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13 Frightening Impacts of Network Outages

October 22nd, 2019 by

It’s estimated that at least 10% of the U.S. population has a fear of the number 13—and each year, that even more have a fear of Friday the 13th. If you’re an IT professional, on any day of the week, few things are more harrowing than a network outage. Such fears are justified. Data shows that loss due to network outages are a business’s worst nightmare. Network failures have no favorites. They can happen to any business regardless of industry or size, and external cyber criminals with a host of malware at their disposal are growing ever more sophisticated and devious.

Consider these 13 bone-chilling statistics:

Network Outages and 13 Frightening Impacts

Warding off network demons

There is good news despite these grim statistics. Before an outage pays an unlucky visit to your network, be sure you take the basic steps to protect your business. A good place to start is by selecting a network partner that can assess your current network, understands your business goals and can provide the expertise and solutions to avoid future network outages. 

How AI is Changing Business Communications

June 24th, 2019 by

“I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that will outperform humans.” –Stephen Hawking

With all the hype surrounding artificial intelligence, it’s tempting to run for the hills and hide from the coming dystopian reality predicted by the movie Terminator. Hollywood loaded the term to spark our imagination and marketers have (as marketers will) commandeered it to grab our attention. To further complicate matters, the definition of AI itself is not set in stone. As machines become more capable, tasks formerly considered “intelligent” get taken for granted and are excluded from the definition, and with so many related fields (machine learning, predictive analytics, artificial consciousness) the lines are often blurred.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and business communications

What AI is and is not

When thinking of AI, I find it helpful to start with what it is not. First off, AI does not require self-awareness; that falls under the field of artificial consciousness (the realm of Skynet, the Matrix and other human-replacing technologies). We are also not talking about machines capable of passing the Turing test (behavior indistinguishable from a human). Finally, there is a continuum of intelligence—going from earthworm to Einstein. Let’s just say we’re nowhere near genius AI.

Today’s AI is about learning and problem solving. It is “a system’s ability to correctly interpret external data, to learn from such data, and to use those learnings to achieve specific goals and tasks through flexible adaptation.” Not so scary.

AI impacts every aspect of our lives. In the network and communications realm, a frequently cited application in use today are chatbots. Algorithms tied to big data platforms to engage customers with actionable insights and the ability to resolve complex troubles in real time by simply chatting with a bot. In fact, WE Connect, our customer portal, already has such a resident bot today.

A preponderance of productivity apps leverage AI in areas ranging from making predictions about user preferences, to prioritizing tasks and making workloads more manageable and predictable. Integrating unified communications to apps like Alexa, Slack and Teams enables their users to further leverage the productivity-enhancing AI that has made these tools so popular (and, yes, we’ve done that too).

AI predictions and the network

The types of predictions AI provides in the app world today will soon enable intent‑based network traffic routing and prioritization. Historical patterns, trends and events correlated to model traffic routes that take the aggregate effect of expected individual user behaviors into account. Imagine also IT managers automatically ordering (i.e. approving) greater network capacity based on algorithmic forecasts of new peak utilization. In the event the unavoidable outage happens, diagnosing and repairing even the most intermittent of issues is within our grasp. And, it’s not hard to envision auto‑configuring threat management settings and priority queues based on user behavior.

Will AI eventually lead to mass unemployment and, ultimately, our demise? Perhaps someday. However, today’s AI is a productivity-enhancing tool making our lives and the ways we communicate easier. So, in the meantime, we’ll just have to enjoy AI’s many benefits and hope it never achieves Mr. Hawking’s dire prediction.

Why Visibility Plays a Critical Role in SD-WAN

June 4th, 2019 by

Cloud-based and mobile apps put traditional networks to the test by making last mile connectivity a mission-critical component. And, with 83% of enterprise workloads expected to run in the cloud by next year1, the need for a network that can properly support a fluctuating mix of bandwidth-intensive applications all but guarantees SD‑WAN is here to stay.

Visibility is critical in SD-WAN

Much has been said about the complexity sometimes associated with a successful SD‑WAN deployment. However, we hear less talk about another critical factor in maintaining a successfully deployed solution—namely, visibility.

