How prepared is your network?
Many companies are not equipped for the metamorphosis about to hit the business world.
The office or enterprise network may well be handling business needs right now. It may even appear to be future-proofed in some way, perhaps through the incorporation of mobile or cloud-based services. The business has, no doubt, planned for the projected human resource growth and the IT function has a plan in place to deal with additional demands this will place on the company's IT infrastructure and network.
The truth is, many businesses are not actually prepared for the sea change that is about to hit the business world - and the demands, challenges and opportunities it will create for networking. While a company may have projected and prepared in the way I've described above, this won't be sufficient to cater for the massive changes coming - in user behaviour, the proliferation of BYOD (bring your own device), cloud services consumption, and for the new behaviours that will accrue from new networking technologies themselves.
Data, voice and video are going to converge as never before. As are devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs, mobile TV and devices that are yet to be seen in the mainstream market - in the sense that information and communications will demand a seamless experience across all devices, in highly personalised ways. Furthermore, many more millions of devices are about to become part of everyday networks, as the Internet of things proliferates.
Things are about to become very busy for those involved in networking, from strategic planning to implementation and management. To wit, a recent Cisco whitepaper cautions: "A single-service or dedicated network cannot meet diverse and growing consumer demands for 'many services to many screens'."
Data, voice and video are going to converge as never before.
At the same time, networking technologies are developing rapidly. The next Internet Protocol, IPv6, will require network changes, and software-defined networking will also play a bigger role. Of course, in SA there are also the spectres of bandwidth, connectivity and access.
What is the business preparing for?
* SDN and NFV
Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) will have a transformative effect on networks. They will introduce new layers of complexity and administrative demand. While these technologies may not be widespread right now, businesses and network administrators need to be ready to implement them, especially as hybrid infrastructures and systems become more and more capable and popular.
* Application firewalls
The vast amount of network traffic (outside of video transmission) is likely to be application delivery, as cloud-delivered applications become the software lifeblood of organisations. Firewalls must be able to deal with this; to handle traffic at the application layer.
* Internet of things
A term much bandied about at the moment, and hence, one that is unfortunately fast losing distinction. Be that as it may, in sheer technological terms, it is here to stay - and of course it hasn't even really begun. The sheer number of connected devices is set to sky-rocket, and networks need to be prepared to handle the traffic that will result. This will require a re-evaluation of network management and design.
With today's devices IPv6-enabled already, and with IPv4 addresses depleted, it's time to shape up or ship out when it comes to making the switch. The option has been around for a while, and some took it seriously while others didn't. Now IT pros can no longer wait. And while a company is transitioning, it should get up to speed on timely IPv6 news, like attack attempts and how to mitigate them, so it can best prepare its networks for the IPv6 era.
This list inevitably excludes near-future technological and business developments that have not been foreseen yet. These, too, will have an impact on networking. It's probably more important now than at any point since the widespread adoption of Internet technology for enterprise networks to be prepared for changes.
Given the sweeping nature of the networking transformation to come, no company can reasonably expect to be able to buy, build, manage and continuously finance a wholly in-house networking capability.
This will bring hosted networking and cloud-delivered networking infrastructure to the fore, most likely in the form of a hybrid network model. It's thus important to begin building a long-term, in-depth relationship with a network service provider now, so the business can easily implement hosted, hybrid and in-house networking solutions that incorporate and can support the new networking technologies, and the influx of demands users are about to place on them.
Stuart Hardy is business development director of EOH Global Networks Division UK. Hardy has spent 20 years in the South African telecommunications market working at executive level in and with South African telecoms companies. He is responsible for developing EOHâs global network and for driving global application and global WAN optimisation for EOH out of the UK.