For any organization that makes use of digital technology, the network acts as a central nervous system – allowing information to flow throughout the business. Yet, despite the network (opens in new tab) being such a vital operational organ, for many businesses, it’s becoming less and less able of directing the ever-growing volume and diversity of data that connects people and things.
Matt Valentine, Managing Director, Aruba (opens in new tab) UK&I.
The networks of yesterday are often rigid and difficult to reconfigure or manage. Faced with organizations' growing expectations of their efficiency and ability to seamlessly support ever-more distributed workforces, the rapid growth of IoT devices, and the ever-present need to maintain cybersecurity (opens in new tab): networks are now in serious need of modernization.
Network modernization can equip enterprises to address all manner of challenges – from operational to security (opens in new tab) – especially as they accelerate their digital transformation. In fact, in order to support today’s evolving business models, network modernization isn’t just necessary it is vital.
When networks can’t keep up
Not only can poor networks lead to their own bottlenecks but trying to adapt them to the new demands of today can also create serious operational challenges.
For instance, scaling networks up to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of users and devices across locations and connection types is a hugely manual process when attempted on a network that hasn’t been modernized – often leading to performance issues and unhappy users.
Combine this with scarce IT staffing resources and it means that all too frequently too much time and energy is wasted on basic moves, adds, and changes – leaving few resources to focus on strategic business initiatives. Finally, without a strong network security foundation, protection gaps are also more likely. Luckily there are multiple ways an organization can modernize its networks now and create something that not only meets today’s expectations but can also be a bridge to the future.
5 principles to abide by
Network modernization isn’t a destination but a journey – a continuous process that businesses must undertake.
With the onset of hybrid working (opens in new tab), modern networks must now work equally well and integrate across the full spectrum of possible workplaces, from employee (opens in new tab) homes to offices and campuses, as well as data centers and the cloud. At the same time, they need to provide a new architectural approach that is edge-centric, cloud-enabled, and data-driven.
It is undoubtedly a big project for a business of any size, but it can be effectively managed by focusing on five key areas aimed at providing gains in performance, automation, security, and agility.
1. Connectivity and scale
Remote work (opens in new tab), IoT and the new emerging business models of the post-pandemic world are creating hyper-distributed work environments. For older networks based on traditional VLAN architecture, this creates the scaling problem discussed previously – with networks struggling to accommodate the potentially huge number of users and devices spread across such a wide variety of locations. This is why new protocols and architectures will be essential for scale and connectivity.
There are a few things that can be done to facilitate this. Firstly, choosing to use a cloud-native solution, whether your organization consumes it in the cloud or on-premises, can add some much-needed agility and timeliness. Alongside this, modernizing WAN solutions with SD-WAN can be another powerful step, offering greater flexibility, efficiency, and cost savings. The key is to select an approach that doesn’t require the wholesale replacement of current infrastructure, but to find solutions that can coexist with your current architecture.
2. AI-powered automation
Let’s face it, the scale of modern networks and the data they create goes far beyond anything we humans can monitor by ourselves let alone troubleshoot or optimize. This coupled with the scarcity of IT workers, means that teams are stretched thin. The answer? Automation – or more specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered automation of operations, also known as AIOps.
AIOps will allow IT teams to automate repetitive time-consuming tasks, such as configuration management, while they focus on more strategic tasks. From Day Zero deployment to Day-N of ongoing management, AIOps offers a real and tangible way for organizations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their network operations.
So, what do businesses need to be aware of when implementing AIOps? Firstly, reassure staff. AIOps can be a major culture shift and may leave some staff worried about their jobs, so decision makers must assure their teams that automation is being brought in to help reduce the time and effort they must spend on mundane tasks, not replace them. Following this, start small to test how AI solutions will work in your work environment. Remember, AI is useful in many situations, but it is by no means perfect.
With today’s network having to accommodate ever-changing and diverse users and devices, effective and up-to-date security is absolutely vital – but legacy networks with manual processes can be prone to human error and vulnerabilities.
IT teams can counter this through the integration of network and security functions with Zero Trust Security and SASE frameworks. The foundational principle of these frameworks is that access permissions are wholly independent of the method of connection. Zero Trust ensures that all devices and users accessing a network are identified and authenticated before providing any amount of access through predefined security policies. Organizations should insist that Zero Trust and SASE are built into their network solutions rather than simply added retroactively – providing consistent policies and control to enable the network to more easily discover, identify, and authenticate devices and users.
4. Flexibility and agility
Rapidly changing business objectives require a network that can quickly – and automatically—adjust to new or evolving conditions. Unfortunately, many organizations today are constrained by a patchwork of disparate network management solutions – creating operational friction and dangerous siloes.
Cloud-native solutions can not only provide a single-point of visibility and control across wired, wireless, and WAN, but also enable organizations to keep their competitive edge by delivering continuous updates and new functionality. If your organization hasn’t begun implementing cloud for network management, start small and be selective. Pick a project or part of your network that would benefit from centralized cloud control and visibility. A good place to start is remote work environments where creating the same experience for hybrid workers as those in the office is paramount.
5. Employ as a service
With budgets tight, many organizations face the challenge of how to finance the rapid acquisition, implementation, and management of new network solutions.
Fortunately, the emergence of alternative consumption and deployment models, such as self-delivered or managed services, means this challenge might soon become a thing of the past. The network-as-a-service (NaaS) approach delivers new network solutions quickly while also letting organizations consider their budgets or adjust scalability according to need. Through NaaS models, organizations can alleviate the burden on IT teams and the time taken to taken for network planning and budgeting by delivering hardware, software, and services in a monthly subscription.
As a first step, evaluate the potential that a subscription approach or flexible finance can offer your organization and whether your vendor has the resources to support a significant as-a-service model – including whether these are standard service offerings, or they customized.
Why modernizing your network is worth it
Network modernization might, on the face of it, appear to be simply an exercise in updating your current infrastructure – but it is so much more. It is an essential ongoing process that not only keeps your business up to date with the latest technology but provides an agile foundation to advance your ability to implement digital transformation by taking advantage of new approaches to your security, management, architecture, and delivery.
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