The advantages of absolute agility

As change in the emerging “new normal” world is unpredictable, organisations are on a quest for more agile networks, rejecting the outdated tech associated with legacy networks.
Paul Stuttard
By Paul Stuttard, Director, Duxbury Networking.
Johannesburg, 01 Oct 2020

As most corporate network managers will confirm, change is the one constant in business today. In striving to meet the challenges of change, organisations are increasingly aware of the performance expectations placed on their network infrastructures in the wake of intensifying end-user demands.

Often, these demands cannot be met as the performance characteristics of traditional, rigid and static networks limit their ability to keep pace with trends in the post-pandemic era.

As a result, many IT-savvy network managers are looking for more dynamic solutions offering enhanced agility in terms of their capability to deliver higher levels of efficiency.

Last year, a survey undertaken by Sirkin Research in the US to determine the “top trends transforming network operations” revealed that “improving network agility” was the top business goal of a significant number of networking professionals.

At this point, it might be beneficial to define “agility” in the technological sense. It is said to involve an innovative response to an unpredictable change − as opposed to “flexibility” which is defined as a predetermined response to predictable change.

As change in the emerging “new normal” world is most likely to be unpredictable, organisations are obviously on a quest for more agile networks.

An agile network is also an autonomous network.

Network managers are rejecting the outdated technology associated with legacy networks, typified by predetermined responses to predictable changes. It has become a costly hindrance to business success.

Architecturally, network agility is seen as a discipline giving software systems and any number of hardware devices and other network assets the ability to automatically control and configure themselves,

Ideally, an agile network is able to automatically adapt to changes at lightning speed, as they occur, while remaining easily managed and – importantly – totally secure.

This is confirmed by respected international network consultant Andrew Froehlich, who says network agility is represented by the speed at which a network can adapt to change while maintaining resiliency, security and management simplicity.

An agile network is also an autonomous network. Compared to a fully-automated, self-driving car, it will be able to perform many routine administrative tasks itself, minimising – if not altogether eliminating – the human element.

The agile network should therefore be able to independently navigate its complex internal structures to find the causes behind specific network trouble spots and autonomously remediate the problems discovered without human input.

To faithfully achieve the goal of network agility, an intelligent management layer needs to be provided. This is the role of software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) technology.

In an earlier column, I said SD-WAN will be seen as one of the keys to innovation in the post-pandemic age. I noted that SD-WAN technology is establishing a new paradigm for value creation and highlighted that, in addition to transforming corporate networks, SD-WAN technology will assist business leaders to develop new frameworks for future strategic planning.

As an accepted agent for agility in the modern network, SD-WAN’s intelligent management layer allows many functions to be automated. For example, it assists in seamlessly adding new devices to the network – including Internet of things devices – while reconfiguring existing devices as necessary.

SD-WAN technology also unifies multiple management consoles and supports the collection and collation of data from network devices, traffic flows and network endpoints.

This allows artificial intelligence, analytics and advanced automation systems to enhance a range of important functions such as optimising ever-evolving cloud-based resources and troubleshooting the cause of application-performance bottlenecks and service outages.

Some of SD-WAN’s most significant advantages within the context of the agile network include its ability to anticipate and accommodate often-unpredictable end-user demands while quickly reacting and adjusting to a network’s varying and ever-changing operating conditions.

Significantly, from network productivity and cost-saving perspectives, application and network efficiency often equate to lower business operating costs. The Gartner research and advisory firm estimates that SD-WAN technology can cut costs by 65% compared to traditional alternatives.

Gartner also notes that “organisations that automate more than 70% of their network change activities will deliver services to their business constituents 50% faster”.

If SD-WAN’s role in the agile network is accepted, then so must secure access service edge (SASE) technology, described as “the next transformation of enterprise networking and security”.

In essence, SASE converges corporate security requirements and networking needs into a cloud-based service in response to demands for faster, more agile networks. The technology is characterised by the advantages of scalability, the benefits of self-service and gains associated with the innate agility inherent in the cloud.

Going forward, organisations will be striving to develop new products faster and deliver them to market sooner than their competitors. Network agility will be essential in this era of business restoration and rejuvenation.

It is an era in which business agility will mirror network agility as it relates to importance and significance. In the quest for both, SD-WAN and SASE should be seen as associates or “comrades in arms”. Their collaboration towards achieving improved adaptability within the network will allow the demands of business to be better processed and managed.

Against this backdrop, the corporate network – with its ability to metamorphose in the face of continually changing norms and requirements – will be seen as a vital asset and a valued autonomous driver on the long road toward absolute business agility.