Virgin Media secures more with less

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Virgin Media has grown both organically and by acquisition - including that of NTL:Telewest - to become a major telecommunications and media company, offering its 'quad play' digital TV, broadband, fixed telephone and mobile services to 10 million UK customers.

But such growth has come a price when it comes to its network security. A proliferating and unwieldy security infrastructure, distributed across hundreds of sites, included products from a number of disparate vendors, as well as multiple reseller partners.

Colin Miles, Virgin Media UK's corporate network manager told IT PRO this made supporting such a diverse estate difficult, time-consuming and costly.

"A lack of [internal] knowledge and skills for each vendor's products that we used was lengthening support timeframes, as were our efforts to try and marry up our timeframes with those of our suppliers," said Miles.

"As a result, the time taken to resolve support issues was much longer than it should have been, which had a major impact on the fulfilment of our SLA [service level agreements] to the rest of the business."


Renewing support and buying equipment or additional equipment on an ad-hoc basis meant that Virgin Media was paying far more to maintain this complex infrastructure. So the decision was taken to consolidate its corporate network security infrastructure onto one supplier's kit.

"I come from the Telewest side of the business," explained Miles, "so I've seen the benefits of a consolidated supplier relationship. It isn't just the benefits of operating performance efficiencies, but also having that performance scale with the business as it grows, as well as buying into our technology strategy and future direction."

After a competitive tendering process, Nebulas Solutions Group was chosen as a single supplier for the firm's network security infrastructure layer, sitting above Virgin Media's predominantly Cisco-based network.

Miles was familiar with the provider, after it had been awarded the contract to migrate legacy firewalls to a new Check Point on Nokia standard several years earlier. As part of the contract, Nebulas and Virgin Media hold quarterly service reviews. Call trends are analysed with continual service improvement plans devised accordingly.


"The service reviews are key," Miles explained. "There's no hiding behind KPIs [key performance indicators] or contractual clauses."

The supplier is also proving to be a key source of expertise for Miles and his team to turn to when researching a potential new network security product. The Virgin Media network security team has even used the Nebulas Solutions' lab facilities and worked with its engineers to test a product.

"From a management perspective, Nebulas provides with [us with] confidence, [has] saved us about 30 per cent on our network security costs, and improved IT support response times by 25 per cent," he added. "From the director's point of view that transparency from Nebulas has that feel good factor about it, where other, much larger suppliers don't offer the same levels of transparency."

Virgin is now working with Nebulas to determine the most effective means of replacing Virgin's ageing Nokia firewall estate.

Top 3 lessons:

1.Consolidate multiple, third-party support contracts to save time and money.

2.Closely align the supplier's SLAs and support timeframes to those required by the business.

3.Make sure the supplier offers regular reviews and advice.

Miya Knights

A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.

Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.