November 2010

Networking Infrastructure Savings

Saving Money on Networking Infrastructure

By: David Mayberry, Go Communications Systems Ltd

As we all continue to look for different solutions to saving money or getting the most out of our current technology, there are a few key actions a company can take to make the most of their resources and ultimately save money. Over the next few issues, David Mayberry of Go Communications Systems Ltd a networking hardware reseller will provide us with tips on saving money on our networking infrastructure. From the little things like asking for free delivery of networking hardware and purchasing refurbished to exploiting discounts and minimizing your maintenance costs, David gives a little insight into many different ways that a company can slim down and break through the current economic situation. In our first look into this, David covers outsourcing and whether it is beneficial or not.

Tip #1

Keep engineering resources in-house
Outsourcing works well in many areas of business activity, but I want to sound a note of caution. In fact, when I hear about companies taking their network management operations out of the safe hands of their experienced and committed in-house engineers and handing it to external providers, my blood runs cold.

Unfortunately, business owners and directors often focus too closely on the savings promised by network management outsourcing, while seriously underestimating the importance and value of reliability in their organisations’ IT networks, and the enormous damage that failures can cause.

Network downtime: a company-killer
“I can’t get web access and I can’t check my emails. I might as well go home.” It’s a common complaint in today’s office, and it illustrates how dependent we have become on our company networks.

Ten years ago we would simply have turned to the phone and fax. For years, though, IT networks have been becoming steadily more important to companies of all types and sizes and for most organisations they are now absolutely key to all day-to-day operations. Downtime can mean service disruption, dissatisfied customers, irritated staff, regulatory compliance failure, and significant financial loss.

Company networks are no longer just important pieces of infrastructure. They have gone far beyond that. Today, a company’s network is its central nervous system. If it fails, the company is paralysed. If normal service isn’t restored quickly, the company dies. It’s that simple, and it’s that important.

PR fallout: it’s not pretty
In today’s online world, news – bad news, in particular – spreads brutally fast. If a major company’s network is down for even a few hours, we hear about it from bloggers, or even the media, almost immediately.

The longer the interruption to normal service persists, the more widespread is the bad publicity, the more serious the PR damage and the more customers who will simply go elsewhere, often permanently. Even if they don’t result directly in company failure, network outages do serious damage to company reputations.

Downtime is not the minor inconvenience it once was. It’s not just a matter of not being able to check emails or browse websites. It’s a potential company-killer.

Protecting your network
In-house engineers’ jobs depend directly on their ability and commitment to maintain the company network in good order. That accountability for problems, poor performance and downtime is highly motivating, keeping the company’s interests at the top of their priority list: they will care far more deeply about the company’s success than any external specialist ever will. As a result they are the company’s best option to get the job done right, keep the network working effectively and efficiently, and rectify faults that do arise in short order.

Conversely, handing over responsibility for the ongoing management and maintenance of the network to unknown and untested individuals with no direct interest in the company’s well-being significantly increases the danger of network downtime, and the damage it inevitably causes.

Think before you outsource
For businesses with in-house engineering resources, the temptation to cut costs by outsourcing should therefore generally be avoided.

That’s not to say that outsourcing is never the right option. Many businesses don’t have the resources at their disposal to effectively manage and maintain their networks. For such businesses, outsourced network management can be invaluable. But even in such cases, the business should employ at least a few engineers to work with the external team, acting as its eyes and ears, ensuring that the goals of the outsourcing exercise are actually delivered.

Businesses with skilled engineers on the payroll, though, have an enormous advantage. Those engineers are the best protection possible against costly, damaging, and potentially fatal network failures.

Think – very carefully – before outsourcing.


Check lead times before you specify
Hold on. Don’t order that part. At least, not just yet. The network component you’ve specified for a particular job may appear to be the right one for the job, but, please, check its availability before setting it in stone and making your project dependent on it.

Spikes and delays
The bad news is that unpredictable spikes in demand and manufacturing delays do occur, which push component lead times up. The good news, on the other hand, is that the components you’ve selected may well not be the only ones that can do the job. Often perfectly acceptable alternatives can be identified. By checking availability at the outset, you can specify components that are readily available, in preference to those which are not, taking into account any effects of the component changes as you go.

It is essential, though, to make such checks at the design stage of your project, before placing your hardware order. Changing project specifications later on is complex, expensive and time consuming. For large companies the problems are compounded as back-tracking through the authorization process consumes enormous amounts of time.

Indeed, the issue is no respecter of company size. Over the last ten years I have, on more occasions than I care to count, helped out even the largest service companies in the UK as they wrestled with it. Typically their usual supplier had been quoting lead times of six weeks or more – if they could quote a firm lead time at all – for a component that they needed there and then.

Costs up, time wasted
It may be that your design can accept an available alternative to the delayed or unavailable component. However, the alternative will typically be a more feature-rich version of the one you originally specified, and therefore more expensive. You’ve probably wasted hours trying to track down your preferred part, and now your project costs are up as well.

Some seven years ago I sold some Cisco Port Adapters to the largest telco in the UK at the time. They weren’t available in the UK at the time, but I tracked some down in California. The only way I could make even a small margin on the sale was to sell them at global list price: no discount whatsoever. The customer paid it.

I cannot, therefore, over-state the case for investing a small amount of time, up front, in researching the availability of the components you are considering specifying for your project. This can be as straightforward as a quick phone call to your reseller or distributor, to ask if are there any issues with current lead times on your proposed kit list.

It may well save your sanity, as well as your project.

Check out next months issue for more exciting tips to help you make the most of your economic situation and ensure a secure and efficient networking infrastructure.