The central enterprise nervous system

The era of fresh and shiny networking has arrived, bringing with it all kinds of evolving capabilities and functionalities.
Read time 10min 20sec
Jeanette Simpson
Jeanette Simpson

Few would argue that the enterprise network is the central business nervous system, connecting employees, systems and customers across distance and device to ensure seamless service delivery and productivity. It’s the core of communication and collaboration, especially now in the wake of the events of the past two years and evolving within new workplace dynamics and demands. It has to be always on, always connected and always capable – agile and scalable enough to allow for the organisation to fully realise the potential of digital, the value of cloud, and innovate right up to the edge of technology.

Organisations need enterprise networks that are capable of meeting the demands of hybrid working and advanced technologies. These networks have to be ready for the next normal. Yes, everybody hates that term, but it’s a fact. Normal 2022 is not normal 2019, and it won’t be normal 2023. As McKinsey’s 2021 article on operational resilience, ‘The whole-company fitness challenge’, points out, organisations have to optimise their networks with strategic technologies so that they can bypass or minimise the traditional issues of high costs, underused systems, and limited performance.

SD-WAN solutions have proven to help organisations use their WAN services more effectively.

Mandy Duncan, Aruba

Plus, and this is the kicker, organisations need to create networks that are smart, self-healing, secure, agile, scalable, and fully prepared to take on the weight of the IoT, automation, AI, ML and more. Forrester’s report ‘Innovate With The Forrester Model For Edge, IoT, And Networks’ says that networks, along with edge compute and IoT, are part of a triad of technology categories that deliver ‘true transformative value’ and that allow for organisations to really dig in and deliver new applications, services and solutions.

Every one of these factors has played no small part in the evolution of the enterprise network over the past few years, particularly from the hardware-based MPLS beast to the software-defined intelligence of SDN, SD-WAN and Secure Access Service Edge SASE. McKinsey’s 2021 article, ‘Hardware’s business-model shift: finding a new path forward’, states that SDN has helped to centralise the intelligence of the network, adding in control over the software layer and introducing standardisation of the underlying hardware. SDN has the potential to overcome operational complexity and increase performance and availability, and SD-WAN has proven itself an invaluable ally in supporting hybrid working environments and improving the overall security and capability of the network, particularly while leveraging the capabilities of SASE.

Modernising the network is the first step towards comprehensive and evolving digital transformation.

Setumo Mohapi, Dimension Data

The cloud-enabled network that’s defined by software and enhanced by intelligence meets every one of the organisation’s increasingly stringent requirements. This new-era enterprise network is all about building an infrastructure that’s capable of handling the hybrid workforce and emergent technology on a budget, sustainably. And SD-WAN, SDN and SASE fluff up those digital pillows and put a neat little security chocolate on top of the crispy clean towels, which is precisely the kind of service that the modern enterprise wants.



So, where to from here?

Brainstorm: What technology is at thefront of the queue when it comes to designing a hybrid-capable and resilientnetwork, and why?

Jeanette Simpson, product manager: Cybersecurity and SD-WAN, Vox: Hybrid cloud, zero trust, VoIP and video in the cloud, and backup in the cloud are key; secure SD-WAN allows for these technologies to exist within the network and enables faster and more resilient access. Companies should also consider a secure SD-WAN platform to support current and new WAN access services such as fibre, wireless and LTE. This will allow users to connect to the office instead of via the datacentre, and allow support for secure home devices to become part of the SD-WAN overlay and secure VPN access with multi-factor authentication.

Mandy Duncan, country manager, South Africa, Aruba: SD-WAN solutions have proven to help organisations use their WAN services more effectively and economically while giving users the freedom to better engage clients, empower employees, optimise business processes and innovate.It gives organisations visibility where they can see application performance, bandwidth consumption in real-time, providing organisations with the ability to make changes and prioritise applications over their devices.

Setumo Mohapi, MEA Managed Networks and Collaboration Services executive, Dimension Data: The global SDN market, as predicted by Statista, is expected to reach $43.3 billion by 2027. This number is hardly surprising considering the numerous benefits that SDN brings to the business and how effectively it has proven its value over the past two years. According to PwC, SDN is the key to unlocking inventive solutions and business processes in the new, 5G world.

Chris Pretorius, business unit manager, Datacentrix: One technology that’s fast coming to the fore is the SASE architecture. The reason? If, for example, you have a firewall on site and you also have employees working at home using Software-as-a-Service, it becomes difficult to ensure that all end points have the same security measures in place.

Brainstorm: What would be considered best practice in building an enterprise network capable of handling changing business needs and why?

Kurt Goodall, technical director, Troye: Infrastructure, whether it’s physical or cloud-based, needs to be fast, reliable and allow for a great user experience regardless of the user location or type of application or resource being consumed, without compromising on performance and security.

