Business on the network

Chris Fitzsimmons takes the opportunity to look at unified communications from the other side of the mirror and interviews Ben Burns, solutions lead for EMEA at dedicated network infrastructure provider, Masergy.

Ben Burns heads up the EMEA solutions team at Masergy, a position he has held since February 2010. “I’m responsible for anything that would be the platform for UC, AV solutions or anything else. Masergy is a global carrier, so our target market is very much the top end of the mid market into small, midsize and occasionally large corporate enterprises, who need a very high level of performance and assurance for their network.

“We are not in the business of commodity solutions, but it’s for people for whom the applications that sit on the network are critical. That is to say that their business would be affected or fail without them.

“The other side to that is that we only operate as a network provider, we are a transport provider. We are not in the business of providing complete solutions, the solutions come from our partners. Probably our strongest partner base in truth, within the UC space, is really in the high end video market. Particularly telepresence with Cisco or Immersive HD from Polycom. Those kind of solutions providers, and also the VNOCs and the concierges that go with them as well.”

For the uninitiated, VNOC stands for Video Network Operating Centre, and both it and a Concierge perform similar roles – to assist in the smooth running of a videoconference. The VNOC would typically provide services such as a help desk, pro-active device monitoring, device management, conference scheduling, conference management, problem management and trouble shooting. A concierge arguably has responsibility for these issues things in a specific meeting.

“The reason that we work with these kinds of organisations is that certainly with the high end video solutions, they tend to be boardroom or CXO level tools. These are people who have a very low tolerance of delay or failure. When they walk into a room the session must be set up, it must be ready for use at the appointed time and in the right way. Any issues must be resolved quickly.

“As a network provider we would not be the best people to do that, so we would partner with specialists. The three legs of the stool if you like, the equipment provider, the VNOC provider and the network providers, work together to provide a complete solution.”

A typical example of such a partnership would be Masergy’s recently announced work with AVSolution. AVSolution is a systems integrator and Polycom partner working with Masergy to deliver bespoke telepresence solutions for its client base. Their showroom boasts one of the first live Polycom ATX systems in the country.

But what is exactly a virtualised network service provider? What does it do?

“Well typically our task is to provide the private, dedicated and guaranteed connectivity between all the different sites that are in a solution. We would not get involved in switching gear on a LAN or AV equipment. We look to partners to do that. But, from the sites to all the other sites, for the whole wide area network it would be our responsibility to make that infrastructure is in place.

“Typically, these are private networks rather than public internet. It’s absolutely our own infrastructure, fully operated and owned by us, end to end globally.”

So how does a company go about delivering a private conference from New York to London?

“We would look at the various cable infrastructures available, and asses them against the most demanding applications. Those are typically full HD video conferences at the moment. If we see them as being up to the task then we’ll look at using them and buy capacity on them.

“These then connect to our points of presence which are located in financial centres around the world, which contain our own electronics and allow us to deliver service to the customer.”

Burns estimates that UC style applications represents approximately a third of the traffic Masergy carries. Considering that their other areas of business are major data-centres and so forth, that’s a pretty big amount of data.

“That’s probably a reflection of the history of the company as it’s really where we built the company up from. Of course we’ve now expanded into anyone who sees very significant value and importance in the traffic that they’re carrying.”

“I think that whilst we still see particularly significant growth in the pure video aspect of what we do, that percentage will be diluted by virtue of the fact that we are also carrying a lot of other data for those clients. Getting involved in complete enterprise WANs has got us involved in a lot of other traffic such as data centres.”

“This is one of the challenges at the enterprise level, the larger the networks the harder it is to manage exactly what goes on. We can still be very deterministic about the data on our infrastructure in a way that organisations like AT&T or BT or Verizon perhaps can’t.

“But we have no aspirations to take on fortune 500 companies and 3,000 site networks. We focus on applications that could just be small part, the critical part, of such networks.”

In the world of the cloud and other internet based services such as applications, surely it’s tempting for an organisation like Masergy to seek a piece of that action as well, but Burns believes not.

“Our approach to this is a partnership based one whereby we look to connect best in class service providers with clients. We work with companies that host, or provide processing to connect them to other client organisations and provide the underlying network infrastructure.”

And just who is the client? I asked Ben where the point of contact typically is at the end user.

“That varies quite a lot between organisations. If we’re talking about big room based systems it tends to be at the CIO level, or in some organisations sometimes at the CFO if the system being sold based on a total cost of ownership argument. For broader UC deployments then it tends to sit at the IT director type level. Occasionally it might come under procurement personal if an organisation is seeking to deliver cost savings by converging multiple platforms onto a single supplier, but if it’s being done for direct business benefit reasons then we’d expect the CIO or IT director to be taking a lead.”

Whilst not being directly involved in UC technology itself, there are a couple of important innovations on the way that will have a major impact on the likes of Masergy. The first is increasing interoperability between systems and network providers.

“One of the major growth areas that we’ll see over the next two to three years is business-to-business video. The idea is that in about five years time there will be a kind of telephone directory for businesses with these devices on their networks. The idea is to make a private video exchange where business can effectively communicate across hardware and network providers, instead of needing to create bespoke engineering solutions in each case.”

A second area of innovation, which has been seen as having the potential to disrupt video communications is the concept of the scalable video codec.

“SVC has the potential to make live very difficult indeed for network providers. To deploy something that by its very nature will take all of the available bandwidth is a very clever concept, but if that’s deployed unchecked on a corporate LAN it could flatten it. It could squeeze out all the other applications.

“One of the things we’ve had to be aware of is that it totally inverts the quality of service paradigm. Instead of protecting my video bandwidth from everything else, I now have to protect my other network services from being pushed out by video. It’s required us to take some interesting new approaches in prioritising network traffic. We saw some very worried customers when it first came out when they realised it’s potential!”

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