Last year, law firm Speechly Bircham opened its first offices outside the UK – one in the principality of Luxembourg, the other in the Swiss capital of Zurich. The new offices needed network connectivity, and it was up to IT director Robert Cohen to procure network services that could support both the immediate requirements and future growth.
“We had to figure out the services we need and the amount of traffic that is going to be generated, and then allow for growth,” he explains. “There was an element of guesswork, but we also collect a lot of statistics about our network usage here in the UK, so we could be reasonably confident about our predictions.”
As it happens, the two branches have very different requirements. In Luxembourg, staff can access systems hosted in the firm’s UK data centre, mostly via remote access technology from Citrix. Switzerland’s data protection laws, however, mean that all data created in the country must remain there, so the Zurich office needed to connect to local data centre facilities, plus a backup link that goes via London in case the local network fails.
Setting up dedicated network connections from London to Luxembourg and Switzerland means dealing not only with telecoms suppliers in each country but also France Telecom as an intermediary. This presents a complex supplier management challenge.
“Different countries have different ways of working,” says Cohen. “In the UK, telecoms providers will offer an end-to-end service – you provide a rack location and they’ll connect it up. But in Switzerland, telcos won’t do any work within your building. They’ll bring their technology to the edge of the building and then you have to provide people to bring it the rest of the way.”
Cohen was wary of turning his IT department into a network solutions operator, and sought a supplier that could save it from having to manage this complexity. First he talked to his network services suppliers in the UK – BT and Colt – about their international offerings.
“I learnt two things,” he says. “Firstly, their interest is relative to the size of your business. Our international network is not the biggest in the world, so we weren’t offered a service where we could tell them what we wanted and they would offer us advice based on their experience.
“Secondly, the big providers still rely on you to go out and talk to the local network providers and understand all the local regulations yourself,” he says.
Instead, Cohen plumped for BSO Network Solutions, an independent network services provider specialising in international connectivity. “My primary reason for choosing BSO was that they have a network that can manage all the various legs for you and deal with all the relationships in the different countries, so we don’t have to worry about it.
“They helped us organise wayleaves [licences to use infrastructure], they brought in the electricians where needed, and they manage the whole service, which is quite impressive.”
Cohen makes special mention of the collaboration between BSO and Speechly’s voice-over-IP technology provider, Redstone. “The configuration of the network links and the routers is critical for VoIP quality of service,” he explains. “If the voice provider and the network provider can’t work together, they might blame each other when something goes wrong. That would have been a real problem, but there was none of it.”
Like many businesses, Speechly Bircham is increasingly reliant upon mobile devices. It recently began to allow staff to use their own iPhones and iPads, on the proviso that they use Good Technology’s sandbox application to access corporate systems and documents. This means that the firm can manage access policies centrally and can wipe devices of sensitive material if they get lost.
For Cohen, mobile networks are another source of unwanted management complexity. “All of our BlackBerrys are supplied and managed by Vodafone, so when we were setting the international locations, the first thing we did was contact Vodafone,” he explains. “But while they’ve got partnership agreements with third parties, they still expect you talk to Swisscom in Switzerland, and Swisscom expects us to talk to them directly. So we ended up having to manage all these relationships ourselves.”
So if there was a service provider that offered to take the job of managing mobile service providers internationally in the way that BSO does for wired network services, would Cohen be interested? “I’d love that,” he says.