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The Changing Role of the ISP – Guest Editorial by Piers Daniell MD of Fluidata

Monday, May 14th, 2012 (7:55 am) - Score 599

I recently had a discussion with a prospect about the role and the value of the ISP in today’s telecoms industry. We discussed whether the opinion amongst some that see ISPs as “resellers; pointless middlemen; and a barely necessary layer between source and supply” had any validity and whether it’s, perhaps, more a case that the lines have blurred and ISPs have evolved to become more than simple service providers?

It struck me that the role of the ISP, while never in my book simply restricted to being simply resellers of last-mile technology, has adapted and evolved in the last few years to become more influential than ever before. Five or six years ago, before LLU networks emerged, the role of the ISP was pretty defined; a conduit – to liaise with the enterprise tier 1 on the clients a behalf; to save them time spent in call queues when things went wrong; to fight battles on their behalf; to educate so they could choice the right package.

The vast majority sold BT technology, with a choice of two or three solutions. Some bucked the trend; tying their masts to other carriers, but few had the appetite to bring more than one carrier onto their portfolio. The better ISPs built their own networks – to take as much control from carriers as possible and make themselves less vulnerable to outages – but many simply took a layer 2 handoff.

In the intervening years, however, a wider range of networks and technologies have become available to ISPs.  Advancements in connectivity and changes in customer requirements and desires have seen an explosion in software and platform development to enable the provision of IP-based, value-added services. As a result, connectivity has become invaluable for both businesses and consumers and more critical applications are running over IP than ever before. Now, for the first time companies’ working patterns are changing as new ways of communicating emerge and we become more mobile. According to IDC, by 2015, the total of office-based, non-office-based and home-based mobile workers will grow to nearly 1.3 billion people, for whom connectivity will be of paramount importance.

These changes have created significant opportunities for ISPs to evolve. Companies like Fluidata have pioneered the multi-carrier approach to service delivery and are now widely viewed as ‘aggregators’ – providing a hub for the purchase of multiple services and platforms. This benefits some as it affords end user organisations and gives layer 2 resellers more choice, without increasing the number of suppliers they have to deal with. For multisite companies this holds added importance; if you are an organisation with 100 UK sites your ISP must be able to provide you with multiple carriers under one private network to ensure connectivity is consistent –irrespective of site size or location.

As the role of the ISP becomes more about aggregation, it’s not just about having the ability to find the right solution; aggregators have to be able to offer businesses the resilience they need. Multiple carriers within a WAN allow you to spread your risk and reduce the effect of network outages, while some aggregators are clever enough to actually build resilience into single solutions – offering multiple lines, via different carriers, over one IP network.

Another role ISPs are increasingly playing is one of integrator; integrating technologies to create a private WAN – which involves considerable expertise in terms of enabling the right security protocols in order to offer both an efficient and secure platform. The industry is currently witnessing the convergence of fixed line connectivity and data centre services, as businesses are moving more towards private cloud solutions. As such, some service providers, like us, have been providing a number of PWAN networks which include hosted services including virtualised servers, hosted telephony systems and SANs.

Looking back at how our industry has changed in the last few years it’s staggering to see how much more we as ISPs have to offer and how different we are now compared to just five years ago. Now, companies like ours have over ten different network carriers at their disposal, including next generation networks which look set to solve the UK’s rural broadband problems.

Many of these ‘next generation’ ISPs can offer hosting environments in many different data centres. Fluidata provides a genuine wholesale channel, and can build and manage private wider area networks for clients and even build wannabe ISPs their own wholesale platform. And we’re not alone. Many of our ISP brethren are doing similar things. The role of an ISP has changed, and if the last few years are anything to go by, it will continue to do so.

Piers Daniell, Managing Director of UK Business ISP Fluidata.

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Piers is one of the original 2004 founders and former CEO of businesss ISP Fluidone (Fluidata). He is currently the company's Chairman and is writting for ISPreview.co.uk in the capacity of a guest author.
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