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Don’t drive your Ferrari down a dirt road

In our connected world, the network is the business, so be proactive and ensure it is in tip-top shape, as it should be seen as a competitive differentiator.
Read time 4min 50sec

I’m as sympathetic as the next guy to the thrill of driving a Porsche or similar vehicle, but it always surprises me that anyone ever buys one in South Africa. Apart from the eye-watering price tag, our roads put a low-slung, high-performance vehicle at considerable risk, and hardly provide the environment that allows the car to show off its paces.

The same point could be made about a company’s network. Time and again, I see companies investing in high-end servers and other devices, while the network on which they are supposed to run receives little or no attention.

The general view seems to be “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. But there are many problems with this view, which not only makes the organisation more vulnerable to downtime and cyber crime, it also almost certainly ensures all the devices connected to the network are not giving the kind of performance they should be.

I will deal with the reasons why one should take a proactive approach to network management under three headings, but one overarching point needs to be emphasised: the network is your business in today’s world, and this will become more true as time goes on.

A business network is more than the sum of its parts − by facilitating the fast flow of data and enabling lightning-fast business processes, it should be seen as a competitive differentiator.

Performance

In business today, customer experience is everything − as is, increasingly, the experience of employees and business partners.

In the unrelenting war to attract and retain both customers and talented staff, the network needs to operate smoothly and rapidly.

That simply won’t be achieved solely by ensuring everybody has the latest devices, or that servers are regularly renewed.

In the unrelenting war to attract and retain both customers and talented staff, the network needs to operate smoothly and rapidly.

Metcalfe’s Law, that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users, continues to hold good, but one should add that as the number of users increases, so does the demand on the network.

Here one must also factor in the growing importance of the internet of things, which is seeing growing volumes of smart devices connected to networks, all of them generating vast amounts of data.

For example, many laptops and desktops would currently have network cards capable of 1GB per second, whereas the network that connects them still has 100MB per second switches. The same is true of servers, whose high throughput rates are effectively throttled by low network capability.

In short, networks are vital, and they are also under constant pressure to cope with more users and more data. They need to be monitored and managed to ensure they are performing as they should and can handle growing business.

A related point is that proactive network management does not just look at the network itself but also the devices connected to it, so it is also a great way of identifying performance issues there as well. For example, a faulty network card in a device could lead to corrupt data being broadcast on the network, taking up bandwidth and impacting overall network performance.

Reliability

Network high-performance is a must in a world in which business processes are increasingly digital and reliant on the exchange and analysis of data.

Network reliability is no less important: if the network is down, the organisation cannot operate at all, with tremendous reputational consequences and lost revenue.

Gartner estimates that the average cost of network downtime is $5 600 per minute, or around $300 000 an hour. Of course, this is a crude average and the real figure for a particular organisation would be a product of its size and reliance on the network, but you get the point.

Security

Networks are all about connection, and that unfortunately means they also increase an organisation’s vulnerability to cyber criminals who are increasingly sophisticated and well-resourced.

The days of cowering behind an impenetrable corporate firewall are effectively over, given the need to enable remote, anywhere/anytime working, facilitate direct contact with customers, and collaborate more closely with business partners.

Wherever one looks, the cyber crime figures make for frightening reading. Just one taster: 80% of firms reported an increase in cyber attacks in 2020 as business went digital with a vengeance. Networks that are poorly managed, use outdated equipment, or do not have rigorous updates of security patches, are intrinsically vulnerable, as are poorly designed ones.

The brutal truth is that cyber attacks are an ever-present menace, and a breach of the network is more a question of “when” rather than “if”.

In that case, not only does the network need to be resilient in itself, it must be easy to identify any breach as rapidly as possible.

There are also, of course, regulatory issues connected to data privacy that need to be considered. A network that is being managed is one that is constantly being monitored, and this makes it much more secure.

Network management is something of a moving target and increasingly relies on automation and sophisticated analytics to monitor a highly-complex environment and to reduce the impact on the productivity of IT staff.

More and more, too, CIOs are turning to external providers to provide what is now an essential service to remain competitive and secure. 

Peter Clarke

Founder and MD, LanDynamix

Peter Clarke is founder and managing director of LanDynamix. He is an ICT specialist with over 20 years’ experience in the technology sector, with an Honours BCom in Information Systems from the University of Pretoria. In 2006, he founded LanDynamix, fulfilling his entrepreneurial passion and vision to fill a gap in the IT market with a unique service offering, namely: always-on risk mitigation.

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