Ripplecom’s Denis Herlihy: ‘Always be ready for new tech to rock status quo’

23 Feb 2018

Denis Herlihy, CTO, Ripplecom. Image: Shane O’Neill/SON Photographic

Ripplecom’s Denis Herlihy believes CIOs should never allow themselves to be overcommitted to any one tech platform, and should allow ‘wriggle room’ for new tech.

Denis Herlihy is the CTO of Ripplecom, an Irish telecommunications operator grounded in technology and engineering, and dedicated to providing a clever, agile and responsive service to business clients.

Prior to joining Ripplecom, Herlihy held tech leadership roles with Vilicom and Altobridge.

‘Genuine, always-on connectivity to cloud-based applications is becoming a ubiquitous requirement’

With a portfolio of data, voice, security and resilience products and services, Ripplecom has been hard at work connecting businesses since 2008.

Licensed as a telecommunications operator by ComReg, Ripplecom is an approved framework provider to the Irish Government, responsible for connecting almost 600 primary schools nationwide. It is an Engineers Ireland CPD-accredited employer.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology roll-out across your organisation, and what improvements it will bring to the company?

As a telecommunications operator, we use our technical capability to improve life and work for other companies. In a market where connectivity is treated as an off-the-shelf commodity, Ripplecom offers a supported service backed by experts who are accountable, contactable and responsive. Our particular expertise is providing fully diverse backup solutions to business networks, and delivering in areas where other providers struggle to offer adequate speeds. We achieve this by rolling out a variety of technologies across our extensive national network. This includes both licensed and unlicensed point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless technologies, as well as carrier-grade routers and switches to enable us to offer fibre services over wholesale networks such as Open Eir and Enet.

What are the main points of your IT strategy?

Our strategy is to harness the engineering and software skills we have in-house to deliver what our customers need. This has meant expanding our product offering into the layering of multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and voice over IP (VoIP) services and the creation of new, value-added products like Orion.

Orion is an auto failover engineered in-house that gives the customer two diverse paths to the internet, coupled with automatic failover from one to the other in case of outages, all controlled through the Ripplecom core network. It is the most complete and cost-effective auto failover solution on the market, meeting the resilience requirement of businesses that need to be always on.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

We own and operate one of the most extensive fixed wireless access networks in Ireland. Our core network is spread across three data centres with resilient interconnect links designed to guarantee very high availability for both voice and data services.

Our backhaul network consists of multiple national fibre backhaul circuits along with an extensive network of regional carrier-grade microwave links. We deploy a mixture of dedicated licensed and licence-exempt radios as necessary to meet customer requirements.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

As with all budgets, it comes down to planning in advance while allowing sufficient ‘wriggle room’ to adapt. Given the pace of change in technology, it’s important that CIOs not lock themselves in by overcommitting to spend on any one technology platform. New technologies will continue to disrupt the status quo in the future, so maintaining flexibility within budgets to react to those will be vital for future success.

How complex is the infrastructure? Are you taking steps to simplify it?

The main step we’ve taken to simplify our infrastructure is the migration of critical systems to our own private cloud, which operates within our data centres. While that is second nature to us, I fully understand how such migrations can seem very daunting to other sectors that may not have access to the same levels of IT and networking expertise.

Do you have a large in-house IT team or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

Outsourcing IT would not make sense for us, given the level of expertise we have in-house across network engineering, operations and technical support. We do work with a number of IT service providers on a partnership footing in relation to our new product, Orion. The obvious benefits to their customers, and the prospect of no longer managing outages or physical failovers, is proving to be fertile ground for partnerships.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

My main responsibilities are in managing our network engineering and network operations teams, which keeps me very much in touch with the technical side of things. I also have an important role in supporting our business development and customer service so I regularly find myself out on the road, meeting key customers. The variety of the role is something I enjoy.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

Genuine, always-on connectivity to cloud-based applications is becoming a ubiquitous requirement. Businesses of all sizes now rely on multiple cloud applications to successfully execute day-to-day operations, so much so that even a brief outage has a real monetary impact. That requirement is what led us to introduce Orion into the market. Developed in-house by our own engineers, Orion leverages our core and access network expertise to provide customers with two physically diverse WAN pipes to the internet, with truly seamless automatic failover in the event of an outage.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

We fuse a mixture of proprietary network monitoring systems and open source tools such as Nagios, Zabbix and Cacti to ensure we always have an up-to-the-minute view of how our network is performing. Real-time data is displayed on multiple large screens in our network operations centre. Critical network nodes such as routers, switches and servers are constantly monitored for temperature, CPU load and memory usage. We calculate daily availability statistics separately for our core, backhaul and access networks.

We also have dedicated monitoring of connections and services to key corporate customers for rapid identification and troubleshooting of any issues.

Last but not least, our mobile workforce management system highlights the location of our on-the-road team of engineers, technicians and riggers so they can be deployed to reach customers as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Are there any areas that you have identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

Our IT strategy is completely customer-centric. A major target for 2018 is further streamlining our process flow, from initial customer engagement up to delivery of service, to ensure we continue to be as agile and responsive as possible.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

We will continue to strategically build capacity into our network as we focus on the B2B market and deliver enterprise services to key customers such as Glanbia, Regeneron and Munster Joinery. Other upgrading works will improve overall network availability by upgrading uninterruptible power (UPS) infrastructure and increasing battery backup run times on multiple sites. Our network held up much better than most in the aftermath of Storm Ophelia and we will do even better next time – not that I want another hurricane any time soon!

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years