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Seizing the Enterprise Market Opportunity

Alan Breznick

Despite a strong, stated focus on small and midsized businesses (SMBs) by both cablecos and telcos over the past decade, big business still accounts for the lion's share of commercial revenue for service providers overall. In fact, in a recent survey of 64 service providers conducted by Heavy Reading for NetScout, more than one third (nearly 36%) of the respondents said companies with more than 500 employees generated the greatest revenue for them.

What's more, service providers plan to place even greater stress on both the large and midsized business markets over the next few years. According to the survey, nearly two fifths (39%) of providers are now targeting the enterprise space, naming it as their biggest commercial priority over the next year, while slightly more than a third (34%) are zeroing in on the midsized market. Clearly, then, the enterprise market will see the most competition by service providers as they increasingly pursue the companies with the biggest purses.

Reflecting this enhanced emphasis on enterprises, service providers are starting to take many steps to keep pace with and cater to the swiftly changing commercial market. For one thing, providers are expanding their product portfolios beyond basic data, voice and video services to encompass more advanced products and services, such as virtual private networks (VPNs), software firewalls, other security products, managed services, other IT products, infrastructure- on-demand/infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and ever-evolving platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings, to name just a few. In the Heavy Reading survey, for instance, more than 87% of providers ranked such "enhanced services" highly.

Service providers are also placing greater emphasis on more stringent service-level agreement (SLA) guarantees of service delivery and performance, even for their most basic service offerings. In our survey for NetScout Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: NTCT), more than two fifths (42%) of respondents termed SLAs as "critical" today, meaning that most of their commercial customers now require these written, strictly enforceable service guarantees. Looking ahead, more than three fifths (62%) of respondents said SLAs will be a critical offering in the future.

In addition, service providers are developing more sector-specific products to meet the rising demand for specialized, even customized services. For example, the survey found that providers are now seeing much promise for such advanced, specialized offerings as secure WAN networking, infrastructure-on-demand and united communications in their biggest vertical markets as those markets rapidly evolve.

Finally, providers are turning to cloud-based services to meet the rising enterprise customer demand for more efficient, virtualized offerings. In the survey, more than four fifths (or 81%) of respondents named IaaS as the cloud-based type of offering they now offer or plan to offer in the near future, followed by platform-as-a-service (PaaS) at 58% and software-as-a-service (SaaS) at 44%. That represents a clear acknowledgement by providers that the proper access infrastructure, be it physical or virtual, must be in place first before they can offer other types of services to commercial customers.

Given all these trends, where are the greatest opportunities for service providers in the enterprise market? The answers vary markedly by vertical, with some sectors vastly different from others.

Consider the key healthcare, education and government verticals first. In all three markets, survey respondents see secure WAN networking as the most promising service offering. Infrastructure-on-demand also scores highly, at least in the first two sectors.

Yet the hospitality, finance/banking and retail sectors are much different in the services they use. Outsourced IT services lead the way in hospitality, followed by secure, high-availability data center services. In the finance/banking arena, high-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity is the top choice, trailed closely by secure branch connectivity. And in the retail market, VPN services appear to be most promising offering, with infrastructure-on-demand the next most popular.

As a result, look for cablecos, telcos and other service providers to invest more and more heavily in enterprise-oriented networks, software, products, services, features and service guarantees over at least the rest of the decade. With providers still seeing so much opportunity for growth and so many promising areas for expansion, and with cloud-based services offering a fresh opportunity for entry into the enterprise market, the sky really does appear to be the limit right now.

This blog is sponsored by NetScout.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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