Unlike their traditional counterparts, modern networks are not intended to be static. The days of “set it and forget it” are fast becoming a distant memory. The mission‑critical modern network calls for real-time network path conditioning and continuous policy evaluation to ensure an optimal application experience. Network and application performance can vary depending on the number of applications running, sites connected, service providers in place and individual user behaviors. Visibility can help monitor link reliability, application performance and user demands for the aggregate business or in varying granularity levels—crucial to understanding the operational impact of the SD-WAN.

The digital experience of SD-WAN

This is where the SD-WAN digital experience comes into play. When working with service providers, there is a patchwork of available tools and interfaces for monitoring, configuration and analytics. Monitoring and configuration control are essential to the long-term success of the SD-WAN. Therefore, it’s important to consider whether the SD-WAN you deploy gives your IT department the tools it needs to effectively manage the network or whether it becomes an administrative burden with negative implications on your IT workload, security, end-user and customer experience.

When considering an SD-WAN solution you should ask some key questions about the digital management and analytics capabilities available.

  • Monitoring visibility
    • Can you create a customized dashboard to view what’s important to you?
    • Does it show how much bandwidth your apps consume by location and device?
    • Can you monitor the performance of every access connection?
    • Can you create customized reports to view the history of bandwidth usage for trouble shooting and upgrade planning?
    • Do you have visibility from your mobile devices?
  • Configuration control
    • Is it secured by multi-factor authentication?
    • Do you have admin rights to make modifications to your settings on your own via any desktop or mobile device?
    • Can you rate limit or block unauthorized apps?
    • Can you modify business rules to prioritize apps?
    • Can you modify security policies by location, group or end-user?
    • Can you quickly implement configuration changes to all locations?

These are just a few SD-WAN management and visibility aspects Windstream Enterprise and VMWare will be discussing at our upcoming webinar. Join us for this important discussion and live demonstration on how the visibility into these critical areas can impact the success of your SD-WAN.

Register to attend:

SD-WAN Digital Experience: The “Power of One” at Your Fingertips
Thursday, June 27, 2019
1:00 pm ET | 10:00 AM PT

1 https://www.logicmonitor.com/resource/the-future-of-the-cloud-a-cloud-influencers-survey/

Continuous Quality Improvements: Creating a Virtuous Cycle to Drive Financial Growth

April 17th, 2019 by

Banks and credit unions can create a virtuous cycle of continuous quality improvements (CQI) for the customer experience (CX) if they focus on three key components—customer needs, data integration and network connectivity. Continuously working to better understand customer needs and taking positive action in response to those needs is the first step to set a virtuous cycle in motion. Technology can fuel the cycle and reduce the intervals between significant improvements to CX.

Harnessing data for growth

Traditional customer feedback to improve CX came from manager-customer conversations and surveys. While directly soliciting and responding to feedback remains important, technology can also deliver actionable insights to strategically and systematically enhance the CX —with little or no customer effort.

Competitive pressure forces financial institutions to improve the CX by investing in digital capabilities. People, processes and systems are all being integrated in an ecosystem that can yield analytics for actionable insights. This evolution is gaining momentum; according to a recent industry survey1, data ranked number one among respondents’ priorities for 2019 banking trends.

2019 Digital Banking Trends and Predictions report

Personalizing products and service delivery as part of an improved customer acquisition and retention experience creates monetization opportunities. Successful banks and credit unions better target customers or members throughout their digital journey to offer the right product or service at the right time. Banking interactions on digital devices are increasing, driving growth in the data being captured and analyzed in real time. The insights this data provides into buying behaviors have significant monetization opportunity and are becoming a source of competitive advantage – hence the buildout of data lakes and warehousing by larger financial institutions to store and connect big data.

Some select data-driven objectives for financial institutions include1:

  • Increase sales by 15%-20% with personalized, real-time messaging targeted at optimal buying cycles and criteria for P2P payments, loans, direct deposit and other transactions
  • Attract new customers with online comparison tools that match needs to account types
  • Retain customers with personal financial management (PFM) tools that provide ongoing account and investment guidance

Transforming the network

New technologies are enabling financial institutions to monetize engagement within CX. Legacy infrastructure can inhibit institutions from capturing, analyzing and acting on new data in real time to truly enhance the CX. If data integration is the fuel in a virtuous cycle to enhance CX, then infrastructure is the racetrack.

