The enterprise network today isn’t what it used to be. If there are only a handful of things you remember about your network, make it these five:
1) Organisations cannot perform without consistent connectivity. If you’ve been around as long as I have, you remember when the network component of enterprise ICT was important, but hardly mission-critical. There are few if any organisations today who do not have a critical dependency on digital service. That dependency is both in terms of internal process efficiency and automation, and the customer- or citizen-facing representation via web or telephone contact. As real-time information underpins decisions and action, it differentiates performance. When the network is down, so is your business. Gartner recently estimated the cost of network downtime at more than $300k per hour – and that’s just an average. Suffice to say that offline is a bad place to be for any length of time.
2) Your information assets are “out there.” Data used to live exclusively within an enterprise’s four walls, on servers that could be seen, sweated, sworn at, booted and repaired, in rooms that varied from dodgy broom cupboards to decent private in-house data centres. The evolution has been inexorable from on-site, through physical to virtual server migration, through to cloud-based services, and data volumes are growing constantly (by 2013, the cloud already was storing 1 exabyte of data – aka an unimaginably large amount). The physical location of a service might be estimated by a techie translating IP addresses, but for the business, where services are located is increasingly unclear and in many cases irrelevant. For instance, as business migrates to IP telephony and unified communications, whether the services need to be installed in house or from resilient data centres is worth considering. This flexibility in IT consumption models is a result of reliable network connectivity: as long as the network between your device and the service location is performing, the information assets are available, and that’s what matters.
3) Convergence. If the variety of locations from which data services are provided is increasing, so is the variety of ‘data’ itself. ‘Data’ is voice, CCTV video, sensor telemetry as well as traditional structured information, and increasingly all co-exist on a common converged network. Not all ‘data’ is equal, either (billpayers with children who hog home broadband for gaming know this better than anyone). Business networks need to cater for traffic diversity. Pushing the network hard to maximise business return is to be expected. Unless the network is capable of supporting and policing this diversity, it will constrain the flexibility of application choice and deployment, and lead to an inconsistent or poor experience.
4) Perimeter, What Perimeter? In a ‘Any Device, Anywhere’ mobile world, it gets harder to determine where the perimeter between the enterprise network and the rest of the world actually is. It’s also hard to determine where that perimeter realistically ought to be, to deliver flexibility without being reckless with regards to security. As discussed above, the physical location is not really the issue; and while the technology used to enforce the perimeter is relevant given the ever-evolving threat landscape, the real challenge is having the right partner to build or manage this complexity for you.
5) An optimised data network is the only kind to have. It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: given what I’ve described above, it’s absolutely critical you work with a partner who understands networking, and can engineer and support the network for your business needs properly. The objective is a network that is a platform for digital business: continuously, reliably available; cost-effective to operate; and 100% focused on serving your business needs, whether you’re introducing new products, layering more services on your network, or rolling out initiatives to engage with customers.
What role does the data network play in your organization? Is it seen as a strategic asset?