In a time when we’re all critically dependent on online connectivity, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - by virtue of being the ‘deliverer of the Internet’ - have become a key stakeholder that enterprises, employees, consumers and students all have come to rely on. To meet today’s customer demands for optimised user experience and drive revenue growth, the sole pursuit of ‘speeds and feeds’ isn’t enough. Digital experiences are dependent on so much more than just speed and for ISPs, the next frontier in gaining competitive momentum is application performance.
When business applications “lag,” unless they’re hosted and delivered fully from behind the corporate firewall, it’s often difficult to work out which part of the end-to-end delivery mechanism might be at fault. This is especially true of cloud-based applications and services, which by definition are globally distributed network infrastructures, and is particularly pronounced in the COVID era with more of us relying on as-a-service applications..
During COVID, users accustomed to the relative luxury of a high-bandwidth, symmetric corporate connection suddenly found themselves accessing critical business applications over highly-asymmetric residential connections. The variability of residential connections led many to believe any issues they experienced - like slow video calls and laggy remote access - were home network related.
In fact, the setup and design of the applications might not be conducive to the environments in which they are used, and would benefit from some form of pre-deployment type testing to understand and optimise the way they interact with the network.
Though best efforts typically have gone into designing apps with consideration for how they will be deployed and accessed by users, oftentimes an application's characteristics react differently once it’s on a network, and vice versa: network conditions and architecture can change the way an application functions.
None of this is transparent to the company buying access to the app, or to the users that rely on it to work. That leads users to have the same performance expectations, no matter where they sit, and that’s how applications and ISPs can wind up with a bad reputation.
If a company is to get to the bottom of where this performance bottleneck lies, they either need to have their own application and network performance monitoring to benchmark the results against other companies with similar IT setups - or rely on their ISP to have this visibility and to use it to smooth the end-to-end paths for delivery.
Without this visibility, it is hard to deliver the consistent end user experiences desired.
ISPs are well-placed to do this. They have the visibility and intelligence to enable this kind of optimisation, "adjusting" the way an application runs on their network to give customers a premium delivery option.
Arguably, ISPs also need to do this, as cloud service providers make their own moves to improve the end user experience (which they can then monetise). For example, cloud providers are investing in or co-building subsea cables to improve connectivity and traffic flows between their different geographic operations, affording them higher control over the user experience.
ISPs are well aware of this, and some are starting to act by rewriting customer contracts around their own user experience guarantees. Users, for example, may be contractually guaranteed the ability to login and load the first page of a business-critical application in X seconds. To accomplish this, ISPs are working more closely with cloud providers and end customers to guarantee levels of application responsiveness and performance. This translates into quantifiable improvements to business productivity for the customer, and a more trusted relationship.
For this to occur, ISPs need visibility into the application as it traverses the network including parts of the network that are not under their control but can have an impact on any service level agreement that has been defined. Software-defined networking (or perhaps even content-aware networking) may play a part here in helping ISPs gain greater control over what are vastly more complex enterprise network structures post-COVID - assigning priority to some types of application traffic over others.
ISPs also need to work with cloud app providers to ensure there’s nothing in the application’s architectural setup or codebase that could hinder delivery or otherwise make an application’s functioning difficult to deliver with consistency.
ISPs today have an opportunity to seize on a new growth area by adopting technologies that will provide greater visibility into the architectures that ultimately impact user experience, including cloud networks and app performance. For ISPs, busting bottlenecks has never been made easier.