Minimising the growth of the networking budget

Sponsored: Techbuyer’s Tim Phillips on the cost savings to the networking budget realised by 3rd-party transceivers at Cambridge Uni Network Services

Networking is an increasingly important part of any University’s IT budget, particularly with the proliferation of devices on the system and the increasing use of data transfer in research projects. Network transceivers represent 10%–15% of that budget according to IT research body Gartner, which has issued a report extolling the benefits of third-party transceivers. Cambridge University Networking Services have trialled the idea and found it successful in a three-year contract with Techbuyer on Ortial SFPs in their Cisco core system. 

The service

Cambridge University Network Services acts as a supplier to around 180 departments and colleges around the University. It faces extremely varied needs within its customer base. For example, one site will need infrastructure to cope with the huge volume data transfer associated with high-energy physics, while another site is a folk history building with limited data usage and shallow pockets. The fibre optic network spans almost 60km, providing Wi-Fi access to institutions and individual users across the collegiate campus. During term time, this delivers service to some 320,000 unique devices at a rate of 800TB of data per month. 

Challenging times

The ever-increasing rate of change on data transfer and storage leads to a high rate of turnover on SFP transceivers. Gaining long-term visibility on this is difficult because of how quickly technology is evolving. The University has seen a sharp growth in the number of units on the system, driven in part by social media. From 1%–2% of internet traffic flowing on devices five years ago, the figure is around 20%–25% today. The commoditisation of data storage and transport compounds this with increased requirement in the scientific institutions. In 2012, systems were using 6–7 PB per year. This increased almost tenfold by 2017 to 55–60 PB per year.

Cambridge University Network Services needed a long-term flexible contract for transceivers over three years. This needed to work within the core Cisco system with no conflict and no effect on Cisco support, ideally without the heavy cost outlay associated with branded components.

Third-party solution

Techbuyer tested third-party transceivers from Ortial for compatibility with Cisco systems and then provided a batch for assessment by Cambridge University Network Services. These were trialled at different line speeds and protocols at every variation to ensure performance. Cambridge University Network Services also swapped the parts into the main system to ensure there was no disruption to the Cisco system and support. With favourable results, Network Services then put out a tender for third-party provision, which Techbuyer won.

Explaining the choice of tender award, Head of Networking Services Jon Holgate said: “It isn’t just about the hardware. You also need to have confidence in the supplier that they will be able to deliver over a period of time. Techbuyer were the only third-party supplier to provide assurance that the component SPFs met all the Cisco specifications. The other major factor in the award was the agreement on turnaround of parts, financial terms and environmental disposal.”


Two months after the contract was awarded, Techbuyer has supplied hundreds of transceivers to Cambridge University Network Services, at an 80%–90% price reduction compared to the branded alternative. The project has proved the case for Ortial transceivers within a Cisco core system, saving around £800,000 overall. 

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