The concept of convergence is inescapable in the modern world of business technology, not least because it has blurred the traditional spheres of influence for communications and IT companies. Each sector is now eyeing up the other for a piece of an unfolding market.
The key to opening up this new landscape has been internet protocol (IP) technology which enables voice and data applications to run over the same network, saving money and increasing efficiencies. Coupled with network technology known as MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching), which gives operators the ability to prioritise performance to suit the needs of a customer’s requirements across multi-site locations, it heralds a new era of flexibility in the way that organisations run their networks.
A recent report by Nortel Networks revealed that two-thirds of companies are planning to shift applications across most or all of their business to these new types of converged network within the next five years.
Analysts and industry observers have identified that the service providers with the strongest billing relationships will now have the opportunity to deliver a full range of services and capture an entire customer base. One argument mooted by Gartner is that today’s network service provider market structure is not sustainable, leading to a new class of player: the global networking solutions operator. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that BT Global Services has been among the most aggressive in its attempts to grab a piece of this pie.
“Voice is an application now,” said Esat BT CEO Bill Murphy, summing up the new thinking and the new role that the telco aspires to play. Speaking at a recent Dublin event where BT was pitching its wares to Irish corporates and the public sector there was nothing subtle about BT’s intent to reach deeper into the heart of an organisation’s IT infrastructure. “I don’t know if we’d thought enough in the past about what our customers are doing with their networks,” said Murphy. “The network is the core of the ICT spend and Esat BT want to play a part in it.”
This was the launch of an enhanced managed service from BT that promised to improve customer performance and maximise investment. The Applications Assured Infrastructure (AAI) is a portfolio of services for multi-site organisations struggling to gain efficiencies from their ICT networks. “Businesses need a better understanding of the relationship between applications and the infrastructure they run over,” said Emer Kennedy, head of global products. BT research revealed that 83pc of IT professional didn’t know what applications were running on their networks.
Kennedy said that BT had been offering the methodology to some European clients on a bespoke basis but were now rolling it out to the wider marker as a standardised offering.
The AAI toolset has five components available as standalone services or as part of a progressive implementation: a detailed infrastructure audit, advice on optimisation, ongoing monitoring, subsequent management of problems arising and a contractual assurance scheme covering everything from desktop to data centre or just the elements that Esat BT supplies and manages.
According to John Gillam (pictured), AAI product manager at BT, it’s about gaining control of infrastructure. “Businesses are trying to optimise applications performance for competitive edge and a gain in customer satisfaction,” he said.
BT used research from Gartner to highlight its growing prowess as a global carrier that has leveraged the convergence of technologies to gain a foothold in the IT infrastructure market.
Gary Cobain, solutions director, talked of the evolution from the PC to the server and now to the network. The foundation for the new infrastructure was IP, according to Cobain, where voice becomes one of many applications. “Convergence is not just about voice-over IP, it’s about multimedia services, 24/7 access through different tools,” he said. “AAI will allow them to deploy new services and applications with confidence.”
Using a diagram to illustrate his point Cobain argued that BT was offering a platform that would ultimately enable business change. Transformation was the top tier of a pyramid built on a foundation of IP services with applications and infrastructure in the middle. Appealing to his audience he said that chief information officers were no longer responsible solely for IT systems, they now had influence over business processes.
And just in case we missed the point, BT was positioned as a key service provider in this space. “There was a perception a couple of years ago that communications was dull and boring; today BT are right at the front as a global carrier,” said Cobain.
Part of the AAI sales pitch is that it is a toolset to manage network infrastructure and maximise IT investment in a frenetic environment. Bill Murphy talked of the wider communications market where the likes of AT&T and MCI had all suffered on the stock market as competition grew more fierce and regulation more tight. In this environment, said Murphy, organisations were having to make two year investment decisions. He believed they were looking for someone to supply systems support that offered stability along with flexibility and innovation. Guess who?
It was Kennedy who argued that BT was the ideal provider, protecting its customers from complexity and risk while offering the rich mix of stability and agility.
Although this was a local event, topped off by the Irish rugby team coach Eddie O’Sullivan fielding questions from the audience, the aspirations of BT as a global player were much in evidence leaving you with a distinct feeling that it can’t be too long before the Esat prefix is consigned to history.
By Ian Campbell