Should I outsource my school’s Wi-Fi network?

Picking up from our last discussion around cloud wireless, let’s take a look at the specifics around when a school district should move forward with either an on-premises or managed Wi-Fi solution.

The Wi-Fi market is continuing to see incredible growth, with it projected to reach $6.7B by 2018, per Dell’Oro Group.  Nowhere is this growth more profound than in the education market. School systems are continuing to roll out new BYOD and 1:1 Computing programs, resulting in more mobile devices on the network, putting an incredible strain on both infrastructure and IT staff.

Schools need a top performing wired and wireless network for high bandwidth applications like YouTube in classrooms and cloud applications such as Moodle or Blackboard.  They also require centralized user and security policy administration to support learning initiatives from online testing to flipped classrooms and beyond.  Finally, there needs to be quick resolution to connectivity issues for staff and students.  Any downtime can result in lost productivity and frustrated students and teachers.

With all this in mind, when does it make sense for a school district to make the switch from an in-house Wi-Fi solution to a managed offering?  Key to this decision is to ask the following questions:

  • Single-site, Multi-site, and Multi-tenant Facilities – does the district have difficulty managing multiple buildings?
  • Wireless network expansion driven by BYOD – is the district able to keep pace with the number of new devices coming onto the network?
  • Limited IT resources – does the district have enough resources to manage the network?
  • Day-to-day maintenance/management – if the staff is limited, would districts benefit from offloading IT burdens and augment their existing resources to focus on what they do best—serve their students and faculty?
  • Wi-Fi Security – does the IT staff have real-time and historical reports and trends into network health, users, connected devices, capacity and usage? Can they make informed decisions on network investments to improve the user experience?

Critical to all of these questions is making sure the district also has the flexibility to go from an outsourced model to bringing management back in-house – especially, knowing that E-rate funding has no guarantee year after year. Also, most school districts do not want to get locked into a long term subscription model.

Schools that receive E-rate funding this year and choose ADTRAN ProCloud Wi-Fi need not worry about leveraging their Wi-Fi investment in the future, since they have the ability to bring the solution in-house via Bluesocket vWLAN and manage it themselves – when and if they are ready.

A school system’s first priority is students. Giving them an education that facilitates long term academic success while instilling confidence and critical thinking skills requires a modern curriculum and a dependable network. That’s why the network solution needs to be one that enriches this experience and puts learning above all.

Be sure to visit ADTRAN at the upcoming CoSN 2015 conference in Atlanta from March 16-19 to gain a better understanding of managed Wi-Fi and its benefits to advancing K-12 goals and initiatives.

Jason King is the director of marketing for the Bluesocket Business Group at ADTRAN. With over 15 years’ experience in the industry, he is responsible for the overall promotion and positioning of the company’s Wi-Fi solutions. Find him on Twitter <em>@jjking24


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A Flexible Approach to Wi-Fi for E-rate

The meteoric rise of smartphones and tablets combined with the transition from desktop computers to laptops are putting substantial strain on Wi-Fi networks at today’s school districts. Not only are more devices connecting to these networks but students and faculty expect to remain always on and are increasingly streaming media and other high bandwidth applications in classrooms.
With the new funding for E-rate making the news, school districts are looking to take advantage of this program to build out a world class wireless network for their students and staff.
The demand for more bandwidth, more real-time multimedia and access to e-textbooks and educational applications, such as Moodle and Blackboard, all via Wi-Fi, means that any drop in performance is immediately noticeable by users. In addition, as schools migrate from a primarily wired infrastructure to a wireless one, the growth in devices on the network also highlights a need for additional security.
IT staff at school districts have been trying to keep up with user needs and expectations but the requirements are evolving fast. Today’s IT needs to be faster, more nimble, handle many devices, provide tighter security, scale quickly and be cost effective. To achieve this, a new approach needs to be taken to the problem.

