Skills shortage, IP communications drive demand for outsourced WANs

Many firms are looking to selectively outsource specific management tasks, which they either don’t feel competent in handling or may even view as a commodity.

By turning to a managed service provider, they’re hoping to improve the reliability of their networks, while at the same time saving a bit of money.

Managed services differ from outsourcing in that they typically refer to outsourcing a specific task or element, such as voice, data, video or help desk support.

“You can actually own a PBX for telephony or a set of switches and routers, but you might have a third-party company actually on-site and you’re paying them a monthly or annual fee to be the manager of those services,” said Tony Olvet, vice-president of the communications practice with IDC Canada.

Every new technology increases the need for skills, which are becoming harder to find in the IT and communications sectors.

“For a lot of the bigger WAN services it’s going to be a business where scale is important, so that’s where the telcos see themselves, as well as IBM,” he said. “The telcos would love to get into any kind of ongoing recurring revenue service that allows them to offset the declining legacy businesses they’re in.”

Some of the WAN services available include end-to-end network management and monitoring, hosted data centre and application management, combined voice, data and video services and help desk support, as well as value-added solutions to basic layer 1-2 transport services.

It’s become so broad that very few services cannot be taken advantage of across the wide area network, said Darren Hamilton, category business manager of ProCurve Networking with HP (Canada) Co. “Shared database applications is a huge one,” he said. “As much as we see distributed technologies, we also see centralization of things like thin clients on one end and a hosted application at the other end.”

The device that resides at the WAN edge is now capable of deciding which packets should be given priority over others, he added.

Some customers want to pay a single price for both the hardware and managed services. Others purchase the product outright and rely on the service provider to, for example, drop in the WAN router and own the maintenance and support of that line.

“So we’re really getting a mix and match,” said Hamilton. “Providers that are flexible and nimble enough to provide multiple different solutions are ones that are prospering – they need to be able to address the service levels and requirements as well as the application delivery.”

And managed services, traditionally supplied by carriers or system integrators to support customer WAN requirements, are headed into new territory, according to Insight Research Corp. Where once managed services required separate capabilities for monitoring each voice, data, mobile or video service, convergence based on common IP networks will present new opportunities for wireless and wire-line providers, according to a recent report titled, “Managed Services in an IP World.” IT departments will be asked to deliver the next generation of business applications and migrate to a converged IP network for voice, data and video applications, according to the report, and in the present complex communications environment, managed service providers are in the best position to assist the enterprise customer.

A lot of IT managers are not comfortable with the voice side of the portfolio, and now video is being added into the mix, Olvet said.

“The concept of every company out there developing their own videoconferencing network doesn’t make sense,” he said. “The driver is going to be moving to IP from a legacy service where companies are going to say, ‘We just don’t have those skills in-house.’”

Some IT service firms, like IBM, are working with the telcos to design overall WAN solutions for customers, particularly those who are finding convergence too complicated to manage in-house. “We may manage their voice network and the day-to-day support of their phones, or we may manage the day-to-day network management and troubleshooting,” said Richard Woodside, national practice executive with IBM Networking Services.

Other IT service firms are specializing in specific areas of management. Barrister Global Services Network, for example, provides managed help desk support for clients with more than 100 users. In this scenario, the managed service provider takes level-one calls from the client’s employees or customer base to resolve technical issues.

“A lot of times there’s a big-time problem with fluctuation in call volume, so how do you staff a help desk?” said Gerry Solis, sales solution engineer with Barrister Global Services Network. “How do you know how many people you need today versus tomorrow?”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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