Jan
29
2015

A Flexible Approach to Wi-Fi for E-rate

The meteoric rise of smartphones and tablets combined with the transition from desktop computers to laptops are putting substantial strain on Wi-Fi networks at today’s school districts. Not only are more devices connecting to these networks but students and faculty expect to remain always on and are increasingly streaming media and other high bandwidth applications in classrooms.

With the new funding for E-rate making the news, school districts are looking to take advantage of this program to build out a world class wireless network for their students and staff.

The demand for more bandwidth, more real-time multimedia and access to e-textbooks and educational applications, such as Moodle and Blackboard, all via Wi-Fi, means that any drop in performance is immediately noticeable by users. In addition, as schools migrate from a primarily wired infrastructure to a wireless one, the growth in devices on the network also highlights a need for additional security.

IT staff at school districts have been trying to keep up with user needs and expectations but the requirements are evolving fast. Today’s IT needs to be faster, more nimble, handle many devices, provide tighter security, scale quickly and be cost effective. To achieve this, a new approach needs to be taken to the problem.

The traditional Wi-Fi architecture has been based upon a controller-based switch that becomes the central point of intelligence and control for all access points (AP’s).  The controller becomes the choke point and bottleneck for the network, requiring IT to add more controllers as inevitably more users and devices come onto the network.

This traditional architecture has been replaced by a Cloud Wireless design where the controller is eliminated, with management and control of the network virtualized in the cloud.  This approach greatly increases the ability to scale the network to meet Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) demands, with the ability to support a factor of 10X more devices than before.

The Cloud Wireless approach has also opened up the possibility of educational institutions taking advantage of a managed and hosted service for their Wi-Fi network, offloading routine network management burden from their strapped IT staff.

With so many choices for today’s K-12 IT staff when it comes to their wireless network and mobility needs, there are several questions that come to mind:

  • Should I opt for a hosted/managed service vs. managing it on-site?
  • Should I go with 802.11n or 802.11ac?
  • What kind of back-end switching network do I need?
  • What kind of security do I need to ensure privacy mandates?
  • And on and on the list goes…

We will dive into these issues in later posts.  The key point is as IT managers wade through all the options to pick the right wireless solution for their situation, they need to ensure their network will be able to stand up to the demanding needs of their users.

 

Jason King is the director of marketing for the Bluesocket Business Group at ADTRAN. With over 15 years of experience in the industry, he is responsible for the overall promotion and positioning of the company’s Wi-Fi solutions. Find him on Twitter: @jjking24

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/a-flexible-approach-to-wifi-for-erate/

Jan
28
2015

Three Lessons Learned from Valley Business Solutions

This is the fourth and final post in my series based on case study research done with ADTRAN customer Valley Business Solutions – VBS. They represent a great example of how channel partners are finding ways to reinvent themselves as their world of legacy telephony gives way to both Internet-based and wireless forms of communications.

In my earlier posts, I’ve addressed the business case for becoming an MSP – Managed Services Provider – and how this opens up new opportunities to address the real needs of customers as they too, struggle with today’s technologies. I’ve also addressed specific use cases for managed WiFi, which VBS offers via ADTRAN’s ProCloud platform. Most communications technology vendors now provide similar solutions as mobility increasingly becomes the environment of choice for businesses and their employees.

To bring this series to a close, I’ll summarize the VBS story in terms of three lessons learned. Needless to say, while this reflects well on ADTRAN, my intent is to provide this as an example that any channel partner can follow.

  1. Rethink the buying process

For legacy-based channel partners, IT has long been the point of contact for both buying and selling. Things are different with managed services, especially if you’re trying to be strategic. It’s one thing to sell managed WiFi to save money or make the network easier to manage, but it’s something else to sell it on the basis of solving pressing business problems.

VBS understands this, and along the way came to learn that it’s not enough to sell this to IT. By elevating the discussion into a strategic business-level solution, IT isn’t the only decision-maker when it comes to buying. More often than not, management starts driving the buying process when they see this strategic value. However, they may not be part of the initial discussions as a matter of course, and if you’re following this path, then you need to be proactive to ensure they become involved. IT’s needs are not always the same as management’s and this is a key area where channels can bring new value.

  1. Focus on risk mitigation

Businesses understand this, and management tends to frame decisions this way. Technology risk can be a major inhibitor for moving into the Nextgen world, and this is where the move to an MSP has paid off for VBS. When previously selling point products and services, decisions were made around the virtues of specific technologies or vendors. SMBs have their fair share of biases, perceptions, bad blood, etc. in this regard, and much of the sales effort gets tied up explaining or defending a particular recommendation.

