A corporate intranet would seem to be a perfect fit for a company like aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. For one thing, the $6.2 billion unit of United Technologies Corp. has loads of information such as maintenance manuals that it must update regularly and route to engine mechanics and others. And those information consumers are scattered all over the world, in 100 airports where P&W;'s 6,500 engines are serviced and maintained.
"What we'd really love to do is be able to put all those manuals and service bulletins on a secure intranet, then give access to our people and, eventually, our customers and suppliers," says Joe Muldoon, marketing manager in P&W;'s East Hartford, Conn., commercial engine division. "No more printing and distribution costs, no more delays when information changes."
Right now, however, companies such as P&W; have to put their more ambitious global intranet deployments plans on standby. That's because, at least for now, lining up reliable, secure Internet access around the world is too complex and expensive. In countries where telecommunication deregulation hasn't spread, the cost of local bandwidth and Internet access can be 10 times greater than those costs in the United States. And the availability of products and services to support intranet deployment, while booming in the United States, has been much slower to develop in other countries.
As a result, companies often are forced to contract for Internet access on a country-by-country basis and to manage a long list of access providers whose service offerings--and prices--vary widely. In fact, in some countries, reliable, secure Internet access is virtually impossible to come by.
"You walk around in countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines, and you see severed telephone wires hanging off of posts," says Diane Silver, vice president for information strategy at American President Lines, an Oakland, Calif., shipping company that does business in roughly 500 global locations. "In some places, IP networking is just not available." There, companies such as APL and P&W; have been forced to provide intranet access via dial-up IP connections or via consumer networks such as CompuServe.
That's not going to be good enough, however, as large global companies begin to move more substantial, critical applications to their intranets. "As companies start to depend on their intranets more, they're going to need things like guaranteed service and security levels from their access providers, and they're going to need it on a global basis," says Jeffrey Mann, a consultant and program director with Meta Group Inc., in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Fortunately for IS managers, several large U.S.-based ISPs (Internet service providers) and telecom providers are beginning to attack the problem. Companies such as MCI Communications Corp./British Telecom Ltd., Sprint Communications Corp., IBM, UUNet Technologies Inc. and PSINet Inc. have begun expanding their IP networks internationally and forging global partnerships that, within the next year or so, could help global intranet deployments get off the ground. In addition to promising global one-stop Internet access, many providers say they'll offer a range of intranet services, including fully outsourced deployment and hosted intranet-based turnkey applications. In many cases, these global services are just beginning to take shape. So, for the time being, the task for IS managers will be to correctly judge providers' ability to deliver on their global promises.
Perhaps the most far-reaching plan outlined so far comes from the soon-to-be-merged MCI and BT. In November, the pair announced that Concert, their combined advanced networking unit, would begin rolling out intranet services that, beginning early next year, will encompass fully outsourced deployment and management of global intranets, including hosting common applications such as E-mail, directory services, human resources and distanced learning. Ultimately, Concert also will sell secure Internet access in 800 cities in 50 countries and bundled, preintegrated intranet platforms from Microsoft Corp., including Commercial Internet System and Exchange Server. So far, Concert is offering Internet services only between the United States and Europe. And the company has yet to outline pricing for its intranet offerings.
Other large telecom companies--some with the help of international partners--are introducing similar global intranet programs. Sprint, for example, has announced it and partners France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom will begin next year rolling out intranet services and global access through 800 access points around the world. AT&T; Corp., so far pursuing a go-it-alone strategy, in September announced availability in Asia and Britain of its Managed Internet Service, which provides management and operation of leased-line connections to the Internet, service-level monitoring, management of customer premise equipment and other services important to IS managers building intranets. AT&T; is expected to expand availability of both Managed Internet Service and its Intranet Connect Service, which offers high-security through nonpublic IP networking.
Large telecom providers aren't alone in promising global intranet access and services. Large U.S. ISPs such as UUNet, of Fairfax, Va., PSINet, of Herndon, Va., and BBN Planet Corp., of Cambridge, Mass., also are digging deep to deploy international access points and to partner with international companies. BBN, for example, recently signed a deal to link its network with that of Scitor Corp., of London, which extends to more than 220 countries. The two will begin to build into their networks support for features such as bandwidth on demand and central firewall management.
