Napier ISP Now, is providing telco-style network services – based on SDN (software defined network) technology – to Hawkes Bay’s five councils, writes Johanna Egar. Napier’s council is already reaping the benefits

Hawkes Bay’s five councils have leap-frogged into modern networking with their decision to install ‘network in the cloud’ SDN (software defined network) technology on their WAN (wide area network).

Napier City Council has used it to upgrade its traditional Wan and have already seen earthquake-proofing benefits – by accident.

Duncan Barr, Napier City Council’s information services manager, says they put out a tender to upgrade their network last July and started installing their new SD-WAN from local ISP Now, in November. The council was doing a seismic assessment at the same time, to see how earthquake-proof its buildings were. They weren’t. This meant everyone had to temporarily move out of the council’s headquarters, says Barr.

“But we didn’t have to house our comms infrastructure on the premises while we evacuated as we could house it at Now. We effectively no longer have a traditional star-and-spoke WAN configuration, so we’ve seen some immediate benefit already,” says Barr.

SDN technology puts a lot of a telecoms network’s technology in the cloud, which means users can make changes and add services easily, in a similar way to how you can add servers and applications remotely using hosted services like Amazon Web Services (AWS). It also means, as Barr discovered, that you are less vulnerable, because you are less hardware dependent on traditional infrastructure.

Beyond this, Now – which thinks of itself more as a digital services provider than an ISP nowadays – says the Nokia Nuage Network SDN technology it is using to upgrade the five councils’ communications network is also quite transformative.

Now CEO Hamish White says SDN makes networks a lot more agile. “It means you can connect another site into your WAN really easily – it’s literally drag-and-drop through a browser interface.” He compared this with the costly, time-consuming business of having to brief an IT integrator and then have that company’s engineers make site visits to make any and every network change.

“Now you can do this from the keyboard literally through the browser. You can pop up a site and add it to your WAN overnight, and you don’t need an integrator. It means you’re more agile. Traditionally, businesses have had to fit into how a network was engineered and change was slow, but today it’s about how the network can improve the business experience.

“The councils have a lot of sites. Napier City Council alone has over 20 sites, from parks to aquariums, to swimming pools, libraries and administration blocks. They have to manage the logistics of a very wide area network. It’s massive. They had no visibility and weren’t very agile.”

Duncan Barr’s take on this is that the councils were looking for a technology solution that would allow the five councils, which between them operate 62 sites, to collaborate better. They already have Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) installed at the regional level – this provides computing services from the cloud – and with SDN technology also being in the cloud, the councils will be able to share services more easily.

Barr says “SD-WAN is to traditional comms what virtualisation is to servers. It changes the way you operate in unimaginable ways. We’ve already got better redundancy, better bandwidth and a better price-point, but SD-WAN will enable us to do transformational stuff as we go forwards.”

Now’s White says many businesses are still using clunky 25-year-old frame relay technology or hybrids, and painted a scenario dear to sports fans hearts of how SDN technology can easily bring major sports events into the office.

“A major football game being shown one morning can easily be streamed as the IT manager can responsively manage and control traffic prioritisation at the stroke of a couple of keys – rather than spend weeks planning for such an event through an IT integrator.”

SD-WAN technology allows IT managers to self-diagnose any network problems as well as prioritise traffic. The network is more reliable too as you can, say, fail-over to a 3G or 4G connection and smooth over any bumps in connectivity.

Barr says when the council put out its RFP (Request for Proposal), it was seeking a technology solution for the five Hawkes Bay councils, so they could collaborate and share services better. They want to share data and have virtual meetings more easily, and to all be on the same network.

“When we go to different councils, we want to be able to log into our home network rather than have to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to get in. SD-WAN will simplify connectivity between the five councils. These are simple things we want to do under the umbrella of better collaboration.”

Barr is confident this will happen – the council’s small IT team is still installing the new technology, but he’s confident Nokia’s Nuage SDN technology will deliver these benefits. “It’s comforting that Now has a major supplier like Nokia at the back-end. It’s not Tom’s IT company buying stuff off the internet. It’s not bleeding edge technology now, but we are in the forefront.

“We got SD-WAN by default, but that was because we wanted a technology solution. To us, as a business, we, the five councils, wanted closer collaboration and better services between us; that’s the win, but we also got more for less.”

 

That Now is a local, Napier-based company was another unexpected bonus. It was up against big telcos in the tender bid, but, says White, the solutions they offered used old – up to 30 years’ old technology – “while we turned up with leading edge, for this part of the world, technology. The councils want to create a pathway for an ever-evolving future and to have a foundation network that promotes greater agility and visibility, so they can embrace other cloud content and applications coming out… [SDN] puts them on a progressive pathway.”

Elsewhere in the world, SDN technology, while still new, is already being used by major telcos. White thinks the councils’ move to SD-WAN was “pretty progressive”. Barr prefers a car analogy, saying: “We wanted a technology refresh. We just said we wanted a faster car, as opposed to a Ford Falcon – which is what you would have got in the past – and we got a Ferrari.”

Now's Hamish White (left) and Napier City Council's Duncan Barr