Following on from last month’s article, TSG’s CTO Paul Burns caught up with CEO of Zen Internet, Richard Tang, to discuss the importance of connectivity as businesses continue to embrace the move to the cloud and subscription-based services.
Established in 1995, Zen operates one of the most advanced data networks in Europe and TSG has been a trusted partner for more than a decade.
It wasn’t where you started but explain why you made a decision early on to focus on providing services to the business market?
When we first set up Zen, the internet was essentially a technical novelty and our target audience was geeky home users.
Before the introduction of ADSL broadband around the turn of the century, businesses didn’t take the internet seriously and many viewed it as a glorified way to send a fax; but we took a different view of the future.
That’s where the real shift in the market came and we saw exponential growth as a result.
We’ve now reached the point where businesses are making a conscious decision to focus on their core activity and move away from managing or even owning their own servers.
Not only does that remove the requirement to keep those servers patched, up to date and monitor disc capacity and usage, they’re no longer physically located within the business.
Connectivity becomes a business-critical issue. It’s not now just about the irritation caused by delays in sending and receiving emails, loss of connectivity can bring operations to a complete standstill.
Imagine the impact of even a five-minute outage on a call centre with more than 100 operatives.
Or a business with hundreds of sites across the country, all reliant on their connectivity to place orders and transact their routine tasks.
Ultimately it’s about their ability to manage and meet the, typically growing, expectations of their customers.
At times connectivity has been viewed as a commodity, with a race to the bottom in terms of pricing. How has Zen maintained its differentiation in the marketplace?
I know that some have likened the internet to water or electricity, but for me, it doesn’t play by those rules.
It’s easy to take for granted but it’s supplied by a complex network that’s been designed by incredibly clever people.
There’s always going to be a trade-off between cost and the quality, speed and resilience of the service.
There is a market for low-cost services but at Zen, we understand the importance of connectivity to our customers and we won’t compromise. For us, it’s about the best technology, multiple sites and data centres, multiple lines and presence in more than 400 telephones exchanges.
It’s also about the culture we’ve built over the past 22 years, putting people before money and staying true to our principles to ensure we have
It’s clearly worked because our growth, in the face of competition from the big players, has been primarily through word of mouth from happy customers.
We also really value strong relationships with partners like TSG, one of our longest established partners, built on a mutual understanding of culture and the way we work to support our customers.
How are you working to ensure that you keep pace with the evolution of technology and are well placed to manage the inevitable increase demand?
It’s all about understanding and recognising the impact of Moore’s Law which states that memory, processing capability, bandwidth and the volume of data will double in a given period of time. If anything that multiplier is accelerating.
In the very early days, we did a trial to download a feature film and it took almost a week.
We’ve recently invested in new infrastructure that allows us to scale to 600Gbps which is a number that’s quite difficult to comprehend.
It actually equates to 100,000 feature films being downloaded simultaneously.
We’re fortunate that we’re in a position as a privately-owned business to make the level of investment we need to without being distracted by delivering shareholder value or dividends.
That’s not to say that we don’t have key goals but there are times when it’s the way you reach those goals that really matters and that’s about doing the right thing.
So, we’re definitely in it for the long term to provide the service that our customers rightly demand.
What’s your perspective on the government’s push for superfast broadband and G-fast? What impact will that have on businesses?
Arguably the biggest change from a business perspective is the level of choice on offer. In the early days, it was binary – at one extreme there was broadband with little or no guarantees in terms of quality. Or the alternative was very expensive leased lines.
The line has started to blur with the availability of broadband with business grade SLAs, more affordable leased lines and fibre over FTTC which allows leased lines to be delivered using broadband technology.
The speeds that will be offered by G-fast are probably greater than most businesses need at the moment, but that’s always the way when these technologies are launched.
It takes a while for businesses to identify the requirements and uses but that will happen and the extra capacity will become critical as businesses make more use of technologies such as artificial intelligence and, of course, the increase in online backup with terabytes of data being transferred at increasingly regular intervals.
Another area that’s been interesting to observe is mobile and the question has always been when will people ditch fixed lines, especially now that it’s possible to get up to 0.5Gbps on mobile.
My strong view is that fixed and mobile are complimentary and the trend will be to combine fixed line connectivity with auto failover to 4 or 5G mobile connections to achieve the resilience required for business-critical applications.
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