Maturing networks tighten up services game

Most carriers have deployed MPLS-based IP-VPN networks across Asia and as these networks become mature, service providers are looking at new areas to differentiate services to target customers. One key area is to support application acceleration and optimization using specialized equipment at the service endpoint.

Equipment from vendors such as Blue Coat, Cisco, F5 Networks, Juniper Networks, Packeteer, Riverbed Technology and Ipanema Technologies enhance the performance of applications in various ways, depending on the devices and how they are deployed. Typically, optimization devices can compress IP traffic between end devices; cache commonly accessed data; spoof TCP/IP to speed transfer; shape packets (by application) for more efficient IP transfer; and prioritise traffic with higher granularity than MPLS alone, ensuring crucial applications get the required bandwidth.

The demand for application performance management is rising for a number of reasons. For multinational enterprises with overseas branch offices where bandwidth costs are high, wide area network optimization helps to right-size their networks and keeps bandwidth costs in check. This is particularly useful when enterprises are planning to add new applications.

Moreover, SLAs are evolving beyond the network to the application level. With WAN optimization and application acceleration solutions, enterprises are able to assess, measure and optimize the performance of business applications across the entire network.

Building efficiency

It becomes increasingly important for enterprise customers to optimize their network as they move toward data center consolidation and virtualization - a move embraced by an increasing number of organizations because it improves total cost of ownership, enhances IT capabilities and supports green initiatives.

WAN optimization and application acceleration will also be important for supporting the growing number of remote employees that will need to access business-critical applications from outside the office environment. However, this remains a challenge as the current class of devices is cost-prohibitive.

Carriers in Asia Pacific are stepping up to compete with system integrators in helping enterprises reduce operational costs and simplify network management. By integrating application performance management with existing IP-based managed services, carriers are able to strengthen their relationships with customers and promote customer stickiness.

Apart from the possibility of increasing the size of existing contracts, carriers may also open new customer doors with application performance management services. For example, BT Global Services has been promoting its application aware infrastructure (AAI) since 2004 and has been successful in using its the solution to win IP-VPN outsourcing deals. The carrier now has over 190 customers and more than 150 dedicated AAI consultants to help customers sort out the complexity of their networks.

Services offered by carriers differ based on the equipment vendor partners they select and the approaches they adopt in engaging customers. Orange Business Services, for example, launched last year its Business Acceleration, a suite of network-based and site-based services to enhance the performance of business applications. Leveraging its strengths in offering professional services and working with a range of vendors - including Ipanema, Juniper, Packeteer, Cisco, Riverbed and Blue Coat - Orange Business Services helps customers to analyze, manage end-to-end and optimise their network infrastructure and business applications.

On the other hand, Verizon Business' application aware networking solution, which was extended to the Asia-Pacific region last year, is a productized set of tools that are integrated with its customer portal.

 

Separately, Verizon Business' self-service software-based solution (using Concord and Centrisoft software) offers customers a cost-effective way to manage their applications.

Cable & Wireless announced in April the launch of its application performance management services in Asia. It uses Ipanema's business network optimization solution to offer customers real-time visibility and control over applications on their VPNs. The carrier is also the first to partner with Cisco for its wide area application services as a managed service, to help customers optimize their WANs and accelerate business critical applications.

More carriers are expected to launch managed WAN acceleration and optimization services in the foreseeable future. Those carriers that have already done so are adding enhancements to differentiate their services. One key area is to offer application-centric SLAs. Enterprises are increasingly seeking service providers that can guarantee performance of IP-based applications on nearly an end-to-end basis. This is important as enterprises try to align SLAs with their real-world business objectives. However, while some carriers are able to offer application SLAs on request, going as far as providing off-the-shelf standard application-level SLAs is not likely to happen soon unless customers host the application in carriers' data center.

Other areas that carriers should look at include working with multiple vendors to offer a wider choice (because each vendor focuses on a different set of specialties); offering bandwidth-on-demand so that customers can achieve a higher utilization of valuable bandwidth; enhancing reporting tools and integrating application performance management functions with their existing customer portals; and supporting wide area file services to facilitate the consolidation of data storage.

Overall, carriers should have a flexible offering and demonstrate that they have the technical expertise to help customers understand application bottlenecks and recommend optimization solutions.

Siow-Meng Soh is senior analyst for global telecom services at Current Analysis

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