Salvador Dali said “Don’t bother about being modern. Unfortunately it is the one thing that, whatever you do, you cannot avoid.” Given that one constant in the world of communications networking is change, Dali’s observation about modern art also holds true for network modernization.
Network operators face constant demand to deliver new revenue-generating services and increasing amounts of bandwidth. To meet these ever-changing demands, telecommunications and network technologies have also evolved and merged over the years. From frame relay to TDM to SONET to ATM to Ethernet, the technologies used to carry and deliver communications services have evolved along with the services they deliver.
Legacy Networks Often Operate Alongside Modern Networks
At the same time, it has been unusual to retire old networks. When new technologies are deployed, conventional practice is to overlay the old network with the new one, maintaining the two in parallel. There are several reasons for this. The folks in the CFO’s office want to keep equipment in service as long as possible in order to amortize the capital outlay. Sales and support teams don’t want to risk revenue by taking customers out of service even briefly. The most common reason of all is that operations teams are so busy with daily operations that there’s no time or resources to take an existing network down.
The Status Quo is More Costly than a Modernized Network
Leaving old networks running alongside new technology is common, often overlooked, and costly for service providers.Legacy networks disproportionately consume scarce resources, operations budget, and labor that are better utilized supporting modern technologies. Space, power and cooling are the most obvious resources consumed by legacy networks. Legacy technologies also inhibit providers from solving this problem by deploying newer revenue-generating technologies.
It is difficult, and at times impossible, to interoperate legacy and modern technologies. Consequently, as a service provider’s customer seeks to expand or upgrade services, it is often impossible for their current services to interact with the new service they want to add, limitating the addressable market and reducing possible revenue.
Lastly, leaving legacy systems in operation greatly increases risk for the service provider. As technical support and spare parts are discontinued, or manufacturers go out of business, it becomes impossible to meet the service levels required by your customers. Failure to meet these requirements will result in unhappy customers and possible liquidated damages. Eventually, technologies become so deprecated that few operations personnel can keep them in operation.
But legacy technologies have an even more important negative impact—one that affects the bottom line.
Legacy Networks Blunt your Competitive Edge
Throughout most of the 20th century, one company held a government-mandated monopoly on telecommunications in the US. Then in 1996, with the stroke of a pen, President Clinton set into motion the modern competitive ecosystem we enjoy today. New technologies like high-speed broadband and 5G services exist today because new companies could compete with the local incumbents for business.
Modern networks need modern operations methods supporting analytics, disaggregated open systems, software control, and automation. Legacy networks cannot compete against the modern capabilities that have become common in an increasingly shifting market. Consequently, legacy systems make it harder for you to compete as well by siphoning off valuable resources and reducing the options you have for expanding your network and revenue base.
Bringing Stakeholders Together to Plan for Success
Once you decide to retire a legacy network, the hard work begins. It may take weeks or months to retire a network, especially one that has been in service for years supporting hundreds or thousands of services and the customers who use them.
First comes the planning stage, bringing the key stakeholders together—including operations and engineering teams as well as finance, sales, and customer support. If you don’t have one, you need a detailed inventory of the equipment to be decommissioned and the services and customers who will be migrated to the new network.You will need to consider options for maintaining or converting affected customers. Some customers will have their own legacy technologies that can’t easily be modernized. One example is legacy SCADA systems for power companies that depend on frame relay or T1s. You will need to plan whether to support or discontinue these. It’s always painful to discontinue a service that customers have paid for over decades. Your stakeholders will need to carefully discuss the options and make the right business decision.
Your project management team will need to create a detailed method of procedure describing the steps and timeline for conversion, as well as a backout plan should the conversion be unsuccesful. The conversion window should be tightly timebound. During the conversion, if you begin to exceed the time for completion, you need to be strict about the cutoff time to start reverting to the legacy systems. This could trigger financial penalties for missed SLAs. Setting and honoring hard timelines will minimize the impact to you and your customers.
Include the Customer in the Network Modernization Conversation
After the planning phase, communicate the plan across your organization. Operations, engineering, sales, and support teams all need to know what will happen and when. Consider a “desk rehearsal,” where the stakeholders talk through the event step by step, including what to do if they need to initate the backout plan. a A version of the method of procedure should also be available to your customers. It may even be appropriate to conduct rehearsals with customers if the planned conversion is complex enough or needs support from the customer’s teams. Nothing instills confidence and customer goodwill like transparent communication.
Customers should have at least one month’s notice, allowing them time to prepare for the conversion. The more notice you can give, the better; a customer may need to order new equipment, plan for the impact to their business, and schedule or hire operations staff.
Consider Partnership with a Network Modernization Expert
For large efforts, consider bringing in a network modernizaton consultant to help plan and manage the conversion. Operations teams are already fully occupied, and it doesn’t make sense to hire permanent staff for a high-effort limited-duration modernization project.
An expert solutions partner can bring fresh perspective to a daunting project. The right partner understands the technology options and practicalities of network modernization. Working with this type of expert reduces the stress, risk and disruption, ultimately producing a better outcome for you and your customers.
Want to Know More About Modernizing a Legacy Network?
If you’re considering network modernization or just looking for more information, contact Fujitsu MSO expert, Bill Beesley, at firstname.lastname@example.org