Network resilience is a critical issue in today's business environment. Success requires a different strategy and new technologies, such as software-defined networking.
By Samuel Greengard
Operating a robust and efficient network has always been a top priority for CIOs. But in an increasingly global and digital business environment—one that incorporates public and private clouds, mobility, collaboration, big data analytics, and a variety of other tools and systems—the issue has become mission critical.
Unfortunately, "many organizations are struggling to meet these demands. They have inflexible, overloaded infrastructure left over from years of partial fixes and a patchwork of poorly integrated systems," observes Larry Socher, global lead of network practices at Accenture.
The result is diminished innovation, productivity and growth. Today, there's a need to build a more intelligent, agile and automated IT framework that can accommodate fundamentally different infrastructure capabilities, Socher explains. What's more, enterprise networks must support the growing volume, velocity and variety of data streaming in from numerous applications and in different formats, notes Dave Seibert, CIO at consulting and integration firm IT Innovators.
"Disruptions, interruptions and poor performance are more than a nuisance. They are critical factors that can directly impact the health of the business," Seibert explains.
How can CIOs approach the challenge and build better network resiliency? A starting point, Seibert says, is to have a clear understanding of business requirements and how processes and workflows impact network capacity. It's also vital to fully identify the resources required to design and deploy new technologies. Finally, the network must be designed to accommodate the latest tools, technologies and approaches across various systems, including the Internet, wireless, social media, mobility, big data, and communication and collaboration.
Simply adding servers and bandwidth won't fully address the challenge. Neither will virtualization, though it plays a critical role in resilience. Socher says CIOs must re-examine the fundamental way they approach networks. For example, many organizations are now moving from one or two global MPLS networks to Ethernet backbones in carrier-neutral facilities—and then plugging in regional networks to reduce cost and improve service levels. Some organizations are also turning to multiple parallel devices to bypass hardware failures, Socher notes. This approach is especially effective for managing wireless networks, which introduce greater complexity and bandwidth requirements.
The Benefits of Newer Technologies
Newer technologies that enable application-aware routing across multiple circuits can also provide benefits. This method offloads lower priority traffic such as email without disrupting the rest of the network. Application-aware routing also delivers greater flexibility for meeting business needs, including the use of newer technologies such as LTE wireless local loop, Socher points out. "In some cases, the cost savings of convergence using SIP trunks and public Internet offload can fund an entire network transformation."
Software-defined networking (SDN) can also prove valuable. Socher notes that SDN frequently leads to better performance and greater flexibility—sometimes at a cost savings of 50 percent or more. It can automate a variety of functions while reducing provisioning time and, ultimately, improving uptime and service delivery. Centralized controls can also aid in infrastructure management while enabling more efficient security capabilities—particularly when provisioning personal devices and in environments where machine-to-machine communication and the Internet of Things enter the picture.
Regardless of the exact approach, it's critical to develop a business case that addresses the impact of new technologies on an existing network. "This business case should stress both the strain on infrastructure and the resulting business consequences," Socher says. Among other things, the business case should prioritize critical issues and anticipate potential problems "so they do not become issues that affect the business." It's also crucial to maintain a focus on scalability and integration, according to Seibert. "We have entered an entirely different business and IT framework," he says, "and the challenges relating to networks and resilience will only continue to grow."
About the Author
Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "Synchronoss Takes a Clear View of the lLoud," click here.
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