Highlight - Without the network, nothing works

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Without the network, nothing works

Published: 23 March 2020

Written by Richard Thomas

It's easy to get carried away. Applications are cool. There's that slick user interface. The ability to pull up names, numbers, sales figures wherever you are. Create conference calls and screen-shares. Link from one service to the other and into the Cloud. And the sheer satisfaction of delivering something that makes your customer smile.

If you're a Service Provider, you'll spend a lot of time working in that space. You're working hard to build a better service than your competitors. Unified Communications, Collaboration, Security… naturally, you want to focus on the applications - but it's too easy to take your eye off what's happening underneath.

I'm talking about the network. The underlying connectivity. Because all the applications, all the traffic shaping, all the Software-Defined cleverness in the world won't help you if the network they're running on is broken, slow, erratic or badly managed. Bandwidth may seem like a commodity, and in some ways it is, but that doesn't mean you can forget about it.

Bread – that simple staff-of-life stuff – is a commodity, and yet there is a giant range of breads available, from crunchy, still-warm artisan sourdough that you can't stop eating, to plastic-wrapped sandwich loaves which basically just give you something to hold the cheese while you eat it. And if you don't think about bread – if all you ever do is just grab a basic loaf off the shelf, out of habit, because you're too busy thinking about what you're going to put in the sandwich - then you're not in control of things. While you're not looking, bread suppliers can gradually change what's in the wrapper, use simpler ingredients, boost their margins. As long as they keep the packaging the same, you're buying the same thing, right? Worse, you don't realise the value that great bread can add to a sandwich, you can't price it properly, and you can't match it to your chosen market. Getting the quality right lets you charge more, and retain those customers who'll otherwise drift away to one of your competitors who is paying attention to each and every layer.

OK, using "Layer" there was a cheap segue back into networking. But the principle remains the same. Applications are cool, but without the network, nothing works - so who you buy your connectivity from and how you use it, monitor it and work with it, matters a lot. Bandwidth is not just bandwidth. As your customers demand mobility and cost-control, applications that sat comfortably on Ethernet now have to work over WiFi, Broadband Internet and 4G/5G. So try these two things:

  1. Recognise that you are quite possibly the first person ever to try running that application, with that usage pattern, over that network technology. If you don't do it already, allocate some resources in your business to testing and getting to know these network types in a controlled manner: what you can and can't expect, what promises you can and can't make.
  2. Have visibility of the connectivity you're building your business on, in two timeframes: when problems hit, have a fast, defined way to establish whether the network is still up and behaving; and at the end of a month or quarter, be able to look back and see the overall quality of what you're buying.

Ultimately, the choice of whether you build your sandwiches on perfect crusty sourdough, or a cheap sliced loaf, is up to you. Both can actually lead to a successful business, but only if you know and understand what you're buying.

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