If we compare the way in which organisations operate today with that of even ten years ago, the transformation is remarkable. Thanks to advances in mobility, social media and customer expectation, the nature of business today, and more to the point ‘consumer demands’, are far more fluid and collaborative, and the speed of communication has increased dramatically.
Technology will continue to force businesses to reinvent themselves to reap the benefits of innovation. With revolutionary technologies like wearables, for example, and a healthy appetite for business adoption, imagine what we’ll witness in the next ten years!
If infrastructure doesn’t hold us back, that is…
The fact is that infrastructure has lagged dangerously behind; it hasn’t kept pace with the rate of innovation and it threatens to stifle business adoption of the tools employees need to engage with each other, customers and partners and meet the expectations of today and tomorrow.
The network, and application and service enablement, is now an essential component for the day-to-day running of any business. Whether it’s a pure play and built-from-scratch, or a legacy network infrastructure, it needs to be able to support the rapid pace of business now, and flexible enough to embrace what the future has to offer. So how do we play catch up?
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Software-defined networking (SDN) is fast being perceived as the silver bullet in terms of offering a fresh approach to the way network traffic is effectively managed. By reducing complexity and eliminating propriety solutions, it facilitates the fast deployment of business critical applications and establishes quick and easy adds, moves and changes.
It lets content take priority, and for today’s organisations with constantly evolving infrastructure demands or needs it enables them to rapidly deploy new applications, SDN allows for fast and reliable flexibility without the cost of having to restructure hardware.
Although still a relatively new technology, forward-thinking businesses are already adopting SDN-type technology, in fact, IDC predicts the worldwide SDN market will reach $8 billion by 2018. So what is driving this demand and how will SDN evolve to meet these business needs as they themselves change?
BYOD and BYOA
The explosive growth of mobile has made the work place a more flexible environment for employees as they are able to make use of their own portable devices; in fact BYOD has become a critical consideration for businesses that truly want to engage with their employees.
From BYOD stems BYOA where popular consumer apps already on employee’s devices are being used for business. However, with increased flexibility comes heightened data security risks as well as increased pressure and demand placed on networking resources and capabilities.
SDN helps to alleviate BYOD and BYOA anxiety by giving the power back to IT, providing application-level controls that help to ensure mission-critical applications are supported first and are not crippled by bandwidth-hogging personal applications. SDN also makes it easier to control who, when, where, and how the network is accessed to ensure that sensitive data is protected.
Increasingly mobile workforce
IDC predicted that 1.3 billion people will work remotely using mobile technology this year, equivalent to 37.2% of the entire global workforce. End users expect the same level of service regardless of whether they are using the wired or wireless network, and Wireless LAN is being pushed to provide the same reliability, availability and performance as wired infrastructures.
However, the added flexibility that mobile working brings will inevitably put greater strain on core IT infrastructure, and having the right network in place to cope with this level of user flexibility and freedom will be paramount.
SDN architecture will help to cover the user experience end-to-end across the entire enterprise network, extending from the Data Center all the way to the enterprise edge, including the wireless edge enabling customers to reap the benefits of network simplicity, reliability and virtualisation, whatever their location.
Adoption of wearables
Wearables exploded on to the scene in 2014 and their popularity is set to continue with projections that sales could reach 130 million units in 2018. Experts also predict that incorporating this new technology in to the work space will be similar to the BYOD challenge but multiplied by 100, whilst others believe that information and network-security policies already in place for BYOD will simply need to be tweaked.
Either way, businesses need to act fast and evolve their existing mobile strategy to now accommodate the wearable revolution. Most gadgets will gain access to networks via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, however they will generally need to be connected to a laptop, computer or tablet in order to sync data, which puts added pressure on network and ultimately slows it right down.
The innovative approach SDN uses to network design, operation and management helps organisations avoid the bottlenecks that slow the deployment of applications and services and enables IT to effectively manage data loads. With this tool, networking technology can be completely virtualized, doing to the network what virtual machines did to the server.
The need for network speed
Until recently, networks were cumbersome, inflexible and often unstable. Research conducted by Avaya earlier this year shows that many organisations can spend a total of more than nine months a year waiting for IT to be able to make the necessary network changes in order to deliver a new or improved service to the business.
What’s more, the research also indicated that over 80% of companies still suffer from outages caused by their own IT personnel misconfiguring changes to the core and each network downtime incident costs an average of $140,000. Implemented correctly, SDN helps to mitigate this by using a single, network-wide policy over a fabric to remove the need for manual configuration at each network hop. This reduces the potential for error and accelerates time-to-service.
Unlocking the revenue of the network
Many enterprises have experienced the adverse effects of unexpected system downtime. The financial impact can be vast when taking in to account diagnostic and repair costs, as well as the time cost, of troubleshooting IT staff and employee productivity costs when their IT tools are unavailable to them. The pressure is on for the network to become a revenue generator and convert that dead time into to spells of conducting activities that result in ROI for the company.
> See also: A bird's eye view of software-defined networking
SDN reduces these costly configuration times, speeding up network changes and more importantly reducing errors caused by the manual nature of network changes. It creates a dynamic environment where new or changed services can be implemented on the fly – taking only minutes instead of days, weeks, or months to deploy. This, in turn, enables businesses to reduce costs and become more agile leading to increased revenue generating productivity.
Playing catch-up is never fun, but all of these points underline the critical importance of getting business networks up to speed. Innovation is an unstoppable force, and businesses will continue to hunger for the latest and greatest technologies available. Now is the time to take stock and make the move to a business model that makes the most of now and what’s to come.