By selling managed services instead, the discussion shifts away from these specifics and over to the applications that WiFi will support and how these will address pain points and drive business outcomes. This allows the channel partner to remove a lot of the customer risk from the decision-making, as that burden now shifts to the hosted provider. VBS put their faith in ProCloud to give them that capability, allowing the end customer to focus on addressing their business issues. No longer does the customer need to worry about getting locked-in to a particular vendor or technology, not to mention long-term financial commitment to a Capex investment.

  1. Understand the new business model

This may seem like the biggest leap of faith, but VBS has come to embrace the tradeoff that comes from moving to a smaller per-customer revenue base, but getting it on a recurring basis. Thinking particularly for SMBs, the Opex business model makes for easier decision-making. With cash flow often being a prime consideration, small but regular payments are more manageable and not dictated by capitalized budgeting planning cycles.

For VBS, this has advantages as well. First, they can pitch managed WiFi any time, since it isn’t tied to an annual budget review. Second, if VBS wants to be aggressive entering a new market or vertical, they can reduce the monthly customer price to win the business. They can earn this back over time, plus the incremental cost to add a new customer to their platform is nominal, so the financial risk is minimal. Finally, the recurring revenue model makes it easier for VBS to manage their growth since they don’t have to make major investments to upgrade capacity to support new business.

Conclusion

While VBS has become an MSP for WiFi, this is just one of many services a channel can offer by following this path. The key is to understand where the growth opportunities are, and wireless is certainly one of them. Equally important is to recognize the risks of sticking with legacy, both in terms of technologies, but also the business model. Nothing is guaranteed, but given how frequently communications technology is changing, your odds of success as a channel partner are greater by focusing on the business needs of your customers rather than the technologies they think they need.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/three-lessons-learned-from-valley-business-solutions/

Jan
21
2015

Gigabit Communities

Last week during a visit to Cedar Falls, Iowa, President Obama announced steps to help more Americans, in both rural and urban areas, get better, faster and more affordable Internet to their homes. The Obama Administration outlined five main agenda topics, including ending laws that harm broadband service competition and announcing new initiatives to support community broadband projects.

Seeing firsthand how Gigabit broadband is changing the lives of communities across the country, ADTRAN welcomes efforts to spur broadband deployment, and we are anxious to see the details of future FCC proposals before we can say whether it will achieve these noble goals. High-speed, ultra-fast broadband is not only a crucial element for the financial growth of the country, but also for enhancing the overall quality of life for American citizens. As the administration has put it, there’s a national need for better broadband and we now have the technology to make it possible.

Gigabit service is the latest and most advanced broadband infrastructure available. Both rural and urban cities have been working to rapidly deploy the ultra-fast broadband as they’ve seen the benefits of increased speeds— including transforming communities, stimulating economic growth and delivering innovative residential and business services. ADTRAN has developed an initiative, Enabling Communities, Connecting Lives, which showcases how service providers are deploying Gigabit speeds to evolve, change and grow communities across the country.

We’ve seen how Gigabit broadband promotes economic growth by invigorating downtown business and residential districts, connecting classrooms with learning centers around the world, and attracting new companies seeking to relocate out of crowded urban centers. For some communities, the increased speeds will allow them to stay competitive when attracting large enterprises to the area, while for others, it’s enhancing educational opportunities and making access to healthcare much easier. Gigabit isn’t just about faster speeds for the sake of enabling new and future technology, it’s about bettering the lives of the American people.

Here are a few of the communities we have featured as part of the initiative:

• Pelican Bay/Summit Broadband: Florida – The community of Pelican Bay deployed its own Gigabit network to handle residential services including voice, video and gaming. While only 35% of residents are full-time, the community sees the network as a key factor in maintaining and improving home values, and they can now ensure the network can handle the spikes associated during the high season.
• Blue Valley Tele-Communications: Kansas – Located throughout rural Kansas, Blue Valley Tele-Communications (BVTC) is deploying Gigabit speeds to enhance local educational opportunities. With the closest university an hour drive away, Gigabit speeds will ensure residents can connect to online education, allowing students and adults to take advantage of distance learning opportunities.
• Jackson Energy Authority: Tennessee – Jackson Energy Authority (JEA) is deploying Gigabit services along one of the nation’s largest FTTH networks in western Tennessee. The ultra-fast broadband will take the town of Jackson to the next generation, provide necessary infrastructure for the city, hospitals and schools, and enable the community to be competitive in attracting businesses to the area.
• Canby Telcom: Oregon – Canby Telcom has become the first community in the Portland metropolitan area to deliver Gigabit broadband service to residents and businesses. As a result of Gigabit services, the community has been able to transform from being an agricultural-based town to a high-tech community, attracting big name corporations to the area.
• C Spire: Mississippi – Looking to create a “Silicon Valley of the South,” C Spire deployed Gigabit broadband service for its C Spire Fiber to the Home Initiative, with the goal to transform the region into a magnet for investment and economic growth. With Gigabit services, C Spire can bring ultra-fast broadband to thousands of homes, businesses and schools.

