Supercomm panel discusses challenges for corporate nets

Businesses need to upgrade their networks to support more efficient interactions with their business partners, suppliers and customers, according to the keynote panel that opened Supercomm 2005 Monday.

"There are new levels of collaboration that will require new enterprise infrastructure," said Toby Redshaw, corporate vice president of IT strategy for Motorola. "The anchor is the human being at work, at home, in the car, at a supplier office - doing work in very different ways throughout the day."

Convergence of voice, video and data onto corporate networks will streamline this process and give businesses better performance overall, panelists said.

Supply chains that bring needed resources from around the world must be set up quickly and securely and be reliable, Redshaw said.

Businesses that have not started to shift their infrastructure to support this model need to start now in a big way, said Charlie Feld, executive vice president of portfolio management for EDS. "The biggest challenge for businesses is how do they get from the old infrastructure to the new?" he said. " It's almost as if new companies have an advantage over those that have been around for 40 or 50 years."

Reliability is key because with more just-in-time supply of materials, network downtime translates immediately into lost revenues. "It's not important to know that a server went down or a network segment went down," Feld said. "It's important to know if I'm making cars in this plant and am I making ball bearings in Brazil. If the supply chain goes down, you're not making a profit."

Embracing new technologies enables international construction firm Bechtel to set up networks in field offices faster and with better performance, said Geir Ramleth, the company's CIO. An IPSec VPN at the core of the company's network that is pushed to remote sites has cut networking costs dramatically, he said. For instance, international connections have dropped from US$7,500 per megabit of bandwidth per month to about US$1,500 with the VPN, and from US$3,500 to US$500 in the U.S., he said. On one job in Egypt, the price went from US$24,000 per megabit to US$1,000.

The company has also embraced VoIP at remote sites where workers plug IP phones into the network and the calls are handled by a central Cisco call server. "We don't need a PBX. We put IP phones out there and we're in business," Ramleth said.

Wireless networking at construction sites also saves the cost of setting up networks and is more suitable to the type of work the company does. "Where we were digging yesterday may be a road tomorrow," Ramleth said, and wireless networking means not having to constantly tear down and set up wired nets.

Bechtel's IP WAN has less delay than its previous networks and the delay it does have is more predictable, he said.

As the company continues to expand its IP capabilities, it is exploring ways to impose more quality of service in the network and is seeking partners to help. It built its VPN on its own. "We became our own integrator and it was painful," he said. He hopes a carrier or integrator can help expand the company's QoS and wireless infrastructure more efficiently and less costly than it can do itself. "Somebody else must have an economic model that lets us take advantage of what they are already doing to make it less expensive to deploy and manage," Ramleth said.

These converged IP networks need to be able to withstand surges in use, Feld said. For instance, when he was CIO at Delta Airlines, customer self-service meant that weather events had a huge impact on the network. "There were 100,000 people on the network trying to change flights when there was a thunderstorm in Atlanta," he said.

"What you need is global secure networks, and what you need is to be able to surge up and down," Feld said. "With a global supply chain, the network can never go down."

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