Networking the Enterprise's Digital Transformation

Time is running out for enterprises who've yet to transition to a more "liquid" network infrastructure.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Aug 19, 2016
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Ever since Uber came along and, using nothing more than a mobile app, upended not just the taxi industry but the auto and transportation industries in general, digital transformation has been front-and-center at corporate boardrooms around the world.

Nobody wants to get “Ubered”, so even companies that sell real products like cars, washing machines and light bulbs are scrambling over themselves to figure out how they can turn themselves into digital service providers. The problem is that digital services require infrastructure, and that invariably leads to networking, or the lack thereof, at most organizations.

The problem isn’t necessarily bandwidth, says Colt Technology Services’ Nigel Tromans. It’s that the fixed-bandwidth networks of the past do not provide the flexibility required of modern collaborative applications. What’s needed is a more “liquid” infrastructure that can scale on demand and support the automated provisioning and other services that are essential to today’s dynamic workflows. Networks will also need to become more resilient, although not necessarily more hardened against failure. Rather, the goal should be to minimize downtime through advanced routing capabilities and virtual network topologies so that actual service disruption can be kept to a minimum.

Unfortunately, upgrading networks is bound to be the most complex aspect of digital transformation, at least on the infrastructure level. As Level 3’s EMEA Senior VP of Sales Andrew Edison explained to CBR recently, major pain points include everything from replacement of legacy systems to reconfiguring security postures to forging entirely new sales and service relationships with vendors, partners, clients and other network stakeholders. Naturally, the cost will be significant, but since the alternative is steadily increasing obsolescence of the business model, organizations have no choice but to confront these challenges head-on.

Seeing how others tackle transformation is one of the best ways to start your own process. To that end, Forbes’ Jason Bloomberg offered an in-depth view of financial services firm JLL, which recently converted its suite of processes to a cloud-based, software-defined footing. The main takeaway is that digital changes everything, from infrastructure to processes to the business model itself. But in terms of the networking, the major shift came in the wide area. With help from Cisco and Riverbed, the company was able to supplement the private MPLS links between regional data centers with direct cloud connectivity for all remote offices. The regional facilities are still used for sensitive client data and some legacy applications, but network flexibility is greatly enhanced now that individual offices can define their own networking needs in the cloud. As well, test and measurement metrics have shifted from a network-centric view to one that stresses end-user application performance regardless of where resources are hosted.

Facilitating digital transformation using cloud-based network services could emerge as a top consideration for organizations looking to complete the process quickly and easily. Carrier providers like Verizon are already touting new packaged solutions designed to push enterprise networks onto virtual infrastructure, providing end-to-end service-based connectivity for a wide range of applications. Verizon’s new Virtual Network Services plan offers things like rapid hardware and software deployment, end-to-end automation and orchestration and multiple service tiers that seek to tailor features and functionality to key applications. At the same time, the company is partnering with numerous enterprise vendors such as Cisco, Juniper, Riverbed and Palo Alto Networks to hopefully make the transition as non-disruptive as possible.

There are probably a few enterprises on the planet that can manage their own digital transformation without help. The rest will have to rely heavily on consultants, solutions providers, service partners and other experts, as well as input from in-house IT, business and administration leaders.

And while the network challenge is daunting, it is still only a small piece of the overall transformation. Unfortunately, time is running short because overhauling an IT infrastructure that was decades in the making takes a lot longer than building and launching a mobile app.

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