The Business Case for Network Transformation
By Larry Socher
Unprecedented market and technology forces—including the rapid adoption of cloud, mobility, video, collaboration and big data—are driving intense demand for network capacity. Unfortunately, many organizations are trying to meet this demand with inflexible, overloaded networks and infrastructure left over from years of partial fixes and a patchwork of poorly integrated systems resulting from acquisitions.
At many companies, these network issues are constraining business growth. To deliver the network capabilities needed to thrive in the digital economy, your organization has to act now. Here are five key considerations that will prepare your networks for the future:
Build a business case dealing with the network impact of new technologies essential to competitiveness and growth. The network serves a vital role in enabling digital businesses. New technologies—cloud, mobility, social and collaboration, unified communication, big data and bring your own device (BYOD)—are reshaping how work is done and how customers are served.
Today’s applications demand fundamentally different infrastructure capabilities. Voice and data now move across the same converged network. The proliferation of devices and communications channels is driving dramatic growth in collaboration solutions, including a significant rise in video traffic. At one global services firm, for example, video conferencing has grown by a factor of five in the past three years.
Collaboration solutions are increasingly delivered from the cloud, often requiring major network redesigns. Big data and analytics require moving stunningly large quantities of data, driving massive bursts in demand.
Networks are stumbling under these loads. Simply adding additional bandwidth isn’t enough because many new applications require higher quality of service (QoS) with guaranteed availability. At the same time, IT organizations are under pressure to reduce costs. Solving these network challenges will clearly require careful investments, so a business case needs to stress both the strain on infrastructure and its business consequences.
Simplify. Automate. Transform. Successfully supporting today’s demanding applications and business needs—and preparing to support tomorrow’s—begins, ironically, with simplifying the network: replacing disparate voice and data systems with sophisticated networks that carry voice, data and video on a single infrastructure. Ethernet and Multiprotocol Label Switching can replace a plethora of WAN technologies, improving performance while reducing costs. Convergence and simplification create a network that’s more flexible and agile, yet easier and less expensive to maintain.
The results can be dramatic: simplifying and converging networks while retiring legacy circuits can drive cost reductions of up to 35 percent, improve productivity by 25 percent and improve service levels up to 20 percent. In many cases, cost savings alone can fund the entire transformation through simplification of converged network infrastructure, migration to more cost-effective IP networks and Session Initiation Protocol trunks, and renegotiation of existing contracts.
Coupled with more-effective management tools, increased automation and selective outsourcing, these transformation programs create a more agile infrastructure that enables faster adoption of new technology capabilities to support the business.
Harden wireless networks. The move to run more applications over wireless networks is also driving increased demand for bandwidth and higher QoS. Unfortunately, most networks were not designed to support what is now becoming routine—especially as video communications and other bandwidth-hungry applications increase in use.
In many cases, wireless networks are being pushed beyond their limits. In addition, CIOs are trying to determine how to deal with the significant increase in user demand from BYOD. BYOD is also driving more demand for traffic segmentation to reserve bandwidth for mission-critical business applications.
Again, these are business challenges, not only technical ones, because mobility is becoming essential to the modern enterprise. But such challenges are not insurmountable. One organization improved application response time while connecting twice as many wireless devices through the use of smaller WiFi cells in higher-density areas. Doing this improved access and responsiveness, enabling the rollout of new mobile versions of key business applications and improved productivity. The moral: Be sure to understand and communicate why updating wireless networks is a priority that's based on business and user requirements.
Embrace analytics to predict and prevent network issues. Would predicting a network outage two days in advance be helpful? Increasingly, organizations are shifting from reactive to proactive and even predictive service assurance, using big data and analytics to analyze network information and trouble tickets. The most critical issues can be prioritized and addressed, preventing background problems from becoming visible to users and harming the business. By using network analytics, a leading services firm was able to predict 76 percent of WAN/metropolitan area network link failures two to three days in advance, enabling it to take action and improve network availability.
With guidance from analytics, capital investments can be prioritized to preemptively replace devices that are most likely to fail. For example, an Indian firm determined that 20 percent of its devices were causing 66 percent of network failures. Knowing this enabled the firm to make properly prioritized software patches and hardware upgrades. Analytics can also enable better business decisions, accelerate deployments and determine which problems are priorities based on their business impact.
Prepare for network virtualization and software-defined networking. The market is delivering a clear message: Create a more dynamic and flexible network. Now that businesses are reaping the benefits of virtualized servers, storage and databases, they seek the same advantages from the network.
Virtualization and SDN offer greater flexibility and responsiveness to meet more fluid requirements that are driven by the rapid adoption of the latest technology trends. They are also delivering savings on hardware, bandwidth and operations: Early SDN projects are delivering network administration cost savings of up to 50 percent.
While neither network virtualization nor SDN is ready for full deployment in the typical enterprise, now is the time for testing and strategy development. Focus on virtual networks in the data center, since these have shown early success. Virtualization dramatically changes the architecture of the data center network, creating new challenges, such as how to isolate traffic and where to place firewalls, load balancers and other devices.
Network virtualization and SDN will change the way the entire network is provisioned and maintained. Organizations that get comfortable with the technology now through initial planning and pilot projects will enjoy significant advantages.
Although demands are greater than ever, networking technology is also experiencing an unprecedented level of innovation that is turning challenges into strategic advantages. Translating network impact into business impact is essential. For most companies, the increased desire to communicate and collaborate with organizational staff, customers and an ever-more-complex ecosystem means that “the network is the business.”
Recognizing the critical importance of network infrastructure—and planning now to support it properly—will help accelerate digital transformation, as well as the path to an intelligent infrastructure, moving the organization toward a more profitable future.
Larry Socher is managing director of network transformation at Accenture.