’m eager to invest in providers that put forward solutions over the nbn™ [broadband access network] in the domestic market
Organisations are continuing to find ways to overcome challenges around connectivity through new technological approaches in IT and applying them to their networks, according to Owen.
He says this improves the efficiency of the network and provides opportunities for more open, standards-based and modular network solutions with common infrastructure supporting multiple functions.
“There is also an industry trend towards applying analytics and machine learning to network information. This automates the identification and response to network performance issues to improve the experience for end-users.”
“It means it’s possible to provide much greater transparency across all parts of the network to better understand where connectivity experiences and service performance is being impacted and then improve activities and response times through machine learning,” he says.
A pool of emerging technologies such as connected cardio, wearable technology, and music streaming services are driving changes to the traditional way networks have been architected in the fitness industry, according to Fitness & Lifestyle Group chief data and technology officer, Adam Skinner.
“In the past few years, there has been an explosion of cloud service providers such as AWS and Google Cloud Platform that are driving the ability for companies to drive digital transformation efforts by moving their traditional workloads into the cloud,” Skinner says.
“This shift has allowed the rapid transformation of moving to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) based products and promoting the ‘anywhere, anytime’ accessibility of these services.
"It has promoted an inherent need to have elastic networks that scale up to meet the needs of our users during peak times and scale down during times of lower activity. These networks also drive performance and availability of services that are provided by our cloud service providers."
Elastic networks are also easier for network operations teams to manage when making changes or rolling out services to multiple sites, he says.
Skinner adds that Fitness & Lifestyle Group has begun to make a push towards the “bleeding edge” by putting an emphasis on edge computing.
“With fewer constraints at the edge versus the data centre, the by-product is that we have had to plan for larger trunks, upstream traffic, availability zones and breakout points on our network as more and more users are reliant on connectivity,” he says.
Meanwhile, Salvatore Trimboli, chief technology officer at financial advisory firm, Baillieu Limited, says his company’s network has changed entirely over the past two years from a decentralised complex model to a more centralised and standardised model.
“We are constructing a trusted, intelligent core network to align with our cyber security practices and regulatory requirements. Data access and control is a key focus as we bring in live analytics to best service our business and clients.”
Breaking down the barriers
Network connectivity barriers often prevent organisations from moving applications to third party services and digitising processes to ensure they stay competitive.
If there were no network barriers, there would be a much faster uptake of newer technologies such as telehealth and telecommunications services, video conferencing and analytics, and CCTV streams across BaptistCare, particularly in rural areas, Pettman says.
“We would see an increasing density of sensors that monitor everything from smart facilities to wearables that measure health-related items,” he says.
As a wholesaler, we look at how our product or service feature offerings to service providers can support the business end-user experience
T2 will overcome network connectivity barriers when it completes the deployment of an SD-WAN and security solution at the end of the first quarter of 2019, said Penman.
“I’ve now created a strategy to commit to fully deploying our own SD-WAN solution to ensure we can pick the best communications for the scenario we are presented with, and then integrate that back into our core network. This commitment ensures that the loop is closed on security and standardisation of the enterprise.
“I’m eager to always invest in providers that put forward solutions over the nbn™ [broadband access network] in the domestic market. Thanks to our own SD-WAN solution, we can now easily pick and choose appropriate solutions based on best case agility or performance,” he says.
T2 has been lucky as the business required an upgrade of its core infrastructure and SaaS solutions were and still are the right fit, Penman adds.
Penman notes that high speed access is a regular concern, particular at their distribution centre warehouse which is outside of Melbourne CBD.
“Thankfully, deploying new hardware with both redundancy and dual load balancing through a dual WAN capacity helps us deal with some of the performance issues,” he says.
nbn’s mission to bridge the digital divide provides a focus for serving regional areas alongside major cities, and the same is true for business. As the roll-out continues, more and more businesses across the country will be able to access wholesale high speed data options from their service providers. Today, over 500,000 businesses rely on the nbn™ access network to stay up and running. nbn’s current wholesale offerings are suited for most businesses, but for businesses with high speed data requirements, like T2, they have access to business nbn™ solutions such as business nbn™ Enterprise Ethernet or fibre upgrade services. nbn recommends businesses talk to their service providers about options, or reach out directly to one of nbn’s industry engagement specialists to kick off the conversation.
