Network Yoga: ensuring maximum flexibility to future proof your network infrastructure

The business world has changed dramatically over the past ten years. Once confined to a desktop PC in an office environment, business has now developed to cover multiple locations, time zones and devices. Employees now demand instant connectivity wherever and whenever they need it, while the number of devices connected to the IP network continues to increase as organisations seek to benefit from more efficient and effective control of multiple devices posed by the Internet of Things (IoT).

For SMBs, this shifting landscape presents a number of benefits, ranging from greater intelligence, smarter working and valuable cost-savings. However, while the opportunity from the Internet of Things for organisations is huge, many have yet to make the leap to a fully connected working environment, often constrained by concerns around increased IT support and inflexible network structures. Yet, in reality there’s never been a better time for SMBs to embrace a connected working environment.

Increasing complexity

A recent survey suggested that 42 per cent of IT departments are planning on increasing their budgets this year. However, there is a growing concern that the added budget is being spent in the wrong places and is being used for fire-fighting network maintenance activities rather than spending on a flexible solution that can grow or contract in line with an organisation’s fortunes over the coming years.

The research reveals, that despite the overall growth in IT spending, only 28 per cent of the extra budget will be going on expanding the team. Therefore, an IT manager’s time is going to become more valuable than ever – especially for SMBs when staff numbers can often be counted on one hand.

At the same time, as the number of devices connected to the network continues to increase, so do the headaches associated with managing these devices and the network infrastructure. For many mid-sized organisations, their networks grow fast – with an eclectic mix of network ports of varying speeds and density at the access layer that is often compounded with not a very capable core. Thus, many operate three-tier networks, or even more, which are not only difficult to manage and leverage, but upgrades are difficult and maintenance is costly. As a result, these organisations are forced to invest more time, resource and money simply on supporting IT.

Greater power requirements

It’s not just the management of devices that becomes more challenging, but meeting greater power requirements too. One of the most widely deployed technologies to provide power to networked devices is Power over Ethernet (PoE). However, as businesses continue to add more and more IP connected devices, even the capability and wattage of PoE technology has had to evolve in order to open up new possibilities for more power-hungry applications and devices born out of the IoT. For example, we’ve already seen the introduction of Universal Power over Ethernet (UPoE) to support up to 60W power and enable even broader endpoint support.

With both the number of devices and power and networking infrastructure requirements showing no sign of slowing down, for the growing business, building a flexible infrastructure that time-sapped managers won’t need to rip and replace in a matter of months is key.

The need for flexibility

Today, even the most experienced SMB IT manager finds it very difficult to predict what their network requirements will be in three or four years from the time they originally incurred the expense of purchasing the network infrastructure. Internal changes to staff numbers or day-to-day working practices can both have a significant impact, as can a plethora of external variables, whether it is changing regulatory requirements or macro-economic pressures. As a result, in the new world of virtualisation and the cloud, the SMB’s network must become as flexible as virtualisation has made servers as they strive for both growth and agility.

Fortunately for SMBs, the move towards network flexibility is not as daunting as previously considered. Chassis-based network design was historically only the playground for large enterprises due to the high capital expenditure required. However, the emergence of flexible networking systems designed with SMBs in mind is set to revolutionise how SMBs deploy high performance, highly resilient, fully redundant and future proofed switched networks from the Core to the Edge – without hurting or exhausting IT budgets and the IT department’s time.

Designed for use at the centre of a small to mid-sized organization, flexible chassis-based network designs are now available that enable SMBs to add more capacity and capability to networks as and when needed. Whether organisations require a resilient Gigabit connectivity option to the desktop, 10GbE connectivity for virtualised server and storage needs or UPoE support for IP surveillance environments, the network design can simply be adapted as and when the requirements change. PoE or UPoE daughter cards can be added when relevant, removing the need to replace existing blades or switches and avoiding any associated additional expense. Networks can easily and simply be adjusted to changing business needs.

Strengthening resiliance

This flexible approach to networking is not just cost-effective, but imperative in improving network resilience and availability too. The alternative, traditional ‘rip and replace’ practice associated with inflexible networks can result in a significant period of downtime. This in turn can impact productivity, company reputation and ultimately revenue - costs that could prove detrimental to an SMB already struggling to survive in an increasingly competitive market.

Flexible chassis-based network designs ensure the entire network remains operational, even when network improvements are being made. Passive backplane solutions with full management and power redundancy are now available as standard, even for SMBs, ensuring an uninterruptible operation should any switch in the stack fails, with rapid reconfiguration preventing network downtime.

Future-proofing the network

For SMBs, being small means being nimble. By their very nature, SMBs can be more agile than larger enterprises. They have the capacity to adopt new technology quicker and better than larger organisations, providing with them with a chance to future-proof their business against competitors.

A dependable network design that is based on the concept of ‘Network Yoga’ mandates an architecture that can both scale as a SMBs network grows and be flexible enough to provide support for ever faster server and storage connections needs. As SMBs produce and consume more data, it’s time to let go of the traditional restricted corporate infrastructure, and embrace a flexible network infrastructure that can ensure their networks are able to support the demands of not just today’s workforce, but the next generation of workers too.