Any IT manager that has suffered the wrath of customers and staff during an unforseen outage should spare a thought for Telstra’s battle-hardened head of network services, Michael Lawrey. Despite having endured Telstra’s pillorying in the mainstream media over the BigPond email “brown out”, Lawrey is surprisingly frank about what went wrong and why.
“A lot of the BigPond platform and technology base was put in some time ago,” he said. “BigPond has grown [enormously]. We need to move that architecture closer to what I’d loosely term a carrier environment — rather than the traditional ‘Internet enterprise’ environment it has grown up in.”
The difference between the two was “scalability, operability and the customer experience”, he said.
At the heart of the issue is that much of the Internet’s delivery architecture was never designed to do the sort of carrier-grade work it now does, Lawrey said. While Telstra’s public switched telephone network (PSTN) has had some 80 years of fine-tuning, TCP/IP technology was growing up fast.
“The Internet space is relatively new and built on enterprise [rather than carrier]-grade equipment. Internet and email was only ever a best effort, store-and-forward system,” he said. “What we need to evolve to, if we are serious about having it as a mainstream communications mechanism for the future, is how we move the architecture closer to a carrier-grade.
“From a global perspective that’s not just Telstra, that is all carriers. I’m not saying it will ever be carrier-grade, but it needs to move closer to that from the sort of architecture and environment we have today.”
While circumspect about what Telstra would do in the immediate future, Lawrey said “key vendors [have been called and] engaged in looking at the way forward to future-proof” against further outages.
Telstra CEO, Ziggy Switkowski, had committed to results by the first quarter of 2004, he said.
As for the future of IP telephony (IPT), Lawrey said Telstra would forge ahead with solutions — such as the recent Westpac deal — in the enterprise space, but that any mass market conversion for private-line consumers was still a decade away.
Aside from the technological challenges of IPT, Telstra’s 30-year survivor of the PMG Technician in Training program said it was as much about money as the technology.
“There are hundreds of views, but whether there is a sustainable business model is the key,” he said. “That needs to be put in place. It’s got to have a value proposition for the customer base, but it also has to make sure that it’s sustainable [for carriers] at the end of the day. If [carriers] don’t get a return on investment then you are not going to get people wanting to invest in communications networks.”