SDN – Software-defined networking
Würth ITensis has been testing the new SDN-based service from Swisscom since January: Enterprise Connect can be used to manage network services fast and flexibly. The pilot project is a complete success: Würth ITensis has signed a contract for three years.
Text: Hansjörg Honegger, images: © Daniel Brühlmann, 8
Risk – a word that IT project managers are reluctant to use. And certainly not when they work for the provider. Stefan Schobert, project manager at Swisscom, has no such reticence: “For Würth ITensis, there was a certain risk involved in agreeing to be part of our pilot project with the new Enterprise Connect service. Often, however, it is worth taking the risk in order to benefit from the latest technologies.” As it turned out, Würth ITensis was more than satisfied with the new SDN-based service.
Since the beginning of May, Swisscom has offered a new service called Enterprise Connect based on virtualised networks. Marcos Perez, system engineer with responsibility for network and security at Würth ITensis, agreed in January to test the service as a pilot customer – within productive operation, in fact. He will use the technology not only for the 40 B2B shops belonging to the fixing and mounting material specialist Würth Schweiz, but also for external Würth ITensis IT customers. Within the pilot project, Swisscom has already successfully switched five shops over. The two partners have now signed a three-year contract.
“The solution separates the two levels of hardware and software, even within the network,” explains Stefan Schobert. “The great thing about it is that the customer can now place orders and carry out configuration online.” This means that the customer orders the appropriate bandwidth, the required hardware and the right service to be able to operate a network at a new location. With enthusiasm, Schobert points to the online dashboard to show what Swisscom has developed: thanks to SDN, the customer can put together a tailor-made offer within a few minutes and order it straight away. Long clarifications as to whether certain bandwidths are available or not, are no longer required. Enterprise Connect can show that information automatically during the order process. The router for a new branch configures itself when it is switched on, and the network administrator does the rest from a PC via a browser. Making changes at short notice – such as when bandwidth requirements change seasonally – is thus not a problem.
Swisscom is one of the first providers in the world to massively invest in the telco cloud and can offer its customers virtualised services. This guarantees that new and existing services will go hand in hand. Enterprise Connect allows network service functions to be adjusted at the touch of a button. The new service will first be available for smaller network locations.
“There are still thousands of companies operating analogue technology. Enterprise Connect is a marvellous opportunity for these business customers.”
Stefan Schobert, project manager, Swisscom
If required, Swisscom will send a technician to install the router. If a switchover needs to be made by an electrician, Enterprise Connect will automatically provide precise instructions. “We didn’t take just the technology very seriously,” Schobert stresses, “but also the usability of the solution. Where possible, the customer ought to be able to order and set up a new location within a few minutes without having to decipher unclear information.” This independence and flexibility is an important plus for Marcos Perez. “With our 40 locations and the IT customers that we handle externally, we didn’t want to be dependent on a seller or on other technicians who might not always have time.” Today, Perez manages his network single-handedly with Enterprise Connect; the first switchover was handled with assistance from Swisscom.
The cooperation between Schobert and Perez is marked by an enthusiasm for new things. Both stress the pleasure they take in being able to introduce a new technology. Experiencing how everything really works and – not least – how the service can help to save time and money. “Today, I was able to order and set up a new location in three minutes,” explains Perez. That used to take much longer. “Even getting clarification on the available bandwidth sometimes took a few days.” You had to make phone calls and explain things. Now you can do it in the customer portal in just a few clicks of the mouse.
“The pilot project went much better than I originally expected.”
Marcos Perez, system engineer with responsibility for network and security, Würth ITensis
However, there is still room for improvement. Swisscom continues to further develop the SDN product. According to Schobert, we are still at the beginning of the journey. Over the next few months, Swisscom will be adding new functions regularly. Perez uses the recently introduced GSM dongle at the two most important locations, for example: if the normal network fails – because, say, the driver of an excavator was not careful enough – Enterprise Connect will automatically switch to the mobile network. The mobile network does not offer the same capacity as the normal line, but it will do as a stop-gap solution.
Does “at the beginning of the journey” mean restricted functionality, even an isolated solution? Stefan Schobert shakes his head. On the contrary, he stresses the interaction with other Swisscom offerings: “Anything that Enterprise Connect does not offer can be provided by other Swisscom services.” In any event, connectivity is guaranteed. “Switzerland’s switchover to IP is one main driver behind this offering. There are still thousands of companies operating analogue technology. Enterprise Connect is a marvellous opportunity for these business customers. It is easy to use and offers clear added value.”
There does remain the question of risk, however. Marcos Perez grins: “Naturally, you can never be sure of what a pilot project will bring. We have known Swisscom for a long time, however, and knew that we were in good hands.” Perez stresses that Würth would not have entered into a pilot project with just any provider. “The pilot project went much better than I originally expected.” If there were any problems, Stefan Schobert and his team were always on the case. Mutual professionalism helped the partners through these sorts of situations. Despite Swisscom’s first-name-terms culture, the pair stuck to the formal “Sie”. The opportunity to change this does not seem to have arisen. “But it might not be too late to change that in the future,” Perez says thoughtfully as he leans back and relaxes. That is a risk that can now be taken with confidence.
Würth AG Schweiz, headquartered in Arlesheim, supplies professional tradespeople in all sectors with fixing and mounting materials. Its sales catalogue contains over 100,000 parts and dimensions: screws with accessories, dowels, chemical-technical products, furniture and building fittings, tools, machines, installation material, occupational safety equipment, vehicle equipment and warehouse management. The company was founded in 1962 and has around 650 employees. Würth AG Schweiz is part of the global Würth Group. Würth ITensis is a subsidiary of Würth that offers IT services, including to external companies.
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