These communities are just a few examples of how Gigabit broadband is taking hold across the country. As part of ADTRAN’s program, we’ve enabled over 50 Gigabit communities in 2014. As for 2015, we’re on track to enable more than 200. These communities represent towns as small as 7,500 residents to major cities with millions of citizens. It is clear that no community is too small or too large to realize the transformative benefits of Gigabit services.

Gigabit broadband has proven to be a main catalyst for growth in communities of all sizes. Seeing the transformative benefits of Gigabit firsthand, ADTRAN understands just how crucial it is that service providers have the equipment and opportunities to deliver world-class broadband access to their customers. ADTRAN not only remains committed to ensuring all communities have access to reliable, affordable and fast Internet, but that our service provider customers have the support and guidance to continue delivering next-generation technologies.

 

Gary Bolton is Vice President, Global Marketing for ADTRAN.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/gigabit-communities/

Jan
21
2015

Valley Business Solutions – what being an MSP means for their Customers

I’m continuing the case study analysis of this ADTRAN customer because they’re a great example of how a channel partner can transform their business and find new ways to add value with their customers. In my last post, I reviewed why becoming an MSP is good for both Valley Business Solutions and ADTRAN, and now the focus shifts to end customers.

With ProCloud’s managed WiFi platform, VBS saw a path to the next growth area for their customers. There was little upside to continue reselling commodity products and services, especially with so many competitors doing the same thing. The real asset for them was the customer relationship – not the technology on offer – and becoming an MSP allowed them to do two things to maintain that. First was the ability to private label ProCloud as VBS Managed WiFi, thus creating a closer bond with customers. Second was the ability to customize applications for each customer, allowing them to focus on solving business problems rather than selling technology.

How does the customer benefit?

Not all ADTRAN channel partners have followed this path, and this reality is likely typical for other vendors. We are at an inflection point with today’s technology, where channels need to jump curves to stay competitive. Many are not willing or able to do that and prefer to ride things out with their customer base. VBS did not wish to pursue this sunset plan and chose to go where the growth is happening.

Just as channels are struggling to adopt new technology, so too are their customers. What VBS understands is that their customers don’t need to be leading technology adopters – instead, they get that with managed services. Once freed from that challenge, VBS can focus on the business problems of each customer and then determine how managed WiFi can address them. To illustrate, here are two examples in terms of vertical markets that VBS is serving today.

Education market

This is a promising vertical for an MSP, as many learning institutions are cash-strapped with limited IT resources. BYOD has become a major challenge as wireless devices have become the tool of choice for students. These are becoming the default endpoints not just for everyday personal communication, but for many aspects of their educational experience. They need wireless, high-speed connectivity for accessing online textbooks, sharing notes, doing research, making presentations, viewing archived lectures and even virtually attending live lectures.

VBS addresses these needs head-on by providing campus-wide connectivity to support these devices, without IT having to own/operate physical infrastructure. Given that many campuses have a sprawling footprint and the fact that students are rarely in one place long, there is great value in what VBS Managed WiFi delivers. VBS could never have done this just trying to sell a new phone system or upgrade infrastructure. This is a very different opportunity, where the school has a chance to shift from Capex to Opex and can gain cost efficiencies by reducing the need for printed textbooks and providing a better learning experience for students.

Houses of worship

VBS is based in Tennessee, and in the Bible Belt, churches represent an important vertical sector with specific needs. While you may view this as a highly traditional space, the research indicated they have wireless needs just like anybody else. One example is the fact that many church goers have a Bible on their tablet, and they use this during worship instead of a conventional printed Bible. Whether 10 or 100 people need this, the church needs to have enough wireless access on hand so those people could worship worry-free.

