TIME FOR KENYANS TO LET GO - OF THE CHERISHED WAN

With the anticipated landing of various undersea fiber optic cables at our coast, there is bound to be a radical transformation of the average corporate IT infrastructure. Many of the of larger regionally diversified organizations in Kenya have over the years invested heavily in Wide Area Network (WAN) equipment. The investments in hardware havealso gone along with expensive bandwidth provision contracts. This has largely been in pursuit of reliable data connectivity across their organization's branches.

Government parastatals form a bulk of such organizations in addition to banks, and several of the larger local companies. Also included among the soon-to-be affected are multinational companies, international NGOs and intergovernmental agencies who have elaborate equipment setups and contracts based on the ageing premise that data connectivity in the country is slow, expensive and unreliable.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the above organizations will very soon find themselves having to choose between clinging on to their costly traditional WAN infrastructure or moving on to more cost effective Virtual Private Network (VPN) arrangements. VPN solutions are private to the corporate but essentially running on the public internet infrastructure. Although VPNs have been in the industry for a while, they are a relatively more modern approach to data connectivity compared to the traditional WAN concept. The more unfortunate of these organizations are currently trapped in restrictive vendor lock-in contracts, to expensive proprietary WAN solutions.

The older WAN concept has remained popular for as long as the local public internet services have been considered not feasible for the most basic business communications. The landing of undersea fiber cable infrastructure such as that of SEACOM, and TEAMS in Mombasa is anticipated to change the equation all together. The under sea infrastrature will bring down the cost of public internet drastically while significantly improving Kenyan internet user experiences in terms of speed and reliability.

With attributes such as cheap, fast and reliable becoming a reality for public internet it will become inevitable for organizations to re-design their existing corporate data connectivity solutions. All they need to explore are additional features to overlay the public internet connections such as corporate security, network policy management and scalability for their business needs. Lucky enough there already exist cost effective VPN solutions. A VPN solution can be designed to efficiently address the extra corporate concerns while making the traditional WAN solution look like a ridiculous rip-off all together.

Cost reductions will be realized largely in the form of reduced recurrent bandwidth costs. Some of the VPN solutions offered by our competing telecoms require little or negligible initial capital outlays. In some arrangements, the required networking equipment is offered for free or at a negligible cost, requiring the corporate customer to only pay for the data services consumed.

Equipment vendors including Cisco have even more flexible solutions. The vendors provide minimal set of equipment to be installed at the head offices. The specialized VPN equipment is used to centrally manage security and policy concerns for the connected employee's computer regardless of their location and means of connection. This is where employee reserves their freedom to use an internet connection service of their choice - providing they have the VPN software installed on their computer. For the Cisco hardware solution, the VPN software is free to download on their website.

The completion and light up of the National Optic Fiber Backbone Infrastructure (NOFBI) across the country funded by Kenyan Tax Payers will make the situation even rosier for state corporations and government departments. This is especially if they are given preferential rates. The new terrestrial infrastructure whose contractors are Sagem, Huawei and ZTE is at advanced stages of implementation and the government recently advertised a tender for its maintenance.

With reduced connectivity rates, institutions will only need to invest in cost effective VPN solutions to piggy-back on the national infrastructure. This should free up more monies previously allocated to corporate IT infrastructure development and maintenance. Such savings may be reallocated for use in other strategic investments such as developing a human capital base around software development and IT security services. The resulting increased access to electronic information will also give rise to advancement of our budding knowledge economy.