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March 20, 2018
Are you going digital without a net?
By: Charles Nebolsky

Today’s enterprise networks are under tremendous pressure from both a bandwidth and security point of view. Two revolutions are behind this pressure. One is the cloud revolution. The other is the digital revolution as companies seek to exploit technologies such as mobility, analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Both trends place high levels of stress on enterprise networks, most of which were not designed for the challenges of digital and cloud. Large companies typically have 10,000 to 25,000 network devices in their IT estate, often from over a dozen manufacturers. Most are aging and prone to failure. Further, the sheer scale of devices and connected “things” (growing between 4X and 8X annually for most businesses), creates operational challenges for updates, troubleshooting and security.

What’s a typical response? Let procurement sort it out, replacing network devices as they fail. This low-cost, procurement-led approach may have worked for the previous generation of IT support where most people accessed data on a PC or in their local data center. But it doesn’t work today. It’s like walking a digital tightrope without a net.

Moving from hardware- to software-led networking

Aging equipment is escalating maintenance costs and exposing security vulnerabilities. Supporting new digital services with existing networks takes time and money because, in many cases, IT needs to manually configure everything on old boxes.

Of course, leading-edge hardware is an essential part of the network. But hardware-based networks can’t live up to the innovation and performance requirements of the digital age. That model doesn’t give companies the security, automation and analytics required to manage business applications, leverage the cloud and interface with a proliferation of devices. Companies need a new approach.

But here’s the rub: business groups are demanding as much as 30 percent annual growth in bandwidth but aren’t offering much in the way of budget increases. Challenging.


A better way: A software-based, unified network platform

What to do? One approach is to cobble together your own set of multiple hardware components—different vendors for security, data center and WAN, wireless, and so forth. The challenge with that approach is that (1) you’re still locked into hardware; and (2) you then need expertise in all the components and how to integrate them. You can’t load a batch of updates across each of them in an automated way. You can’t push policies out to each of them. You need to physically log in to each box or vendor’s console to do it.

From Accenture’s and Cisco’s perspective, a better way is to look at your network as a holistic software platform—not moving from box to box but instead through a layer of software. Network functionalities—routers, switches, firewalls, wireless controller, etc.—are now packaged as virtual machines. The network is no longer a set of boxes, but instead virtual software that can be quickly and easily deployed and distributed, and licensed the same way you would license an ERP system or SaaS.

Embracing digital technologies or moving to the #cloud? Is your network up to the task?



A comprehensive appraisal of your network’s future

How can you define the right network for your ongoing needs? A comprehensive appraisal—or what Accenture and Cisco call a Digital “X-ray”—is required. Analysis of your current network capabilities—compared with the capabilities needed to support digital and cloud—can help you identify particular use cases to move toward a new architecture. For example:

  • Software-defined access: Manage network design, access policy and provisioning for wired and wireless from a centralized control platform.
  • Software-defined data center: Leverage an application-centric approach to data center networking, enabling automated workload management in a hybrid environment.
  • Analytics-driven security: Use analytics and threat intel to detect and prevent malicious attacks by analyzing network data against known signatures.
  • Application analytics: Improve app performance and security through rapid app mapping. Identify apps to migrate to the public cloud.
  • Software-defined WAN: Enable app-aware, performance- and policy-based path selection across a transport-independent WAN.

The analysis should be business case-driven so you gain visibility into potential benefits. For example, what is the benefit of putting broadband circuits at every site instead of running everything back through the data center? Or the advantage of more efficient use of network circuits, or moving from regional to centralized management of devices?


Digital transformation depends on network transformation

While forward-thinking CIOs recognize the importance of network technologies, many still struggle with transforming their traditional, hardware-based network to drive real innovation and business growth. Aging equipment, inconsistent platforms and multiple carrier contracts exacerbate the issues of running a decentralized, complex network environment.

With a new, unified, software-based network platform, companies can fully leverage cloud and digital technologies for maximum impact—enhancing efficiencies and agility while mitigating security risk. It's time for a digital-ready, cloud-ready network. Don’t walk the digital tightrope without a net. Read our full report.