Keeping networks together

Any network, whether wired or wireless, needs to be maintained to keep it fully functional and efficient. Since many companies, especially those in the SME sector, find it expensive to maintain an in-house team that is fully dedicated to maintaining their ICT infrastructure, this has made it essential for some ICT processes to be outsourced.

For many years, companies preferred to keep the management and maintenance of their networks in-house, mainly because they felt that they needed to keep total control of this essential business tool.

However, as the ICT industry has matured, companies have begun to give the maintenance and management of the networks to companies whose core competency this is, which has resulted in considerable cost savings and better network lifecycles.

Johan Mouton, business unit manager, technology solutions at Bytes Technology Networks, a division of Bytes Technology Group, says that many companies are more focused on incident management, rather than being more proactive towards network management and maintenance. "

At this stage a lot of companies are paying more attention to incident and element management, but, at the same time, as ICT becomes recognized as a business tool, there is a shift in focus towards ensuring that network service is available on a 24/7 basis, he says.

He adds that network management in the past was very incident/ICT-oriented, but there is an ongoing trend towards a more proactive approach. "Very few companies carry out a good proactive approach to network management, and the determining factor in this respect is the size of the company: larger firms can afford to outsource it or have an in-house team, but the mid to smaller firms prefer to take the 'break and fix' approach, he says.


Heather Tonkin, sales manager of channel & partner sales at UUNet SA, says that nowadays companies have relished that outsourcing certain specialized ICT services to specialists is essential.

"Business agreements obviously differ from company to company, depending on size as well as SLA. The only way for companies to ensure that they are getting their money's worth out of a management and maintenance agreement is by undertaking a proper risk assessment, she explains.

Tonkin notes that the advancement of technologies has been a major factor in encouraging companies to change their attitudes toward outsourcing, adding that there is still the challenge of explaining and justifying the cost of the services.

"Each company has its own unique needs, so, if a contract is handled well, both parties will find it beneficial, she notes.

Says Martin May, regional director Africa: Enterasys Networks Inc.: "A network without a management element built into its business offering is like a yo-yo without a string these days. In our experience clients no longer just look for a network in their purchase decision, but, more importantly, look for a solution which has a management and lower cost of maintenance element built into it.

"In fact customers' demand for true return on investment within the networking scenario led to the development of the LAN Care For Life offering from Enterasys -- which encompasses a new for old replacement policy on all Enterasys equipment sold through an authorized distributor. With this a customer can rest assured that, if a unit fails, it will be replaced within a minimum of two hours after notification.

"What this does in the overall value chain is reduce maintenance costs, by eliminating the actual cost of the spares usually carried by the reseller, the savings of which are then passed on in the maintenance contract. This then also gives the user (and the resellers) the peace of mind that there are no hidden costs involved in the maintenance of the kit. And, again in our experience, some of our resellers, who offer clients access to a remote 'Outsourced Management Centres', enjoy far better success than those who just have the aging 'call out' offering.

"While the quality of equipment supplied from vendors needs to cover the critical elements of management and maintenance, few vendors are willing to absorb the risk, in turn 'outsourcing' the problem to those further along the partner value chain. Often when it has come to crunch time, our LAN Care For Life offering has meant the difference between winning a deal and losing one, he adds.

Mouton claims that the outsourced network management and maintenance market is performing very well, adding that, as companies realize the losses incurred when a network "goes down , they find that they can no longer afford to have the services of the business tool interrupted.

However, with a realistic look at the situation, he explains that many companies that are being used to provide maintenance and management services are in danger of over-providing services and over-charging for them. "Companies need to price and provide realistically, he notes.

In turn he says that some companies over-provide in that they include in their contracts services that are not critical to their client, and this also leads to clients not seeing the value of outsourcing: at the end of the day companies have to distinguish between sufficient/efficient and over-providing.

Essentially, an unmanaged or unserviced network is one that is doomed to have long periods or downtime, and which will wind up costing the company large amounts of money. Now that companies are fully aware of this, it is not surprising that they are entrusting their networks to specialized professionals, in order to keep them as efficient as possible.