The traditional Wi-Fi architecture has been based upon a controller-based switch that becomes the central point of intelligence and control for all access points (AP’s). The controller becomes the choke point and bottleneck for the network, requiring IT to add more controllers as inevitably more users and devices come onto the network.
This traditional architecture has been replaced by a Cloud Wireless design where the controller is eliminated, with management annd control of the network virtualized in the cloud. This approach greatly increases the ability to scale the network to meet Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) demands, with the ability to support a factor of 10X more devices than before.
The Cloud Wireless approach has also opened up the possibility of educational institutions taking advantage of a managed and hosted service for their Wi-Fi network, offloading routine network management burden from their strapped IT staff.
With so many choices for today’s K-12 IT staff when it comes to their wireless network and mobility needs, there are several questions that come to mind:
• Should I opt for a hosted/managed service vs. managing it on-site?
• Should I go with 802.11n or 802.11ac?
• What kind of back-end switching network do I need?
• What kind of security do I need to ensure privacy mandates?
• And on and on the list goes…
We will dive into these issues in later posts. The key point is as IT managers wade through all the options to pick the right wireless solution for their situation, they need to ensure their network will be able to stand up to the demanding needs of their users.

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Three Lessons Learned from Valley Business Solutions

This is the fourth and final post in my series based on case study research done with ADTRAN customer Valley Business Solutions – VBS. They represent a great example of how channel partners are finding ways to reinvent themselves as their world of legacy telephony gives way to both Internet-based and wireless forms of communications.

In my earlier posts, I’ve addressed the business case for becoming an MSP – Managed Services Provider – and how this opens up new opportunities to address the real needs of customers as they too, struggle with today’s technologies. I’ve also addressed specific use cases for managed WiFi, which VBS offers via ADTRAN’s ProCloud platform. Most communications technology vendors now provide similar solutions as mobility increasingly becomes the environment of choice for businesses and their employees.

To bring this series to a close, I’ll summarize the VBS story in terms of three lessons learned. Needless to say, while this reflects well on ADTRAN, my intent is to provide this as an example that any channel partner can follow.

  1. Rethink the buying process

For legacy-based channel partners, IT has long been the point of contact for both buying and selling. Things are different with managed services, especially if you’re trying to be strategic. It’s one thing to sell managed WiFi to save money or make the network easier to manage, but it’s something else to sell it on the basis of solving pressing business problems.

VBS understands this, and along the way came to learn that it’s not enough to sell this to IT. By elevating the discussion into a strategic business-level solution, IT isn’t the only decision-maker when it comes to buying. More often than not, management starts driving the buying process when they see this strategic value. However, they may not be part of the initial discussions as a matter of course, and if you’re following this path, then you need to be proactive to ensure they become involved. IT’s needs are not always the same as management’s and this is a key area where channels can bring new value.

  1. Focus on risk mitigation

Businesses understand this, and management tends to frame decisions this way. Technology risk can be a major inhibitor for moving into the Nextgen world, and this is where the move to an MSP has paid off for VBS. When previously selling point products and services, decisions were made around the virtues of specific technologies or vendors. SMBs have their fair share of biases, perceptions, bad blood, etc. in this regard, and much of the sales effort gets tied up explaining or defending a particular recommendation.

By selling managed services instead, the discussion shifts away from these specifics and over to the applications that WiFi will support and how these will address pain points and drive business outcomes. This allows the channel partner to remove a lot of the customer risk from the decision-making, as that burden now shifts to the hosted provider. VBS put their faith in ProCloud to give them that capability, allowing the end customer to focus on addressing their business issues. No longer does the customer need to worry about getting locked-in to a particular vendor or technology, not to mention long-term financial commitment to a Capex investment.

  1. Understand the new business model

This may seem like the biggest leap of faith, but VBS has come to embrace the tradeoff that comes from moving to a smaller per-customer revenue base, but getting it on a recurring basis. Thinking particularly for SMBs, the Opex business model makes for easier decision-making. With cash flow often being a prime consideration, small but regular payments are more manageable and not dictated by capitalized budgeting planning cycles.