Massive amounts of data are traversing banking networks to support data analytics and business intelligence. To enable a frictionless CX and monetize opportunities, data must flow seamlessly between headquarters, branches and third parties. Not having enough bandwidth for data-intensive applications—such as online account opening, digital payments, online loan applications and ITMs—can result in high bounce rates, high opportunity costs and a negative CX.

Technology can enable banks to bridge the gap between the digital and physical CX. Advanced WiFi and analytics solutions can be part of a strategy to transform branches into digital showrooms by tailoring CX to each customer.

Financial institutions of all types and sizes realize enhancing digital CX channels is critical to future success.

2018 Digital Banking report

Securing the network

Of course, speed without safety is reckless. Securing sensitive data—both at rest and in transit—is mandatory to protect personally identifiable information (PII) and meet other regulatory requirements; ultimately, network security protects an institution’s reputation and bottom line.

Rapid digital evolution creates potential vulnerabilities. The financial industry is being targeted with new and complex cyber-attacks—including DDoS attacks, data exfiltration and ransomware incursions. In response, industry ecosystems are expanding to include technology partners that have already integrated security directly into network solutions such as managed network security, hybrid networking and wavelength services.

Financial institutions who support CX strategies with the right technology enable new monetization opportunities, market expansion and sustainable growth. Data integration must be a priority, as well as a flexible and secure network in order to meet customer needs. Once you’ve set a virtuous cycle of CQI for CX in motion, you can then delight customers and enjoy growing returns on your investments. 

1Kony DBX, 2019 Retail Banking Trends and Predictions report, 2018.

The Growing Importance of SD‑WAN to Manufacturing

December 4th, 2018 by

Large-scale manufacturers have long been pioneers in wide area networking. Their unique needs for real-time information sharing across multiple operating functions, manufacturing locations, partners, and suppliers, helped to drive MPLS adoption nationwide as it became the mainstay of mission-critical WAN implementations.

Today, the manufacturing industry is again at the forefront of advanced WAN connectivity with software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). Its superior performance, reliability, security and scalability better meets current manufacturing needs while setting a streamlined path to emerging technologies.

Manufacturing facility using SD-WAN connected network

The SD-WAN manufacturing advantage

Consider SD-WAN’s advantages for manufacturers in three essential categories:

  • IoT connectivity. While Internet-connected sensors and smart devices are now commonplace in manufacturing facilities, we’re still in the relatively early stages of industrial IoT. Competitive manufacturing in the future will revolve around complete smart-factory design – which means a steady stream of more and more IoT connections.
     

    In addition to scaling readily to accommodate IoT growth, SD-WAN provides exceptional network visibility for managing IoT endpoints and prioritizing traffic. Tomorrow’s smart factories will depend on smarter network management.

  • Cloud computing. Manufacturers have been rapidly moving to the cloud; recent studies indicate that as many as 90% of them currently use cloud‑based productivity applications. With specialized applications ranging from CADD to manufacturing resource planning, bills of materials and a range of back office applications, manufacturers rely on the cloud to be productive.
     

    The benefits of cloud computing in productivity apps extend nearly universally to manufacturing software. As the trend away from on‑premises hosting continues, SD-WAN will become increasingly critical in optimizing cloud-service connectivity.

  • Security. Efficient, large-scale manufacturing requires data sharing among a large number of locations, including partner and supplier facilities not under direct manufacturer control, which has always posed serious security concerns. Manufacturers are vulnerable not only to direct cyberattacks, but also to attacks that enter their networks through the networks of partners and suppliers–exposing trade secrets and intellectual property to industrial espionage.
     

    The right SD-WAN solution can offer exceptional security. This includes a superior ability to create customized firewall policies to rate, limit, or block unauthorized applications, and to automatically set up tunnels with end‑to‑end encryption for secure connectivity throughout an entire SD‑WAN.

Getting the “right” SD-WAN

SD-WAN is a broad solution category, and an upfront assessment of needs matched to options will pay dividends down the road. It’s also important to note that SD-WAN isn’t an all-or nothing proposition – it can often deliver its benefits alongside existing infrastructure in a hybrid network as determined by cost/benefits analysis.

