back to article SWAN-song: Scotland re-tenders WAN framework for up to £350m

The Scottish government is re-tendering the deal giving public bodies access to wide-area network services in contracts that could be worth up to £350m. Set to start from March 2023, the new deal will replace the existing Scottish Wide-Area network (SWAN) procurement arrangement that is supported by more than 90 public-sector …

  1. Flak
    Stop

    Still relevant?

    The strategic question is "WHAT should be procured"?

    Given that most network traffic is now Internet or cloud service bound, the need for private WAN services should reduce to cover sites which really need it (data centres, potentially large offices and hospitals), with the remainder of sites probably quite happy sitting on a half decent broadband service (thinking about schools, smaller offices, GP surgeries, pharmacies, etc.).

    A smaller, high performing private WAN and lots of managed Internet connections might be a better / more flexible and cost effective solution.

    Just saying...

    1. the spectacularly refined chap Silver badge

      Re: Still relevant?

      I think there are a number of false assumptions in there and also ignorance of the regulatory framework a lot of these orgs work in.

      NHS NSS are the lead customer here and while I've never worked directly with NHS Scotland I have had to make arrangements with them for cross-border stuff and am very familiar with NHS England's requirements.

      To begin with we have the unsupported assertion that it's the internet and cloud that matter. Forget the hype, a lot of these sectors are highly insular and dependent on central services. You can bet the few approved commercial providers have their own dedicated WAN links as specialist providers. EMIS for GP practices comes to mind. General off the shelf cloudy providers - not so much.

      Access to those central systems is itself highly regulated on both security and legal grounds. I can tell you from experience with NHS England if you proposed connecting them to the Internet they will simply tell you it's not permitted. Argue about encryption or VPNs until you are blue in the face - it's not that they don't know about them, they'll tell you it's not permitted and the conversation stops there.

      Then consider the underlying technology used. The article doesn't go into detail but mention of Vodafone and Virgin instantly suggests to me the solution proposed. There are two big national MPLS networks. BT own one. Vodafone the other one, thanks to buying Cable and Wireless' UK network a few years ago. Virgin are presumably providing last mile links to small branches. You end up with a network that looks a lot like a commercial ISP but is secure and with specified bandwidth between nodes.

      This in turn though leads us to the quality of service arguments. I recall a report here a few years ago about an IP-connected remote controlled robotic surgeon for situations where an appropriate surgeon available in the locality. Cue the naysayers here that know no better saying how inappropriate the Internet is for something like that, because, you know, there are unpredictable delays and latency. Run your own WAN and you get in touch with Vodafone and say "we need Xmbps between these two sites" and a few hours later - hell, probably minutes later if you're willing to pay for it - a path will have been set up and you're told, "Right, you have Xmbps and no more than Yms latency". Those are not aspirational "up to" figures but guaranteed metrics. How do you achieve the same thing over the public Internet?

      1. Flak

        Re: Still relevant?

        It is not Vodafone and VirginMedia delivering this service, but Capita - and it is an MPLS network:

        https://www.scottishwan.com/media/1219/swan_architecture_diagram_new_brand.pdf

        I understand and agree with what you are saying about the NHS - certainly for hospitals and those sites where you may want to conduct remote surgery (are you volunteering as a subject?), hence my reference to hospitals as candidates for WAN infrastructure rather than Internet delivered services. Same will apply to some of the other larger public sector sites.

        EMIS is actually available over the Internet (via a VPN connection) today. Not sure if that is a temporary exception due to Covid home working requirements, or a permanent feature. To support my assertion see the link below:

        https://support-ew.ardens.org.uk/support/solutions/articles/31000154893-how-to-access-emis-web-from-home-including-smart-card-readers-

        As it happens I am very familiar with public sector networking as well as the current and previous iterations of the services in this article, which is why my unsupported assertion about the volume of Internet traffic is exactly that, but an informed one. Almost all school network traffic is Internet-bound and schools typically make up c. >50% of local authority sites.

        Quality of service is an interesting point and the old chestnut argument for MPLS services. It has its place, but there are very few services and sites that actually require it. Web based services are built to cope with the variable performance conditions of the Internet (which are often less variable than WiFi in a public sector building). Covid and home working has proven that pretty much anyone with a half decent Internet connection can easily use video conferencing, collaboration tools and corporate email / systems from home.

  2. NeilPost Silver badge

    Virgin Media

    Virgin Media and Scotland National Wide Area Network is a bit of an Oxymoron isn’t it.

    All I can see outside of urban is a lot of resale of Openreach.

    1. Flak

      Re: Virgin Media

      Just to set the record straight - Capita won the deal and operates the network. Vodafone and VirginMedia bid jointly together, while the third bidder was BT.

      You are right in that VirginMedia's presence is geographically limited in Scotland and does not cover the full country. That itself would not have disqualified them and Vodafone's infrastructure across rural Scotland is significant anyway.

      Capita's position was even more extreme, as it is not a carrier and leases infrastructure / circuits from a number of providers - Openreach, VirginMedia and others. This is common practice and can be successful - economically and operationally, as proven by Capita who extended the scope of this contract significantly over the life of the service.

  3. NeilPost Silver badge

    Scotland

    Do Virgin Media know where Scotland is ?

    It’s very sticksy

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