Want to keep your connectivity projects on track? Need to match your cloud strategy and connectivity? Two Jisc experts share their top tips.
Keeping connectivity provisioning projects on track
Natalie Driver is Jisc’s service delivery team manager in the connection management group. Here she gives her top five steps for avoiding the pains and pitfalls of procurement and keeping projects on the road.
Good communication is crucial. It’s the key to building a good relationship. We all have the same goal – to do a brilliant job and deliver what’s been promised – and we all need to know where we're focusing and what we're moving towards.
A lot of that comes from the initial talks in the first project meeting, where, in our case, we find out what the member wants, what they’re looking to achieve and, together, combine knowledge of provisioning with any local constraints to gain a sense of a likely timeline. In my experience, when processes fall down it is often due to miscommunication at the earliest stages, which affects both the relationship between the parties and how well the facts of the project are communicated.
2. Then keep on communicating
Take time to review, check everyone’s talking about the same thing and that everyone understands what each other is saying. It’s important for IT managers to report regularly back to their leadership teams. On bigger projects, have a weekly catch-up meeting to look at progress, where the project is heading and chat about any issues encountered and any delays.
Work out what the next steps are, so everyone knows how the project is going to move forward. We always support that review process with written updates after the meeting. With big projects, members’ senior teams will want visibility of the project, so there’s a real value in written material that can be passed up to the leadership team as easily as possible. Our job is to ensure that technical information we pass over is written in a way everyone will understand.
3. Be flexible
One of the most difficult areas can be around appointments for major site work, such as a fibre installation or the final stage of a circuit delivery. Our role in this is often to liaise between the member and third-party telco suppliers, who have their own systems and processes. Telcos can be very process-led, and that includes the way orders are escalated through their system. As frustrating as it can be, despite our best efforts there are occasions where we cannot improve on appointment dates.
However, my team at Jisc are fantastic at spotting issues, having a feel for how things are going and nipping problems in the bud before they escalate. We also have a really strong escalation process within Jisc, so as soon as something starts to not look quite right, they know when to escalate. One thing that we always ask is that members try to be as accommodating as possible with engineers attending site. Sometimes there is going to be a little bit of disruption in terms of where the engineer requires access. So the more you can tell us, the better. Are there any access restrictions? For example, issues around access to a university classroom? The more information we can pass onto the engineer, the better.
4. Be realistic
We can’t speed up the telco process and get a circuit in more quickly by paying more. For example, it could be that a whole road needs to be closed down or the local council need to agree some traffic management or approve wayleave.
Those issues are identified at planning, which normally takes around two weeks, and then we know what timescale we're facing. However, the good news is that there can be quick wins. Perhaps there’s spare fibre available, so there's no need for a survey, just configuration work, one installation visit from an engineer and the circuit's delivered.
5. Let us do the chasing
Project delivery can be a really valuable service to members. Members don’t procure connections very often but our guys deliver circuits day in, day out. They know the issues, they know the process inside out and they know what's going to happen. Some projects can be quite complex, especially if there are multiple cables to go in or delivery has to work within the timescales of a campus building project or some other critical timescale.
Dealing directly with telcos isn’t easy. There might be technical issues, which is something we deal with every day, or it might be as simple as keeping in touch, when one missed call can affect the whole delivery. So managing this kind of project can be very time-consuming. We can support that: we take the pain.
Organisations often assume that a move to the cloud means direct connectivity to their cloud provider. But a dedicated circuit may not be the best strategy or provide best value, says Ewan Quibell, Jisc’s deputy head of network delivery, who advocates a more considered approach based on vendor-neutral advice. Ewan shares his top five tips for working out your ideal cloud connection.
1. Take time to think strategically
As you move to the cloud, don’t automatically assume that a direct connection to your cloud provider is the best way forward. You may well have a strategic vision for choosing the cloud but, having scoped out what you want from it, you also need to scope out your connection needs.
Take a step back from the direct connection assumption, and from the ISPs who might be pushing you towards it, and talk to your Jisc account manager to discover just how far the Janet Network can take you towards that strategic vision. Our cloud solution team's advice and guidance on moving to the cloud will include suggestions on how best to connect to the cloud and that might include having a chat with me about your connection requirements. We’ll talk about the benefits of different types of connectivity and explore step by step what is the best value for you.
2. If you need a path, buy a path. Don’t build a motorway
Most members, for most of their cloud connectivity, probably don't actually need a direct connection. At some point in the future you might need a dedicated, purpose-built connection to the cloud provider. But as you’ll start paying for such a connection as soon as it goes live you really want to ensure it is what’s needed.
If you have a three-year strategy and you know what your data and bandwidth requirements look like over that time, you may even know when you’ll need it. But for many members, in the first two or three years of a cloud project, the Janet Network will be more than enough. It allows you to get started and to scale up. Then, if you identify that you need something more purpose-built, we can offer that as well, when the time comes.
3. Consider well-connected Janet
The Janet Network already peers directly with a great many content providers where very high bandwidth is required – companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and many more.
And the connections are significant – a hundred gigabits plus to each of those providers and many others. So our member traffic goes straight between members, the network and these providers without passing through anyone else. As there’s nothing slowing it down everyone gets a good experience, whether that’s the senior leadership team using Office 365 or students streaming Netflix in halls of residence.
4. Don’t sign long-term, multi-year contracts
Your understanding of your requirements is going to improve the further you go down your cloud route so, although the time scales on contracts seem to lend themselves to long-term commitments (especially when it can take up to five months to plug a circuit in!), it’s better to hold back. Consider letting your strategy run and review every other year.
5. Joined-up thinking = better value
We've had experience of working with a research organisation who were initially putting together a research case for large-scale connectivity to a cloud provider but were able to build an alternative approach based on their Janet connectivity, which saved them money.
Early joined-up thinking between research projects and university IT departments really helps when it comes to getting better deals and more value, especially if the IT department is able to collate research needs from different groups so that they can make more efficient, common-sense decisions on how they will approach provisioning.