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Issue 7: Current Developments - African Banking Services

Managing Your Satellite Networks

Guy Adams
Senior Consultant, Parallel

When the African Banking Corporation (ABC) decided to add new banking applications to its network, IT performance suffered to the point where workers could not communicate effectively - even email was down at one point. This presented a major problem for an organisation that employs over 550 people in offices located across seven countries.

So why does this kind of nightmare situation occur? Very often it is due to the fact that networks are not properly managed. Too many businesses are losing precious time and resources due to problems such as slow response times and downtime. A badly functioning network can result in a loss of reputation, productivity and revenue.

Many businesses using traditional, terrestrial networks already embrace the need for network management. But many countries, particularly those in the third world, do not have the terrestrial communications infrastructure that the developed world enjoys. Therefore an alternative, and in many cases more suitable, method is rapidly gaining in popularity - the satellite.

Satellite networks use VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) technology to relay information between sites without the need for a terrestrial communications infrastructure.

However, many users of this technology are making a crucial mistake by not recognising that the management of satellite networks carries additional complications. Different issues must be tackled if these networks are to function efficiently. This is a challenge that Parallel has confronted.

'Out-of-the-box' Network Management Systems (NMSs) are designed to work for terrestrial systems - not satellites. It is crucial this is understood. Several factors render the traditional off-the-shelf NMS ineffective for satellite networks:

Characteristic Terrestrial Networks Satellite Networks
Latency (Response Time) Low High
Bandwidth Symmetric Asymmetric
Failures Sites up or down Can be partial
Weather - Can cause degradation or loss of signal
Sun Alignment - Can cause outages
Equipment Alignment - Misalignment can sap signal strength
Equipment Access Usually easy Sites can be remote
Band Management In or out of band In band only

Satellite technology allows much more flexibility than terrestrial systems and increases what is possible for multi-national organisations. But in order to take full advantage of the technology, we must get the management right. The differences are clear - yet what can be done?

Parallel believes in a structured, planned approach. In a recent white paper the company made many recommendations including:

  • Find a reputable VSAT service provider and properly plan site equipment.
  • Consider outsourcing if specialist staff are not available.
  • A good development cycle of an NMS is vital, from evaluation, to design, to implementation, to a second evaluation.

Efficient NMS systems, such as those created and employed by Parallel, will save money by predicting outages and proactively dealing with them in a cost-effective manner. To achieve maximum efficiency a management solution must achieve a high level of automation. Parallel has developed a system where tickets are automatically closed for routine faults, meaning fewer operators are needed to monitor incidents and those that are employed are used productively to investigate more serious failures. Costly engineer site visits are also reduced.

So if you are an organisation setting up a VSAT network, what factors must be considered when choosing a VSAT Network Management partner?

  • Avoid companies focused on selling an 'out-of-the-box' product. They WILL NOT WORK.
  • Look for a company with proven experience of VSAT technology.
  • If you have previously invested in network management products, find a company that will integrate new solutions into your existing infrastructure.

The African Banking Corporation (ABC) is now benefiting from Parallel's expertise and there will be no return to the nightmare scenario they faced before. But success stories such as ABC's are not a result of good fortune, they are down to an awareness of how to manage satellite networks. Out-of-the-box products are not enough.

So, if you are setting up a VSAT network, do not rely on the traditional NMS and/or the vendor's hardware management solution - there's so much more to consider!

Parallel: Parallel is an IT service management company which specialises in satellite network management. Located in Cranfield, UK, Parallel provides management solutions to some of the largest organisations in the world. Key clients include BT, HNS, Vivendi Universal, The British Council and the African Banking Corporation. Through running operations departments for clients, consultants at Parallel developed highly advanced and innovative satellite network management software. These highly successful solutions form the basis of SatManage.

SatManage: is a comprehensive suite designed to manage every aspect of a satellite network. The various components monitor all the factors that determine network performance, such as response times, traffic, signal strength and Sun outages. Pioneering visual displays allow operators to quickly analyse problems on the network and alert key contacts before the business suffers. Raw data is also made available for in-depth investigation. By taking into account the unique requirements of a satellite network, SatManage is the most detailed and advanced solution in the satellite network management market.


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