Connecting Chambers of Commerce and Industry to Promote Development in Pays de la Loire
A network that doesn't work well is a network that doesn't work at all. Once you understand that, you can take control of your IT infrastructure. But many organizations would rather let someone else do all the thinking, and so they outsource their infrastructure management or move their systems to the cloud. At CCI Pays de la Loire, we wanted to stay on top of our network and have intimate knowledge of our IT infrastructure, so we decided to manage everything on-prem.
We are the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) in Pays de la Loire, a region on the Atlantic coast of western France, bordered by Bretagne and Centre Val de Loire . We assist businesses, promote economic activity, and provide administrative and IT support to five local chambers of commerce in Pays de la Loire, as well as CCI in neighboring regions.
I joined the organization in 2000 and I became the head of IT infrastructure and security in 2015. I optimize the performance and availability of our network, data center, and telephony equipment; manage our production environment; oversee our operations and maintenance budgets; and implement our IT security strategies.
Building a Shared Network to Promote Local Businesses
To pursue our mission, we needed to build a shared network that connected the local CCIs in Pays de la Loire and neighboring regions. Our primary reasons for doing this were economies of scale and security. It costs less to deploy and manage a centralized network than to operate several smaller ones.
Consolidating everything in a single shared network also eliminates weak spots where networks interconnect and allows end-to-end visibility across our IT infrastructure. Among other things, controlling costs and securing our network would free my team to focus on delivering IT services that would enhance CCI Pays de la Loire's ability to promote local businesses and spur economic development in the region.
Once we established our general goals, we sought out a partner to help us implement our vision. CCI Pays de la Loire chose NXO France, an independent IT consultancy specializing in digital transformations with whom we have an existing relationship. We first worked with NXO five years ago when they won an RFP for a previous project. Over the course of our partnership, they have consistently offered the most competitive prices and the best after-sales service. In addition, their systems engineers are always available to answer our technical questions, no matter how complex. Our relationship is built on trust, transparency, and competency. NXO's people have always steered us in the right direction.
We had several conversations with NXO about our needs. During these discussions, Cisco SD-WAN emerged as the logical solution to power CCI Pays de la Loire's infrastructure. It offers the flexibility to connect with local and regional CCIs without compromising network security or visibility. Cisco SD-WAN is a transport-independent software-defined wide area network solution that runs over the public internet. It is cost-effective, secure, and highly programmable.
We also purchased a Cisco DNA Advantage license that came with other features to automate network configuration and monitoring, such as Cisco SD-WAN Visibility and Analytics. It has proven invaluable in helping us troubleshoot our infrastructure as we grow our network in Pays de Loire and expand it to neighboring regions. It also allows you to deploy as many VPNs as you want to secure the infrastructure, because we have associated a VPN per type of IT service.
Rolling Out a Cloud-First Solution On-Prem
Although Cisco SD-WAN is a cloud-first solution, it is flexible and can also be implemented on-prem. NXO took charge and provided the needed support to roll out our new network. NXO collaborated with Cisco, and both parties engaged in discussions with CCI Pays de la Loire to customize Cisco SD-WAN as an on-prem solution that met our specifications.
Once we'd worked out our SD-WAN topography, NXO built the central platform in two weeks and integrated the features we requested during our discussions. NXO also built a test site for training purposes, and my entire team spent a week learning how to manage our Cisco SD-WAN infrastructure. We used the Cisco Learning Credits included in our SD-WAN purchase to pay for employee training.
We didn’t learn about Cisco Learning Credits until we were well into the SD-WAN procurement process, but we were happy to have them. The training from Cisco experts was of tremendous benefit and helped speed up the rollout of our new infrastructure.
In the end, it took roughly a month of teamwork to deploy our Cisco SD-WAN solution, customize it, and iron out all the issues. NXO, Cisco, and CCI Pays de la Loire learned from one another as we worked out the bugs and set up the system. In fact, the expertise NXO acquired setting up our on-prem SD-WAN solution helped them close a deal with another customer in the region. Our project was a win-win for everybody.
Speed, Security, Visibility, and Redundancy
Cisco SD-WAN has given us a tremendous boost in speed, security, and visibility into our network. A few months after we deployed our SD-WAN network, we tried to integrate CCI de Châteauroux's network into ours. Thanks to Cisco SD-WAN dashboard, we saw that Châteauroux's infrastructure was subpar, so we worked with their service provider to upgrade their fiber-optic cabling. After that was complete, we successfully migrated their network and applications to our SD-WAN.
Cisco SD-WAN also allowed us to set up a low-cost failover network that is 100% secure, which we can offer to other CCIs sharing our infrastructure. It is fast, reliable, self-managed and, best of all, costs 10X less than a managed service outsourced to a third party. We have 24/7 redundancy and end-to-end control over our network, with Cisco and NXO providing technical support when we need it.
Cisco SD-WAN is incredibly versatile. You can layer any architecture you want over the public internet and build the software-defined network of your dreams. CCI Pays de la Loire has gained flexibility, transparency, versatility, and an on-prem network with Cisco SD-WAN. We can manage, configure, and troubleshoot everything in-house using Cisco SD-WAN dashboard without relying on third-party specialists. And we can easily expand our network. We started with 15 connected sites, are now up to 30, and hope to have 80 online by the end of 2023. We could never have accomplished so much so quickly with traditional network infrastructure—or without Cisco and the right partner by our side.