Final note: For help getting SD-WAN right in your own terms, consider an SD-WAN partner with experience not only in matching solution to needs, but also in providing ongoing network management. SD-WAN designs created with an eye on management realities can deliver the highest degree of adopter satisfaction.

Five Reasons You need UCaaS Now

May 24th, 2018 by

According to the latest IDC survey covering UCaaS, enterprises are rapidly discarding their legacy phone systems in favor of unified communications as a service. 43.8% of U.S. enterprises had already made the transition to UCaaS by the end of 2017, an increase of nearly 7% over the previous year. Another 30.4% said they would make the switch within a year, which means the trend is accelerating rapidly.

Which begs the question: What are the remaining 25.9% – the companies that say they’ll adopt UCaaS in the next one to two years – waiting for?

Replacing an existing system at the center of business processes with a new cloud solution is unquestionably a serious decision. But as with so many other business-improvement initiatives, postponing can have negative consequences. As enterprises that have made the switch and those that are in the process of implementation have determined, the best time to implement UCaaS – and move voice, conferencing and collaboration to the cloud – isn’t a year or two from now. It’s now.

Here are five key reasons for realizing the benefits of UCaaS sooner rather than later:

  1. Scalability. Every on-premises system requires the purchase of dedicated capacity for maximum need, which can be wasteful in addition to being expensive. UCaaS can offer significant and simplified scalability in licensing, which is highly advantageous for enterprises that experience mergers and acquisitions, seasonal staffing fluctuations, temporary ramp-ups for marketing promotions, and any other factors affecting headcount.
  1. Resiliency. In addition to being more scalable than an on-premises solution, cloud-based unified communications and collaboration systems are less prone to single-event outages and resulting losses in sales, productivity, and customer satisfaction – which can be catastrophic with a major outage. In sharp contrast, UCaaS offers the reassurance and stability of up to 100% uptime.
  1. Flexibility. Moving to a UCaaS application can mean lower cost of deployment and implementation over time when compared to on-premises solutions. UCaaS also helps you future-proof an investment that is the productivity hub of your business, often enablingnew features and add-on functions at no cost, giving businesses the opportunity to make sure they’re a good fit for the business before committing dollars.
  1. Cost-sharing. Enterprises that switch to UCaaS can benefit from the efficiency of flexible billing offered by many UCaaS providers. For larger enterprises especially, these billing options can offer considerable advantages compared to dividing the estimated costs of investment, maintenance and other factors across the organization.
  1. Savings. Consider both the hard and soft costs associated with hosting a business phone/voice communicationssystem in your enterprise data center. Start with the real estate costs. Add the IT manpower costs of system management, maintenance, upgrading, and troubleshooting. Don’t forget VMware licensing, along with SAN storage, racks, power, and cooling. Top it off with on-site support, redundancy, and physical and cyber security. Now think about replacing all of that with a per-seat licensing fee that spreads OPEX costs over the term of use – plus a rich set of new UCaaS productivity gains.

These advantages aren’t theoretical; they’re being realized today by the nearly half of all U.S. enterprises that have already transitioned to UCaaS. They will be realized within a year by another 30%. Ramping up your investigation and implementation of a solid UCaaS system (Windstream Enterprise offers a number of different options to suit the needs of different size/types of customers, including our home-developed OfficeSuite UC solution) is the best way to ensure that you’re not left behind, propping up a legacy system that can’t offer your enterprise – and its employees – a far better communications

Enterprise Users Catch the Wavelength Services Wave

February 28th, 2018 by

Suppose you’re an enterprise that depends on connectivity to/between data centers. Your needs are straightforward but not easy to address, with a focus on enabling efficient data transfer for storage area networks and infrastructure to self-provide Layer 2 and 3 services. This requires high bandwidth transport with consistent low latency, extreme reliability and complete security.  What’s more, business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) are essential to your operations.

Until recently, your options were fairly basic. And expensive. But today, rapid evolution in network services and architectures has started blurring the lines between solutions once offered ONLY to other carriers, and those solutions offered to enterprise customers with rapidly escalating bandwidth demands. And not a moment too soon.