Scott Cowling, director, Software Defined Networks, BT: Always take a security-first approach. In the past year alone, there’s been a 400% increase in the number of email attacks globally, and the threat landscape we operate in is becoming more sophisticated. That’s why organisations should embed security into their infrastructure transformation projects from the very start.

Setumo Mohapi, Dimension Data: Modernising the network is the first step towards comprehensive and evolving digital transformation. It allows for the enterprise to innovate at speed, because it does more than just connect the technology, it helps the business connect the dots.

Dawie de Wet, Group CEO of Q-KON, and chief engineer, Twoobii: In a nutshell – diversity.Enterprise networks must be able to deal with a diverse range of access technology options provided by the mainstream telcos as well as specialised niche wireless and satellite service providers. Network architecture must adapt to this range of connectivity solutions and must be compliant to the particular requirements of each, such as the latency introduced by satellite networks.

Brainstorm: What are the most important elements that should be in the enterprise network today, and why?

Loubna Imenchal, head of Logitech for enterprise business AMECA, Logitech Africa: Security is one of the most significant elements in the enterprise network today – protecting company data is always essential. On top of that, enterprises must ensure they have the best compatible communication platforms to operate more efficiently.

Kurt Goodall, Troye: Managing a hybrid workforce is going to require a realignment of company strategies and technologies associated with a mobile workforce. Now is the time for companies to start thinking about their infrastructure and how that impacts on the workforce’s ability to perform their functions and remain productive in a secure manner remotely. Networking infrastructure can no longer be limited to the datacentre only. With the advent of SASE, it has now become important to have a hybrid approach to network and security architecture.

Mandy Duncan, Aruba: Traditionally, an enterprise network’s collection of endpoints used to be made up of PCs, laptops and physical servers. Today, however, those endpoints operate alongside smartphones, tablets, virtual machines and a bevy of IoT devices. Network cybersecurity is essential, including multiple-factor authentication, VPN encryption and traffic segmentation and consistent, role-based IT access policies that are applied consistently to a user or device no matter how and where they’re connected.”

Where stationery meets stationary

How revising and reinventing the network translated into better business for Bidvest Waltons.

Our private cloud added some complexity as it spans two datacentres and we had to eliminate every potential point of failure.

Bidvest Waltons is a stationery and office furniture supply chain. The organisation had long been an MPLS customer thanks to its large retail footprint with services, accounts, and sales dependent on central network services hosted in its private cloud. The company’s national IT manager, Jaco Opperman, says it was the good old days of dedicated links that cost a lot and hampered the organisation’s ability to open stores and expand footprints.

“You couldn’t just open a store where you wanted because you had to get dedicated infrastructure installed,” he says. “We opted for an SD-WAN network as it was the right step to take towards modernising our network. We’d been a customer of Dimension Data since 2012, so we worked with them to take the MPLS network over with SD-WAN five years ago. The goal was to connect sites at a reasonable price and ensure availability and access to services, like 4G and fibre, so we had high availability.”

The company wanted a solution that would remove the risk of a customer walking into the store and then being unable to swipe their card because the network was down, or not being able to redeem a voucher because the central system was down. It also wanted to overcome the challenge of slow links that prevented video conferencing and online training – many sites had as little as 512kb links, which is impossibly small when put next to the volumes of content consumed.

“Opting into SD-WAN was a logical move for us,” says Opperman. “Bidvest Waltons is typically an early adopter of technology and SD-WAN was the next thing on the horizon, so we embraced the technology. We fully outsourced our network to Dimension Data and they took care of everything; then we opted into a second version of SD-WAN that concluded in November 2021. This infrastructure replaced the first version and we experienced hardly any downtime even though we transitioned the entire network and ran two SD-WANs concurrently.”

Company targets

For Opperman, the move to the new SD-WAN network was invaluable. The technology itself had matured significantly over the past five years and the original solution was a proprietary one that had a few quirks. The new platform is based on Cisco Meraki with a few architected iterations to achieve specific company targets.

“Our private cloud added some complexity as it spans two datacentres and we had to eliminate every potential point of failure,” says Opperman. “We had to be able to continue operating even if we lost an entire datacentre – on MPLS this is a challenge, with SD-WAN it’s been achieved. We also wanted full visibility into our completely outsourced network to eliminate any back and forth if we experienced any latency issues.”

The second network meets the company’s requirements of an accessible and secure solution that ties into the company’s goal of transitioning away from the traditional corporate MPLS walled garden towards a zero trust network.

“It would have cost a lot of money to implement this level of security prior to SD-WAN, but this technology has made it possible for us to implement a secure and agile network that achieves our objectives,” says Opperman. “It was worth working with Dimension Data as we’ve had 100% availability across three major distribution centres and exceeded the four nines we wanted to achieve.”

* This feature was first published in the March edition of ITWeb's Brainstorm magazine.

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