Connectivity requirements are unique to industries
There are several unique requirements certain businesses have in relation to network connectivity services that are addressed with business nbn™, in particular, nbn’s Owen says: “They include traffic offered on a wholesale committed information rate and compliant within Metro Ethernet standards for voice trunk lines and guaranteed wholesale bandwidth. This committed wholesale service helps to allow businesses to ensure continuity and focus on driving growth.”
We have had to plan for larger trunks, upstream traffic, availability zones and breakout points on our network
nbn recognises that small and medium businesses, business enterprises, and central and remote office connectivity often have different requirements, and the nbn™ access network has been designed to support these in the form of wholesale traffic classes to service providers across Ethernet streams, Owen adds.
“In 2018, we went to market with our business nbn™ Enterprise Ethernet offering which offers access to up to one Gigabit wholesale symmetrical services to eligible businesses.* We have various levels of enhanced Service Level Agreements with service providers that operate 24 hours a day to cater to the unique connectivity requirements for critical services such as healthcare patients^. We are also in consultation for our wholesale business nbn™ Satellite Services and expect to have a product to market in the first half of this year.”
Baillieu’s Trimboli says his organisation measures itself on how resilient its network performs to drive agility and flexibility.
“Highly scalable bandwidth with reliable low latency connectivity to the Australian Securities Exchange is critical to our financial trading.
“Comprehensive service level agreements combined with regular testing of the whole round trip of network traffic ensure the service is functioning as required,” he says.
Increasing demand for technologies such as sensors and other internet-of-things (IoT) devices, high definition video and telehealth/telemedicine initiatives need to be taken into consideration when designing future networks, BaptistCare’s Pettman says.
The increasing uptake of consumer technologies that use our network and the introduction of SD-WAN technologies has also brought a new dimension to how we think about network design
“The rise of cyber-attacks is a risk, the increasing uptake of consumer technologies that use our network and the introduction of SD-WAN technologies has also brought a new dimension to how we think about network design,” he says.
Fitness & Lifestyle Group’s Skinner sees a future state where ‘intent-based networking’ is more mainstream. This will certainly be the case at his organisation.
“This represents a new approach to networking where intelligent software helps to plan, design and automatically implement network changes ‘on the fly’, improving its availability, scale, bandwidth, and agility.
“It will promote a focus on being able to connect infrastructure with business goals in a reasonable manner,” he says.
With the challenges and changes ahead in the market, nbn’s Ray Owen recommends companies start to investigate their nbn™ strategy when it comes to network solutions. “nbn’s mission is to help bridge the digital divide for Australians, which include supporting Australian businesses. Urban and regional areas on fixed line services are able to access business nbn™ products and services through their preferred provider, and the nbn™ footprint across Australia means infrastructure is in place for, or a lot closer to, these businesses.’
* Regardless of the bandwidth profile for the service an end user acquires from their service provider, it will operate at less than 1000 Mbps because of normal equipment and network limitations. In addition, an end user’s experience, including the speeds actually achieved over the nbn™ broadband access network, depends on some factors outside our control (like their equipment quality, software, and how their service provider designs its network). If an end user’s service provider has not selected Class of Service High, speeds the end user experiences may be affected by contention on the nbn™ access network, particularly in busy periods.
^ The rollout of the nbn™ broadband access network will involve new technologies, and some existing devices (including many medical alarms, autodiallers and emergency call buttons) may not be compatible with these at all times. You should contact your device provider to find out if your alarm or other device will work when connected to the nbn™ access network and what alternative solutions are available. For more information, visit nbn.com.au/compatibility.