Despite the political controversy over its value to the Australian public, the NBN is going to be a hugely beneficial piece of national infrastructure. Faster and more reliable speeds will mean new applications can be developed to the benefit of consumers and businesses alike.
But what, exactly, are those applications? What can the NBN enable that we can’t currently do (and, in turn, give us a reason to invest in the NBN), and more importantly – what do people and organisations need to do to prepare themselves for the NBN?
Netgear service provider account manager, Andrew Trickett, said one of the great benefits of the NBN will be the increased ability for remote working, as well as the enhanced capabilities for storage and date replication between offices.
Healthcare has been touted as the major beneficiary. The NBN will open up opportunities for telepresence consultancy and better data management and storage, but otherwise, the lift the NBN will provide should be fairly universal, Trickett claimed.
Cloud computing is another hot topic set to benefit from the NBN. One of the challenges to cloud computing has been the performance of wide area networks (WAN), and in order to have a reasonably-performing wide-area network, customers will need to pay for expensive (by global standards) broadband speeds to get access to the cloud.
And in that regard, the NBN will be of equal benefit to both small and large organisations. “Big organisations quite often already have paid the money up front for a link that’s similar to the NBN already,” Trickett said.
“It might be the smaller companies that benefit from it more readily because they’re going to have access to this higher speed product at potentially a lower price than what was available previously.”
It’s a position that Citrix director of product sales, Australia and New Zealand, Bede Hackney, agrees with, but warns that the increased capacity for remote working will also bring with it additional concerns over security that will also need to be addressed at the network level.
“Remote access has to stop being essentially providing a pipe into the organisations, and it has to start being a set of securely proxied applications. As remote access goes from being best effort or secondary, to being a primary concern, we need levels of access that aren’t just password based, but are more password and user context aware,” Hackney said.
The percentage of workers with the capability to work remotely has grown dramatically in the past five years – then, a common percentage of remote workers would be around 20-30 per cent. Now and in the future with the NBN, networks are going to need to be able to handle nearly the entire workforce with smart phones, tablet devices and notebooks, all looking to access the corporate infrastructure from two or three devices simultaneously.
“What’s happened is that organisations don’t realise that this is the case with remote access,” Hackney said. “As users become more remote the infrastructure needs to become more robust, but typically the event that has them thinking about remote access is the outage.”
Are we ready?
Riverbed Australia managing director, Ian Raper, said there was some misunderstanding that will hold people and organisations back from taking optimal advantage of the NBN.
“Some have said ‘if I have this bandwidth at a reasonable cost universally available, I don’t need to optimise the network any more, the NBN will take care of the problem’,” Raper said.
“What we find is this is not the case. What has happened for many years is as more bandwidth becomes available is that the applications become richer and richer, and we move more data as they become richer.
“When people start to perceive the network bottleneck is gone, then the responsibility for performance and improvement will go back to the IT group – when customers start to enable these optimised networks on the NBN, the others that don’t have them will see clearly they’re at a disadvantage.”
This is in line with Gartner research vice-president, Geoff Johnson, who claims that the NBN will change the “sensation of storage” (see sidebar). The need for optimised networks will continue. Latency will continue to be an issue the NBN cannot in itself resolve, so despite the faster speeds, network bottlenecks and WAN optimisation solutions will need to be considered and resolved.
Getting ready for the NBN is a big partner and consultancy opportunity, too. Despite the knowledge that it is coming is widespread, information on how to ready the network for the NBN is less easy to come by.
“IT people might have a reasonable understanding of what’s required, but there’s nothing in black and white that we’ve really seen,” D-Link Australia and New Zealand managing director, Domenic Torre, said.
“I intentionally tried to do some research for myself on this subject, just to try and get something in black and white, and still could not come up with something.”
Not that it’s necessarily complex. From a routing perspective, businesses (and consumers) aren’t going to need to do much differently to what they’ve already got. NBN Co has been established with the industry standards bodies of Australia, and most people will buy into it as Ethernet.
The NBN will prevent Australia from belonging to a ‘third world’ of Internet infrastructure once it’s rolled out, and will provide opportunities across education, healthcare, and boost the adoption of cloud computing.
But at the same time the NBN will not magically solve some of the problems of the Internet on the enterprise network. Indeed, with the push to remote working and the proliferation of devices that fast broadband will enable, IT departments will need to be have even better optimisation policies, and may well need guidance as the NBN is still at this stage a concept without a great deal of customer readiness.