For VBS, this has advantages as well. First, they can pitch managed WiFi any time, since it isn’t tied to an annual budget review. Second, if VBS wants to be aggressive entering a new market or vertical, they can reduce the monthly customer price to win the business. They can earn this back over time, plus the incremental cost to add a new customer to their platform is nominal, so the financial risk is minimal. Finally, the recurring revenue model makes it easier for VBS to manage their growth since they don’t have to make major investments to upgrade capacity to support new business.


While VBS has become an MSP for WiFi, this is just one of many services a channel can offer by following this path. The key is to understand where the growth opportunities are, and wireless is certainly one of them. Equally important is to recognize the risks of sticking with legacy, both in terms of technologies, but also the business model. Nothing is guaranteed, but given how frequently communications technology is changing, your odds of success as a channel partner are greater by focusing on the business needs of your customers rather than the technologies they think they need.

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Valley Business Solutions – why becoming an MSP is a Good Idea

My last post began a case study exploration of Valley Business Solutions (VBS), an ADTRAN customer based in Tennessee. Normally the focus of a case study is about how a vendor solved a particular problem for a customer, but my research indicates something bigger going on. There was a case study element in that post, but I want discuss more about how ProCloud provided a transformational opportunity for VBS, and why this serves as a great model for other channel partners to consider.

This also speaks to where ADTRAN is having success and how the broader communications environment continues to evolve. While UC may have been the starting point for how vendors and channels jointly explore new directions, both parties have to follow the wind. Ultimately, the end customer determines this, but many have little of sense of direction. This is where channels truly add value, as they are the middleman between vendors and businesses.

Why being an MSP is good for VBS

Valley Business Solutions knows what’s best for its customers – at least in terms of communications technology, and for a variety of reasons, they have determined that the Managed Services Provider path is the way forward. This is not an easy decision to make, and I’ll explore that further in my next post. For now, the idea is to determine the best way to remain relevant with as many customers as possible. To some extent, VBS has based this on customer input, but this can also lead to some dangerous assumptions.

Part of knowing your customer is knowing that they don’t always know best. Most of VBS’s customers are SMBs with limited technical expertise, and their scope of understanding will define their thinking. VBS has learned that a key way to add value is to re-frame technology needs around business problems, and this has allowed them to have success with ProCloud managed WiFi services. Businesses don’t generally come to channel partners asking for UC, and they may not even come asking for WiFi solutions. They just know that wireless growth is out of control but don’t really know how to address it.

This is where channel partners like VBS add value. They know the customer well, including their understanding of these problems. Since they are well-versed in what ProCloud can provide, they can introduce new ideas and capabilities that show how the customer can get on top of these wireless issues. This approach is known as consultative selling, and VBS recognized they needed to work this way, not just to keep customers happy but also to stay ahead of their competitors.

By adopting this model, VBS moves away from the legacy model of selling hardware and adding little value. The customer relationship is still paramount, but with all the disruption coming from both the cloud and mobility, there was little room for growth by sticking with that legacy model. This means that the core value proposition is based less now on the physical products and more on the applications they enable and how those applications impact the business.

That’s the new value proposition that has led VBS to becoming an MSP. With this model, they are free to frame ADTRAN’s technology in terms of business solutions and outcomes. Their value now comes from the trust based a strong/long customer relationship, and from that, an ability to understand what customers truly need – rather than what they think they need. I’ll provide specific examples in my next post along with the business model benefits for being an MSP.

Why being an MSP is good for ADTRAN

This path is also good business for ADTRAN, and that needs to be part of the analysis. Of course, this result applies to any vendor, and hopefully you’ll see this isn’t just about ADTRAN and ProCloud. Vendors face the same business issues as channels, and being on the same page is key for survival. ADTRAN acquired BlueSocket and developed ProCloud to stay current with the mobility and cloud trends, and to make these work, they must have the right channel partners. Other vendors have made similar moves for the same reasons, so this shift isn’t specific to ADTRAN.