A more daunting example has to do with controlled access to the Internet. While churches have many good reasons to provide WiFi, they have valid reasons to keep their space free from inappropriate Web content. The public Internet is rife with such material, and this presents an important pain point for churches. Ideally, they would like all the good of the Web without the bad, and one way that VBS does this is via ProCloud’s content filtering capability. This allows the church to specify which websites to block over their WiFi signal, which can be especially helpful for their Sunday school and educational programs.

As with the education sector, this is an example of a specific “business” problem that their Managed WiFi offering was able to address. Rather than sell WiFi on the merits of the technology, VBS has brought this to the church community in terms of real world issues they are not able to solve on their own. In that context, being an MSP allows VBS to add value in ways the customer may never have thought possible.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/valley-business-solutions-what-being-an-msp-means-for-their-customers/

Jan
15
2015

Valley Business Solutions – why becoming an MSP is a Good Idea

My last post began a case study exploration of Valley Business Solutions (VBS), an ADTRAN customer based in Tennessee. Normally the focus of a case study is about how a vendor solved a particular problem for a customer, but my research indicates something bigger going on. There was a case study element in that post, but I want discuss more about how ProCloud provided a transformational opportunity for VBS, and why this serves as a great model for other channel partners to consider.

This also speaks to where ADTRAN is having success and how the broader communications environment continues to evolve. While UC may have been the starting point for how vendors and channels jointly explore new directions, both parties have to follow the wind. Ultimately, the end customer determines this, but many have little of sense of direction. This is where channels truly add value, as they are the middleman between vendors and businesses.

Why being an MSP is good for VBS

Valley Business Solutions knows what’s best for its customers – at least in terms of communications technology, and for a variety of reasons, they have determined that the Managed Services Provider path is the way forward. This is not an easy decision to make, and I’ll explore that further in my next post. For now, the idea is to determine the best way to remain relevant with as many customers as possible. To some extent, VBS has based this on customer input, but this can also lead to some dangerous assumptions.

Part of knowing your customer is knowing that they don’t always know best. Most of VBS’s customers are SMBs with limited technical expertise, and their scope of understanding will define their thinking. VBS has learned that a key way to add value is to re-frame technology needs around business problems, and this has allowed them to have success with ProCloud managed WiFi services. Businesses don’t generally come to channel partners asking for UC, and they may not even come asking for WiFi solutions. They just know that wireless growth is out of control but don’t really know how to address it.

This is where channel partners like VBS add value. They know the customer well, including their understanding of these problems. Since they are well-versed in what ProCloud can provide, they can introduce new ideas and capabilities that show how the customer can get on top of these wireless issues. This approach is known as consultative selling, and VBS recognized they needed to work this way, not just to keep customers happy but also to stay ahead of their competitors.

By adopting this model, VBS moves away from the legacy model of selling hardware and adding little value. The customer relationship is still paramount, but with all the disruption coming from both the cloud and mobility, there was little room for growth by sticking with that legacy model. This means that the core value proposition is based less now on the physical products and more on the applications they enable and how those applications impact the business.

That’s the new value proposition that has led VBS to becoming an MSP. With this model, they are free to frame ADTRAN’s technology in terms of business solutions and outcomes. Their value now comes from the trust based a strong/long customer relationship, and from that, an ability to understand what customers truly need – rather than what they think they need. I’ll provide specific examples in my next post along with the business model benefits for being an MSP.

Why being an MSP is good for ADTRAN

This path is also good business for ADTRAN, and that needs to be part of the analysis. Of course, this result applies to any vendor, and hopefully you’ll see this isn’t just about ADTRAN and ProCloud. Vendors face the same business issues as channels, and being on the same page is key for survival. ADTRAN acquired BlueSocket and developed ProCloud to stay current with the mobility and cloud trends, and to make these work, they must have the right channel partners. Other vendors have made similar moves for the same reasons, so this shift isn’t specific to ADTRAN.

The MSP business model isn’t as capital intensive as selling hardware, but ADTRAN knows this is where the growth lies. When channel partners embrace MSP, they get a nice re-set with their customers and that positions them to drive new revenues as new applications enter the ProCloud sphere. This is a model that works well on a few levels for end customers, and will filter back to the vendor because they now have an engaged user base around which to develop new applications and grow the business. There’s definitely a virtuous circle at work here, and the best way to get it is for both vendors and channel partners to be aligned with meeting customer needs.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.adtran.com/valley-business-solutions-why-becoming-an-msp-is-a-good-idea/

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