In this feature, we will be exploring the value of connectivity, why the business must modernise and invest into connectivity, and how to manage the costs that surround this modernisation and investment.
If any organisations have case studies that highlight how they have delivered on their connectivity mandate within budget, we would love to use them in the next magazine.
How has connectivity evolved over the past few years and how is it set to change over the next five years?
The evolution of connectivity over the past few years continues to follow an exciting trend for SA businesses. The cost of connectivity, though still higher than the 1st-world economies, has reduced significantly in recent years, and with the growing competition in the South African market, is likely to continue this trajectory for the foreseeable future. In sharp contrast to this is the growing volume of data consumed by businesses for their daily operations, the likes of which has had an almost equal and opposite effect of the cost reductions. Fibre’s growing dominance in the South Africa market has also been a significant contributor to these changes. As well as the improving latency and increased throughput companies now have access to, it’s also significantly improved competition and brought substantial coverage to access Fibre around the country, especially in the Metro areas. New mobile technologies, like 5G, will have a wide-spread impact on the cost and accessibility of connectivity in the coming years, all of which will greatly benefit businesses access to throughput, turnaround times and resilience/backup mediums in SA. With the recent advent of COVID-19 and the related world-wide lockdowns in place, the ability to connect to businesses, cloud services and remote working tools has reached adoption levels never seen before, which will no doubt further our acceleration to a more connected and virtual workspace.
Why is it essential that the organisation pay attention to this evolution and invest in connectivity that’s modern, relevant and capable?
There remain far too many businesses throughout South Africa that either remain on copper-connected mediums, like ADSL or diginet circuits or are trying to run their businesses using consumer-grade fibre connectivity. The costs, risks and speed restrictions of these mediums and services are detrimental to most businesses, who don’t know how accessible business-grade Fibre, Microwave and LTE/4G services are. Furthermore, the legacy diginet and ADSL mediums are quickly being phased out throughout the country. The reality is that business-grade Fibre and Microwave connections are the most effective mediums for businesses to connect with, and enable businesses to effectively consume Cloud services, SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Networking) and other powerful tools for communication. Businesses that understand the importance of stable high-speed connectivity and the Cloud services it enables, are placing themselves at a strong advantage versus their competitors, many of whom will remain disadvantaged until they too make the necessary change.
What are some of the most important connectivity investments that should be made by the business today, and why?
Certainly, the best investment a business can make, when it comes to connectivity, is the right connectivity partner to work with your business, so you can be assured of decent networking skills, a strong understanding of your business needs, and the right technical support and guidance to help empower your business. Connectivity for businesses nowadays is like oxygen. Your connectivity must remain available, stable, and sufficient to meet your businesses data demands. Back-up/resilience is another essential consideration when it comes to connectivity, and often the best approach is either multi-medium connections (primary link over fibre with a backup link over microwave as separate mediums) or taking this further by Multi-homing (2 connections running off 2 entirely different network providers). These network architectures ensure the maximum uptime and availability for your company network, and if there is a fibre break or high-site outage, the second medium is unlikely to be affected. With multi-homing, if the entire core of one network provider were to fail, your business will continue running off the second link connected to an entirely different core network, ensuring that even during a major disaster, your business continues to operate unaffected.
More recently, the ability for staff to work remotely, and consume resources and cloud services from home has become another essential requirement for the sustainability for businesses, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Wherever possible, businesses are investing in reliable connectivity for both their primary offices as well as the key individuals from home.
How can the business invest in agile and capable connectivity solution/architecture without breaking the bank?
There are incredibly affordable connectivity solutions and architecture, that will add immense value to businesses without costing a fortune. The architecture is very dependent on each business’s needs; some larger organisations would require diverse-path fibre links through multiple providers with managed SD-WAN devices, which can separate business-critical data and VoIP from rudimentary data. Smaller businesses may simply choose Broadband Fibre links with an LTE failover and decent access to Cloud services. The point is both solutions are very affordable if you are engaging with the right connectivity partner.
What are some of the biggest costs associated with connectivity architecture today and which ones are the most important to ensure sustainability and relevance?
The biggest cost is typically having an over-architected network, which happens when service providers/partners take little interest in the customer actual requirements, and rather propose generic/vanilla solutions to service business. Every business is different, and if you understand your customers use of connectivity, it’s very clear how a network should be architected to service the customer effectively. To further enhance this experience, monitoring tools should be deployed to understand how the network is performing on an ongoing basis and allows dynamic changes to the network, which delivers an effective and evolving solution for a customer’s investment. Networks should not be viewed in isolation, or as a static picture.
When considering the management of connectivity expenditure, what would you consider best practice? Can you list three things that you would define as best practice in this regard, steps that every South African business should take?
The ability to monitor a networks performance, usage and data trends are critical to ensure you’re getting the most from your spend, and that your connectivity is correctly sized and spec’d to perform for your business. Your network partners should provider both WAN (Wide-Area Network) monitoring, as well as LAN (Local Area Network) monitoring, together with device and backup monitoring where needed. Monitoring gives a business a holistic view of their network usage and consumption and ensures your providers are proactive in dealing with any issues that the monitoring picks up.
The ability to manage your users in your business is critical, to ensure their usage of the company connectivity is for business purposes and to the betterment of the company. To prevent the abuse of expensive connectivity with P2P downloads and torrents, as well as browsing illicit or dangerous content and accessing data and information that can be damaging to your business are all critical factors in effectively managing connectivity expenditure. User access to unwanted sites, data and content can be managed through various security systems and tools that ensure your connectivity investment is used wisely and effectively and prevents abuse.
Not all data is created equally, and not all data should have the same rights to move across your network as others. Solutions like SD-WAN and MPLS are used to ensure data moving inside and outside your network is optimised, and the critical data gets preference over non-critical data. VoIP can be separate from data in higher-class quality of service or separated through VLAN’s to dedicate a portion of the data traffic to VoIP for critical real-time communication. Over and above this, the actual data layers can be separated, ensuring tour CRM and ERP data takes priority over browsing YouTube or accessing Social Media sites. Data Control is one of the most effective ways to squeeze the most out of your connectivity and honour the data that your business requires.