Chuck Yoke: Converging networks with Six Sigma

Sometime during the next eight to 12 weeks I should receive my Green Belt. After additional practice and experience, I might try for the Black Belt, and ultimately, I might become a Master.

This has nothing to do with the martial arts; I’m talking about Six Sigma certification. Initially developed by Motorola and later championed by General Electric Co., Six Sigma is a methodology to eliminate defects, improve efficiency, reduce costs, increase profits and enhance customer satisfaction. By following a repetitive cycle of “Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control,” Six Sigma focuses on creating the highest quality at the lowest cost.

Does my immersion into Six Sigma mean that I am abandoning networks and moving into the manufacturing arena? On the contrary, I expect Six Sigma to provide me with the skills I need to attack two evolving areas of network opportunity: converged networks and reduced operational costs.

Network convergence will create a challenge in product development and process management. While data network managers tout the availability of their networks, most data networks do not provide the same level of service as their voice counterparts. A data network that maintains 99 per cent availability is considered quite good.

However, on a 24-hour by 365-day basis, this equates to 88 hours of downtime, which is unacceptable in a voice network. In the voice world, 99.999 per cent availability – the Holy Grail of data networking – is considered the norm.

To be successful in the corporate world, converged networks will need to meet the higher service requirements while still maintaining their other significant business advantage: lower costs.

A converged network can generate substantial savings in consolidated physical plants that reduce cabling costs, combined voice and data infrastructure equipment that reduce the need for separate voice equipment, and integrated network management systems that reduce the need for separate voice management.

While the potential exists to offset some of the costs of additional capital with these savings, at the end of the day, a converged network needs to provide 99.999 per cent availability and low latency with reduced infrastructure and operational costs.

To accomplish this, network architects and managers will need to take a step back from technology and look at the network from a holistic perspective that includes not only protocols, switches and routers, but also service requirements, development costs and operational costs.

To keep development and operational costs to a minimum, areas of potential savings such as process efficiencies or operational synergies will need to be identified. To ensure ongoing customer satisfaction, post-implementation service levels will need to be constantly measured, analyzed, improved and controlled.

Programs such as Six Sigma can provide network professionals with the disciplines, skills and tools to ensure their converged networks bring the highest level of quality with the lowest operational costs.

The future of converged networking lies not in technology, but in the overall service and value it brings to the user.

Yoke is a business solutions engineer for a corporate network in Denver. He can be reached at [email protected].

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