It is time to retool the network

The structure of many of today’s networks is rooted in past technologies and has not evolved to accommodate the needs of the modern digital, cloud-aligned enterprise.
Read time 4min 50sec

In South Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic and other serious socio-economic challenges have prompted many companies to close their offices and encourage staff to work from home. As a result, the country’s inexorable move toward a distributed, online workforce is gathering momentum.

More than at any time in the country’s history, organisations are challenged to provide the workforce with fast, secure and easy connectivity to the corporate network from distributed locations. Without doubt, the work-from-home ethos is becoming steadily entrenched and can be expected to endure for the foreseeable future.

However, the design and structure of many of today’s networks are often rooted in past technologies. They have not evolved to accommodate the needs of the modern digital, cloud-aligned enterprise and the inevitable swing towards edge computing.

Organisations’ core, centralised, hardware-heavy and IP-based paradigms for networking and security are thus rapidly reaching a state of obsolescence.

Adapting to the requirements of the work-from-home movement requires a fundamental retooling of the corporate network to allow for a migration from on-premises to a cloud – and maybe a multi-cloud – computing strategy.

Embracing the cloud brings benefits such as greater flexibility, more agility and new opportunities for innovation and future competitive advantage. But it must be complemented by revisions to organisational structures, operating models, business processes, skillsets, corporate cultures and more.

As the Accenture consulting and professional services company notes, this could be easier said than done: “Becoming cloud native is like learning a new language for enterprise IT. If you want to speak cloud, you need to immerse yourself in it. A rushed migration without a clear strategy can end up costing the business more, leaving existing legacy applications racking up costs at an alarming rate.”

A fully cloud-managed network caters for the evolving needs of the distributed workforce.

Cloud literacy will allow an organisation to successfully address change in all aspects of the business − from customer engagement to order fulfilment and everything in between.

However, as Accenture warns, “unless you migrate the majority of your workloads to the cloud, you will not be able to realise the full business value, including making your business more efficient, resilient and customer-focused”.

From a practical perspective, the retooling of the network does not mean rebuilding the network from the ground up as is sometimes suggested. A new-generation, fully cloud-managed network environment does not require new (and expensive) hardware upgrades to achieve optimal results. Nor does it require changes in the underlying network setup.

Retooling the network involves retooling traditional network management strategies, revising decades-old decision-making processes and abandoning hardware-dependent network designs.

Retooling the network also involves the judicious selection and logical incorporation of the most appropriate digital technologies which will liberate the networking and application environments from geographic dependency and facilitate distributed workloads across environments, platforms and locations.

Such a qualitative transformation should result in a fully cloud-managed network, which employs the cloud control plane to define multiple virtual networks connecting users, devices, servers and cloud services and assist with the management of devices in different physical locations using the internet.

The cloud control plane can also facilitate the formation of an identity-defined perimeter, whereby members are defined based on their actual identities, rather than their IP addresses or network attributes.

For example, organisations will be able to set up an “administrative” network connecting remote administrators to servers running in the corporate headquarters and in one or more clouds, or a “support” network connecting customer support staff to certain file servers. Similarly, employees could be connected to software-as-a-service support services, such as productivity applications or video-conferencing.

Furthermore, a fully cloud-managed network caters for the evolving needs of the distributed workforce, as it allows organisations to easily create private networks that connect users and services together as if they are on the same local network.

This software-oriented approach also permits the building of a virtualised, distributed network that can connect all nodes securely and optimally, regardless of their physical location or network configuration – whether they are in the same data centre, cloud, nearby city or anywhere in the world.

The technology associated with such a network allows organisations to readily create fast and reliable self-optimising networks capable of obviating obstacles such as network congestion, suboptimal routing or faulty network infrastructures.

This technology also avoids the need to backhaul data traffic, or force it to traverse a potentially far longer route − as is the case with legacy solutions that rely on centralised gateways.

Unlike siloed approaches whereby different tools are needed to handle various modes of communications − such as remote access, site-to-site, branch-to-branch, internal micro-segmentation, cloud access and service mesh – the retooled, fully cloud-optimised and managed network supports any and all modes of communications via its unified, web-based control plane.

The resilience of South Africa’s organisations and their acceptance of change will surely see the speedy adoption of digital, cloud-managed networks with benefits being realised not only with regard to speed, security and reliability, but also in significant cost savings and resource optimisation.

Finally, some wise words from acclaimed author and business consultant Donald Todrin that I believe are relevant today: “You need to ignore what you were and reconsider what you want to be.”

Paul Stuttard

Director, Duxbury Networking.

Paul Stuttard is a director of specialist distributor Duxbury Networking. Currently Cape-based, he has been with the company for 29 years and has extensive experience in the IT industry, particularly within the value-added distribution arena. His focus is on the formulation of future-oriented network optimisation strategies and business development objectives in collaboration with resellers and end-users in Southern Africa.

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