The enterprise starts riding big waves

The most interesting development involves Wavelength Services, which provide dedicated point-to-point optical connectivity using the same kind of packet-optical wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) technology once used exclusively by carriers to build their own networks. In the past, these powerful connections were used by carriers to transport data/traffic for all of their customers. Which was perfectly fine for everyone until a few years ago when content providers and large, more sophisticated organizations began moving increasingly complex and mission critical data sets and applications to the cloud. Thus began the creation of a whole new market for lightning fast web-scale wavelength connectivity.

What started out relatively small has started turning into a wave all its own, as IT leaders with complex needs have realized they can get virtually unlimited bandwidth, supreme reliability, low latency and private network security in one game changing connection.

What to watch when gauging Wavelength Services

As with all advanced network services, wave buyers should keep the concept of caveat emptor firmly in mind as they evaluate options. That’s because, when it comes to the enterprise, all waves are NOT created equal. To paraphrase a line from the 1980s cult classic film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, in the words of immortal surfer dude character Jeff Spicoli (a then unknown Sean Penn), “some waves are not as tasty as others.”

While WE (Windstream Enterprise) can’t speak for anyone else, we can tell you what sets our own Wavelength Services apart. It starts off with our proprietary Cloud Core architecture, which provides greater flexibility and faster install times, among a host of other advantages.

Transforming wavelengths from the cloud to the core

At the risk of sounding immodest, Windstream Enterprise Wavelength Services with Cloud Core are doing their part to enable digital transformation, by transforming how network services are delivered, combining our nationwide state-of-the-art photonic transport network with the latest tech trends:

  • Software-Defined Networking (SDN): Network architecture that virtualizes the control and configuration of networks
  • Network Function Virtualization (NFV): Network architecture that virtualizes entire classes of network node functions into building blocks that connect together to create communication services
  • Programmable Network Orchestration: Network devices and flow control are handled by software that operates independently from network hardware, allowing a network engineer to re-program infrastructure instead of having to re-build it manually
  • Optical Encryption: Protects sensitive information as it’s distributed across networks by incorporating robust in-flight encryption in addition to server security and at-rest encryption

Flexibility + Security = Higher Performance

Add it all up and you get one of the largest, secure and most innovative networks in the U.S., optimized to deliver the higher performance and security UCaaS and other data intensive, latency-sensitive applications demand. The results give businesses greater control, flexibility and rapid deployment of bandwidth and application for a seamless, reliable and future-proof network experience.

Better yet, for the first time, WE can guarantee 20-day accelerated Wavelength Services provisioning and delivery intervals across our entire 150,000 fiber-route mile U.S. footprint. Enabling multiple services locally with optimal performance (speeds available from 1 to 100 Gbps), improved risk management and protection of company and customer data.

There is of course, a lot more to the Windstream Enterprise Wavelength Services story than that. With an ultimate goal of delivering a better overall customer experience. By providing ubiquitous visibility and control, and virtualized services with a single pane of glass, customers can meet growing bandwidth needs, gain quick access to cloud resources, and remain responsive in a rapidly evolving environment.

As previously mentioned 80s philosopher Spicolli would say; “Righteous!”

The War Against Downtime Has Lasted Too Long. Here’s How to Finish It Off.

January 26th, 2018 by

For as long as we’ve had data networks, IT leaders have waged war against downtime. Although the war is far from over, victory is within reach. According to a recent survey, more than half of IT pros had a data outage lasting more than eight hours in the previous five years, and the damage caused by each can be enormous.

The IT heroes are those who have made such outages a thing of the past. For others, there is hope. You can give your network extra life – but you must have a solid game plan to get there.

Game on.

War against downtime Rule 1: Know your foe

Start by focusing on who it is you’re really battling in the war against downtime. Viruses and malware are indeed part of enemy forces – but not the main nemeses.

The survey that revealed how common network outages really are found that viruses and malware rank fourth in the enemies list. Beginning with the most common cause of downtime, the three primary enemies are power outages, hardware error, and user error – elusive forces that challenge IT’s traditional tactics.

That doesn’t mean giving up is an option – the stakes are too high. Over two-thirds of downtime events cause more than $20K in revenue loss, and nearly one-third cause losses exceeding $100K. Add to the financial impact the hit to employee productivity, damage to enterprise brand/reputation, delayed product/service delivery, cost of recovery, and lost customers, and it’s clear that the battle against downtime must be won.

Knowing the enemy can’t be vanquished directly, take the battle to the next.

