IT departments are faced with static or shrinking budgets while the business demands technology that allows secure, remote and mobile working and connectivity for user-owned devices like smartphones and tablets.
Simultaneously the widespread uptake of voice over IP (VoIP) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking, and the expectation of business video as a given all put increasing pressure on corporate networks.
Against this backdrop, Computing convened its latest IT Leaders Forum, entitled Intelligent Networking for an Uncertain World and sponsored by BT.
IT heads from construction, engineering, services, healthcare, education, the media, financial services and the public sector gathered at the London Stock Exchange in March to discuss how they are adapting their networks to the changing requirements of increased demand for video, mobility and consumerisation.
Bring your own
For Phil Quinn, ICT manager at New Swindon College and one of four panellists at the forum, accommodating consumer-isation is an operational necessity. The college is home to 3,000 full-time and 10,000 part-time students and has recently rolled out Wi-Fi everywhere.
“We have to accommodate everything students might bring to the college, from their dad’s six-year-old laptop to the latest iPad,” said Quinn.
Navigating the complexity of security that comes with the consumerisation of IT will be increasingly difficult for enterprises, said David Moloney, principal analyst at Ovum.
“Whenever a new communications technology appears, for IT managers it’s about the underlying security,” he said.
Panellist David Duncan, group network and communications analyst at international marketing consultancy Dunnhumby, said his company’s approach to consumerisation is to provide a list of devices that have been tested and proved to work on the company network.
“If individuals want to bring in devices other than those on the list, we can’t guarantee they will work,” he said.
Consumerisation is one element in an increasing trend to IT flexibility. Demanded by individual users, this flexibility is also embraced by companies as a business continuity solution. Quite simply, if employees can’t get to the office because of a natural disaster or act of terrorism, business can go on as usual with users working from home or another office.
And that means network capacity has to be flexible.
For example, during last summer’s riots, Dunnhumby’s staff at its HQ in Ealing were sent home early and told to stay home the next day. Pre-empting a lack of capacity for home users, Duncan worked with Dunnhumby’s service provider to allocate capacity away from the Ealing office to support remote users accessing the firm’s datacentre.
Duncan is now negotiating with his provider to have dynamic bandwidth allocation as a permanent feature of the service.
The London 2012 Olympics could also be a source of disruption for companies, in terms of network capacity as well as travel.
“The Olympics could well have a big impact on us if all the students start streaming video from the BBC,” said Quinn. “And there’s no point in us blocking it or the students will learn about the wonderful world of proxies.”
Visibility into the network is vital, said panellist Neil Sutton, vice president at BT Global Services, not just for traffic volume but also in terms of application and website performance.
“Having the tools to see what the user experience is really like is very important to our customers,” he said. “We work with one retailer who estimates a one-second delay on their website equates to a loss of £72m in sales.
“We’re doing more to build these tools into our networks,” he added.
Two IT heads gave presentations at the forum on network developments at their companies. Both focused on the need to meet increasing demands on shrinking budgets.
Graham Loveless, network services manager at recruitment firm Hays, showed how a hybrid MPLS/ VPN infrastructure had addressed the need to improve service levels from “best-effort” to near-MPLS without increasing operational expenditure.
“It’s a solution that suits our traffic profile of many branch offices communicating with the London HQ,” he said. “It wouldn’t work as well if there was lots of branch-to-branch traffic.”
Goy Roper, ICT head of Norfolk County Council, explained he is working with other county council CIOs and regional public-sector bodies to make real the central government vision of the Public Service Network (PSN).
The PSN is envisaged as a network of networks for public bodies that enables them to make significant savings through shared ICT services while maintaining or increasing service levels to citizens.
“Obviously other county councils do the same things as us. Some things we do better and some things they do better. So we would be a consumer of some services and a provider of others,” Roper said.