As a result, the cloud is appealing to many organisations as a way to boost flexibility, innovation and availability. But what does this mean for the network? Well, it’s adapting too. It’s a big change for a space that hasn’t really altered for a couple of decades. All of this means that, for networks to achieve the agility and control necessary to embrace the cloud, the business needs to undertake sound planning for its transformation. So where do you start?
One of the first things I always explore with a customer is the business case for any infrastructure change — what’s the business seeking to achieve? It might be all about improving responsiveness by boosting agility, introducing the capability to flex the number of users up and down overnight. The business might want to strengthen performance and productivity in an increasingly competitive environment. It may want to support global expansion, or unlock significant cost savings. We build a clear picture of the organisation’s objectives and only then drill down into exactly what the network needs to provide.
In an environment where budgets in the IT space are under pressure, pinpointing the network’s priorities and costing them accurately before making any changes is even more essential. One of our customers was planning to move to Office 365 in the cloud and had projected this would save them millions. However, their security policies demanded that each site connected to the internet had two different firewalls from two different suppliers to ensure full resiliency. When the network costs of providing internet access on every single site to these standards were factored into the equation late in the day, it killed the business case and the project suffered critical delays.
The next stage of the process is to work with the IT function to understand the needs and plans of business units. This is a huge shift from the traditional way of planning, where network requirements were largely built on rough estimates of likely bandwidth requirements, and the IT function rarely knew exactly what was travelling across the network.
Incorporating cloud into the network means businesses must design their networks in line with actual need. This involves first establishing what applications are on the network, and then working out how critical they are, so they can prioritise the optimisation of the most crucial and embrace the automation that’s driving digital transformation. It’s important, too, to find out the business units’ plans for growth so they can be built into the network’s provisioning.
With all this information in place, the network is ready to embrace new tools, such as SD-WAN, to deliver against the business’s need for increased agility to achieve greater productivity. SD-WAN delivers centralised control, defining the actions of on-premise devices, and increased visibility. This visibility means that, for the first time, you can see what’s running through your network and can decide on your priorities across the LAN, WAN and data centre. What’s more, you can plug in other tools into the centralised control function that support automation and better diagnostics.
Any move to the cloud is a question of balancing cost, quality and security. I’d like to cut through some of the hype here and remind you that SD-WAN isn’t necessarily a viable way to cut costs by replacing your MPLS network. MPLS really offers value in terms of performance, availability and restoration that shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s vital to remember that, if you want 99.99 per cent availability, you need to run your applications on a reliable underlay. Plus there’s the security dimension, too. We’re finding that some customers are choosing to stick with MPLS because of the quality of the network and the security inherent to the technology.
I’m often asked if embracing the cloud makes for a simpler network, and the short answer is no, not in the short term. In fact, it brings more complexity before it delivers greater simplicity. The conversations and discovery that needs to underpin any decisions about cloud must be in depth, and are far more wide-ranging than those needed previously. But the rewards on offer are huge. You have the opportunity to create a network infrastructure that will flex and grow with you, capable of being used for many different purposes as your business evolves. Any investment you make will bring value in the future, as well as today.
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