When to Upgrade Your Network

The CIOs of the San Francisco Giants and Omnicom's Diversified Agency Services share what they are learned about when to upgrade a network.

DAS is in the midst of a massive centralization effort that will converge the IT assets and services of its growing stable of agencies into a multi-tenant private cloud environment running on mostly virtualized hardware in two new state-of-the-art, energy-efficient data centers built during the past 18 months. Having accomplished that task, DAS is now in the midst of an upgrade from a patchwork of local network services to an AT&T Ultravailable Network Service ring, with the goal of having the project 90 percent complete by year-end.

"It was on yesterday's plate, it's on today's plate, and it'll be on tomorrow's plate," says CIO Jason Cohen. "You have to have a significant process to organize and manage a central network that feeds multi-tenant environments."

Cohen says the decision to upgrade was inevitable, as DAS's holdings continuously grew through steady acquisition. That continual growth resulted in an environment rife with duplication of equipment and services, plus an overabundance of standards, making it a challenge to govern and thus ensure compliance with internal policies and government regulations.

"We were having management issues," says Cohen. "We had too many technology tools, and we were doubling and tripling up on people and processes. It wasn't scalable."

By consolidating all IT investments and decision-making in a central operational core, Cohen says DAS will be able to acquire technologies, such as the AT&T network, that individual agencies couldn't have afforded. The network will also be better equipped to support the level of mobility demanded by a 17,000-person workforce that accesses applications and data from the home, office and field.

What's more, the new network will enable DAS's agencies to collectively offer the kind of digital tools and services that are craved by the social media-focused business world.

"We have to have networking tools to support these services or we'll never be able to compete in a global marketplace," says Cohen.

Despite that urgency, and the clear challenges DAS's fragmented former infrastructure presented, Cohen clearly believes the company's decision to embark on such an aggressive rethinking of its infrastructure was far from knee-jerk, which he considers a significant advantage.

"I've noticed a lot of my colleagues becoming very reactionary," Cohen says. "The best time to upgrade [your network] is when you're confident that you've got the right IT plan to match your business plan. All of the concerns will happen no matter when you plan your upgrade. You will have issues every single day during this kind of migration. How well you plan and go back to your IT strategy's true north will determine how disruptive it is."

To be sure, DAS has undergone the kinds of hiccups to which Cohen was referring. For instance, Cohen acknowledges that there was significant resistance from local agencies upon being asked to give up so much control and responsibility. And there have been the growing pains associated with adopting such an all-encompassing new technology, as well as the customary challenges of tying together so many formerly disparate components.

That said, Cohan says the anticipated benefits are many, from the aforementioned gains in mobility to more inter-agency collaboration and improved agility, responsiveness and security.

The latter will be especially handy when clients come to DAS agencies for help parsing increasingly large sets of customer data.

"There's always a need for more network bandwidth," says Abbott of 451 Research. "All those analytics and things that people are doing in real time are a driver."

This article was originally published on 04-05-2013
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