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

The Role of the WAN in Enabling Retail Analytics

May 15th, 2018 by

The most recent annual Merchandise Planning Survey from retail business and IT consulting firm BRP contains especially interesting data points regarding retail data.

Among the more than 500 top North American retailers surveyed, the #1 planning priority is “Improve analytics” (36%), which is trailed closely by “Better integration of actionable customer data into planning activities” (31%). These two priorities point to the realization that retailers are now sitting on massive amounts of data on their customers – and in order to drive retail transformation, they urgently need to put that data to use.

Top Planning Priorities for North American Retailers

BRP Consulting 2017 Merchandise Planning Survey

Source: BRP Consulting 2017 Merchandise Planning Survey

Regarding “Improve analytics,” BRP’s report says, “Analytics has received much recognition in the industry, but there still appears to be a marked delay in the integration and unification of business information enterprise-wide…. Insight into customer demand, price sensitivity, reaction to promotions, demographics and more are key to drive merchandise plans and actions that maximize profitability.”

In examining the closely related “Better integration of actionable customer data,” the report says, “Knowing the customer better than the competition empowers retailers to create better assortments, personalized promotions and marketing campaigns to drive sales and enhance customer loyalty. The ability for retailers to understand their customers, predict what they want to purchase, and even shape their buying behavior is now driving the need for better analytics.”

Artificial intelligence is coming to retail in a big way

Leveraging customer data in merchandise planning is a job for artificial intelligence (AI). Retailers already have the data. What they lack is the manpower it would take to mine it all for patterns and predictive intelligence – even as the mountains of data continue to grow.

This isn’t a job for people. Taking this on is a job for machine intelligence. When retailers say they need to “Improve analytics” and “Better integrate customer data into planning,” they are signaling the intention to incorporate AI engines into their planning infrastructure.

And that takes us to where WE come in.

Running at AI speed requires a new networking approach

Because major retail operations cover expansive geographic footprints, applying AI to retail customer data requires networks that can gather and analyze data from all locations, and deliver analytics outcomes back to those same widely disparate locations; and all with lightning speed. That can only be done with network infrastructure that supports collection at point of sale and processing in the cloud, in a way that supports cost efficiency while delivering high availability and bandwidth, and exceptional operational and information agility.  All of which is beyond what traditional enterprise networks were designed to provide.

It’s the kind of new networking need that has caused so many enterprises – in excess of 40%, according to IDC – to have already started to move to SD-WAN (software defined wide area networks), with more than 30% planning to follow suit within a year. The advantages of SD-WAN compared to traditional distributed network technology are tailor-made to address the challenges facing retail, including:

  • 60% improvement in cloud-based application performance
  • 10X the bandwidth at half the cost by using broadband
  • 100% uptime by leveraging multiple, diverse active-active connections

For retailers that aren’t already well down that path, the time is now to prepare your enterprise network for AI – starting with a very close examination of SD-WAN. Working with a network provider with deep experience in both SD-WAN and accelerating retail transformation, and enabling cloud based analytics and artificial intelligence, can make the move smooth and easy.

Happy to discuss as always if interested. I’d also suggest checking out the study mentioned above from BRP – their 2017 Retail Merchandise Planning Survey Report – which delivers a lot of additional insight, as well.

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.