War against downtime Rule 2: Be the hero – with diversity, not just redundancy

An effective weapon against downtime is redundancy. For example, having two fiber connections, improves network reliability with redundancy – yet falls short of hero battle.

Reaching rule 2 requires a more decisive strategy. Armed with the knowledge that factors outside your control will make parts of your network fail, you need to eliminate all single points of failure. IT heroes take the extra step of adding diversity. Two or more connections with different failure characteristics across all network elements, to improve availability for the entire network. Making sure all those redundant connections follow different routes and are connected to different equipment, eliminating every single point of failure -even the ones hidden in your service provider’s network.

In the all-out battle against downtime, a diversity strategy offers the surest path to:

  • Keeping employees connected and working, and customers connected and conducting business, even during power outages.
  • Maintaining business continuity during transport disruption, even if there’s a fiber cut or other last-mile impairment.
  • Keeping critical endpoints connected, even during catastrophic network events, by using alternate failover paths.
  • Bypassing hidden traps by protecting every aspect of the network, not just the obvious ones.

Diversity can win the war against downtime by outsmarting what IT can’t control: power outages, hardware error, and user error. The key is forming the right alliance.

War against downtime Rule 3: Partner with a sidekick

Batman had Robin. Han Solo had Chewbacca. Mario had Luigi. Like so many other heroes, they knew it was best not to go it alone.

To reach rule 3 and win an extra life for your network, arm yourself properly. Don’t stick with tools and techniques that let the battle continue. Know your foe, be the hero, and partner with a proven diversity solution (Windstream’s Diverse Connect for example) to give extra life to your network – including a five-nines service level agreement.

Take that decisive step, and it’s game over – you won.

Ethernet: Fast, Safe, Flexible and Ready to Support Digital Transformation

November 2nd, 2017 by

Looking in the rearview mirror, Ethernet’s improbable rise to prominence as the de-facto WAN connectivity standard seems inevitable. Born in the legendary hallows of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) –incubator to technologies we take for granted like personal computers, laser printing, graphical user interfaces and object-oriented programming—Ethernet’s flexibility and scalability helped it beat-out Token Ring and Token Bus (remember them?) as the global standard for connecting local area computer networks. As the PC market exploded, so did economies of scale for Ethernet hardware, which continued to evolve and accommodate ever-increasing speeds and complexity. Ubiquity, low manufacturing costs, support for increasingly higher speeds and the flexibility of its packet-based transmission paradigm soon positioned Ethernet as a natural method to deliver telecommunications carrier services for wide area networking.

TDM: WANosuarus infrastructure that hasn’t changed in decades

Fast, secure, flexible and cheap, Ethernet has become the telecommunications gold standard. It’s ability to evolve and keep-up with growing capacity and security demands is delivering the fatal blow to traditional time division multiplexing (TDM) technologies –T1, DS-3, OCx. Investment and innovation in these older technologies has come to a grinding halt and regulatory oversight is shifting away from broad swaths of these business data services. The confluence of these trends makes TDM a potential security Achilles heel, unable to keep-up with the latest threats. Aging, end-of-life technology, a lack of encryption and discontinued manufacturer support mean it’s really not a matter of “if” but “when” we’ll hear about an enterprise being compromised by legacy deployments. As we see it, TDM is part of the unwieldy “WANasourus” infrastructure which hasn’t changed much in decades and is no longer in alignment with the evolving needs of the cloud connected enterprise.

Windstream continues investment & leadership in nationwide Ethernet

Windstream sees Ethernet as a key strategic driver and has steadily invested in the technology. We’ve upgraded our core transport infrastructure, deployed an MEF 2.0 compliant Ethernet core, upgraded over a dozen metro fiber cores and deployed Fixed Wireless as another Ethernet access method in over forty markets, increasing reliability and making the technology accessible to a vast majority of our customers. As we look forward to continued success with Ethernet, it’s rewarding to see our efforts recognized. Our continuing climb up the Vertical Systems Group Ethernet Leaderboard, from 9th to 7th position so far this year, is further validation that our strategic vision is paying-off.

Looking forward, we will continue to invest in technologies and services that help our customers protect and optimize their networks – and for the foreseeable future, Ethernet will be a big part of that investment.

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