The MSP business model isn’t as capital intensive as selling hardware, but ADTRAN knows this is where the growth lies. When channel partners embrace MSP, they get a nice re-set with their customers and that positions them to drive new revenues as new applications enter the ProCloud sphere. This is a model that works well on a few levels for end customers, and will filter back to the vendor because they now have an engaged user base around which to develop new applications and grow the business. There’s definitely a virtuous circle at work here, and the best way to get it is for both vendors and channel partners to be aligned with meeting customer needs.


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ADTRAN Case Study – Transitioning from Products to Managed Services

Welcome to 2015, and I look forward to helping you keep on the pulse of Unified Communications. In keeping with a new year, it’s time to change things up with a different focus. For the next couple of posts, I’m going to feature a case study about an ADTRAN customer, Valley Business Solutions. I recently spoke at length with their GM, Alex Dizon, and this yielded several takeaways that are very much on trend for the UC and collaboration space.

My posts here are typically written for business decision makers, but VBS is a VAR, so they represent the seller’s side of the coin. The channel sits in the middle between vendors and end customers, and they face their own set of challenges with the ever-changing UC landscape. While vendors struggle to develop UC solutions that resonate with the needs of businesses, channels struggle to find the right business model for selling UC. While my analysis of VBS is specific to ADTRAN’s offerings, the dynamics are industry-based, and apply equally well to every other UC vendor, channel partners and ultimately, end customer.

Before continuing, I should also explain that although ADTRAN offers various flavors of UC, VBS partners with them primarily for ProCloud so they can become an MSP – Managed Services Provider. This isn’t really much different from offering hosted UC to end customers, and in VBS’s case, the focus is on providing WiFi connectivity. They could just as well be supporting NetVanta UC, and that in itself is an important storyline to follow.

What does the customer really want?

Ultimately, both vendors and channels depend on meeting customer needs for success, and that’s a key reason why I’m doing this case study analysis. There will certainly be cases where end customers know what UC is, and after careful consideration, have determined this is what they need. Other times, however, the vendor or channel is selling a variation of UC, but the customer doesn’t think of it that way. In other words, they are buying a solution, not a technology.

A recurring theme of my blog here is that UC is a moving target, and this really is both a strength and a weakness. As a vendor, ADTRAN is happy to sell NetVanta UC all day long, but if the VAR is having success selling WiFi as a managed service hosted by ProCloud, that’s fine too. The main thing is to drive adoption of hosted or managed services, as this represents one of the best growth opportunities right now for both vendors and channel partners.

In that regard, this case study is a very real example of how everyone in this business needs to adapt. UC can be defined in many ways, and while VBS’s customers may not be deploying a formal UC solution per se, they are certainly using elements that fall under the UC umbrella. The end customer doesn’t really care if you call it UC or managed WiFi to drive all their productivity applications. What really matters is meeting the customer’s needs rather than trying to make them fit into a UC box.

This is just one way vendors are adapting. Just because you can offer UC doesn’t mean the end customer is ready to buy it. VBS has learned that the key to staying competitive in today’s market is to focus on solving business problems instead of selling technology. If NetVanta UC truly is the best solution for the customer, that will be their recommendation. More often than not, however, there are other ADTRAN offerings tangential to UC that speak best to what the customer needs.

The bigger picture

A more important driver for adaptation is the cloud, and this is where the case study becomes more instructive. Aside from selling solutions, both vendors and channels need to be selling simplicity and great user experiences. This is a far cry from the legacy days of selling hardware-based phone systems tied to capital budget cycles. VBS started out in this business, but soon realized the limits of being an equipment dealer. They saw that the future was going to be in applications with little opportunity to add value to phone systems.

Furthermore, with legacy telephony going into decline, VBS knew it needed to shift from a capital-intensive business model to one built around recurring revenues from value-added services. This transition took the company from being an undifferentiated dealer to a value-added reseller, and with that, their current focus on selling solutions is easier to understand.

From there, the link to the cloud is really a short hop, and that’s where both ADTRAN and VBS have adapted quite successfully. The cloud presents new opportunities for everyone, but only if you’re ready. Clearly, many of VBS’s competitors are not ready, and I’ll explore the implications of that as this series continues in my next post.

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