Similarly, UUNet has been expanding its international points of presence through acquisition. Most recently, the company spent $12 million to buy Eunet Deutschland and its 36 POPs (points of presence) in Germany. So far, UUNet has assembled 516 POPs outside the United States and soon will begin to roll out intranet services such as guaranteed service levels on top of its network.
Even some vendors not currently operating as Internet access providers are getting into the international act. IBM, for example, plans to leverage its IBM Global Network, which already extends to 850 cities around the world. The company plans to offer three types of intranet services--consulting, architecture and deployment--on top of that network, with local access from telcos such as Bell Canada.
And at least one industry-specific organization, the Paris-based SITA (Societe Internationale de Telecomunications Aeronautiques), plans to turn its international IP network into a platform for aerospace companies to deploy global intranets. P&W; is among those that have decided to cast their international intranet lot with what SITA calls Aeronet, an IP network that was launched last April and today has a presence in 225 countries.
So how should IS managers go about beginning to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of potential global intranet access and service providers? Start by looking at the global support staff and infrastructure that vendors can marshal, says Mike Smith, lead analyst for networking services at Datapro Information Services, in Delran, N.J. "It's not just a matter of rolling out circuits internationally. Vendors must have tech support people in place who can fix problems and guide users."
Vendors such as IBM with large support staffs deployed globally and MCI/BT with its SHL Systemhouse consulting arm may have a head start here, says Smith. Others such as BBN admit that the lack of international support staff is limiting the speed with which they can roll out global intranet services.
Potential customers also should look at how feasible it will be for intranet vendors to fulfill promises of guaranteed service levels, says Smith. As IS managers put more important applications on the Net, they want to be able to give priority to critical packets. Vendors able to control Net traffic from end to end will have the easiest time providing such priority guarantees, says Smith.
The bad news is that today no single vendor seems positioned to be best of class in all categories. But the good news is that, beginning early next year, IS managers will start getting some help when it comes to rolling their intranets out globally.
Senior Editor Jeff Moad can be reached at email@example.com.
Wiring the world
A sampling of global services:
MCI Communications Corp./British Telecom: Currently offers Concert InternetPlus, an Internet backbone service that so far links the United States and Europe. Announced plans with Microsoft Corp. to expand access to the IP network worldwide and to roll out two classes of global intranet products and services. One offering, due in the first quarter of 1997, combines managed Internet access plus integrated, tested products, including Microsoft Commercial Internet System, Internet Explorer 3.0 and BackOffice. The second offering, available in the first half of next year, features outsourcing intranet development and operations.
UUNet Technologies Inc.: Has announced Global Transit Service, an Internet backbone network connecting select cities in Asia, Europe and North America. UUNet is marketing the service both to large corporations building global intranets and to local ISPs. Currently available in London; Paris; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Frankfurt, Germany; Milan, Italy; Monaco; Tokyo; Hong Kong; Singapore; Sydney, Australia; as well as the United States.
PSINet Inc.: Offering PSI Intranet, private IP access and managed services for corporations. The service is currently available only in the United States, Japan, Canada and the U.K. PSI, however, plans a broader rollout, beginning with Europe by mid-1997.
AT&T; Corp.: Expanding availability of its WorldNet Managed Internet Service beyond the United States. The service, which includes management of customer-premises equipment and usage reports, is currently available in Asia. It will become available in the U.K. in the first quarter of 1997.
IBM: Currently provides Internet access from 830 access points in 48 countries via its IBM Global Network. The company also recently announced Managed Data Network Services, a collection of intranet consulting and deployment services that includes global technical support and will include hosted applications. Service-level guarantees also are planned.
BBN Planet Corp./Scitor Corp.: BBN is expanding internationally via an agreement inked in March with London-based VAN provider Scitor. So far, the pair is providing Internet access and local support services in 14 countries and plans to expand that to as many as 200. Also in the works are hosting and security services for intranets internationally.
Sprint Corp.: As part of a partnership with France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom AG called Global One, Sprint is reportedly building a global intranet service offering that will include 800 access points around the world.
Source: PC Week reporting
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