Virtualisation: Keeping networking simple, more contextual, and altogether more powerful

Remember the thick manuals that came with pagers? Or the hefty instruction booklets that came with fax machines? These were complex devices, and had matching complex manuals and specialty repair staff for serious issues.

But as devices become more powerful, and arguably more complex, those manuals are shrinking, and even disappearing. Consider the relatively thin pamphlet you probably got with your latest smartphone, tablet, or TV. Probably one page long at most, the “manual” is as simple as turning on your device.

Most people with children can attest to the ease-of-use inherent in today’s smartphones and tablets – so simple, even a child under five can work their way around. Intuitiveness and ease of use now becomes as important—more important—than any individual feature ... and not just for end users.

Enterprise technology is now following this simplified approach. It is the key theme for many priorities and projects underway and will continue to be so. Today’s organisations are much less tolerant about complexity (and the training and specialty staff) that complex systems require.

Virtualisation: Enterprise networks made simple

The wave of enterprise virtualisation, which is now commonplace throughout the industry, was initially motivated by the cost savings of being able to run fewer servers and reduce expenditure on hardware, which must be amortised and then, eventually, replaced. Virtualisation relies on software, rather than hardware, to make the most of a system.

This is critical, because hardware-based solutions are rigid. Software-based solutions work hard underneath to generate context that makes things appear simple to the end user. A good example that shows the dynamics of old versus new is to picture a typical television set, which even today feature remotes that resemble oversized candy bars arrayed with buttons. However, think about Apple TV. That remote is mostly software based, and therefore is a simpler piece of hardware – it only has a few buttons. But by generating contextual and intuitive on-screen menus, users can easily navigate through a much greater array of content with little need for instruction.

But the true value of virtualisation is not only seen in the reduction in the number of servers that even large-scale enterprises must run to keep their business moving. Instead, it lies in the genuine simplification of operations as well as the ability to encompass powerful enterprise-ready features such as high availability and disaster recovery. These features, and others, are able to be extended across multiple platforms and services – a far cry from yesterday’s dedicated servers and their dedicated cabling and teams of maintenance staff.

Taking it one step further: desktop virtualisation and communications infrastructure

Desktop virtualisation (VDI) is also simplifying the management of PCs and mobile devices while supporting freedom of device and operating systems for end users. It’s becoming the antidote to the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend which has complicated matters regarding data security and protection in the name of employee choice. VDI offers effective, non- obtrusive management, encryption, and control.

Communications infrastructure can also benefit from simplification. By centralising communications equipment and operations, organisations reduce the number of servers, administrators, and other resources needed. This also simplifies the setup and operation of remote offices and remote and mobile workers. And workers benefit because there is no longer a disparity in the features available to individual offices or locations, nor any technical barriers to something as simple as voicemail across locations. Location will (and now should) be completely invisible to customers and colleagues.

Simplification is also behind the rise of software. As tech investor Marc Andreessen famously put it, “Software is eating the world.” He points to the industry and segment leaders that, under the covers, are actually software companies: Amazon.com, Netflix, Apple’s iTunes, Spotify, Pandora (entertainment), Pixar, Google, and LinkedIn. Even Wal-Mart, a real-world retailer, uses software to win a competitive advantage in logistics and distribution.

Just as enterprises have embraced the simplicity of virtualised networks, business communications will also become simpler – and more powerful – through software. Software applications will allow us to dynamically and easily shift between text, voice, and video. Desktop phones will become simpler and more contextual. The “power phone” of the future will be less about the number of buttons and more about screen size. Or you can skip the desk phone and use an intuitive application on a desktop or tablet.

The future is about simplicity and a terrific user experience. Are you ready?

Richard Bennett is EMEA Director & CTO Lead for Avaya Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). In this role, Bennett is responsible for EMEA strategies within Avaya unified communications and business collaboration technology and services, including integration of strategic solution requirements into global product and solution roadmaps for Avaya.