Why an agile network is the foundation for the future

Today’s digital environment offers numerous business benefits but it also means that IT managers now need to deal with greater demands on their network. This network demand has been on a steady rise for a number of years.

AT&T has seen more than 150,000 per cent growth in data traffic on its wireless network since 2007. The cause of this rapid increase is in part due to the large number of connected devices that consumers use every day. 60 per cent of this is data-intensive video traffic. Every day, 114 petabytes cross the network. This is equivalent to almost 130 million hours of HD video. Clearly, demands on the network are already huge.

We are currently right in the middle of a huge growth in the number of such devices with Gartner stating that we will use 6.4 billion connected things worldwide this year alone, up 30 per cent from 2015. Other scholars also estimate that there will be 20 to 50 billion such devices in the world by 2020.

Virtual reality to cause a rethink

Additionally, we are also seeing new applications and products on the market that are driving this traffic higher than ever. One such example is virtual reality. To place things into context, sending a standard text message uses approximately 20KB of data while sending a minute of video is about 4MB of data. In comparison, just a minute of virtual reality video will use up hundreds of MB. This kind of demand will force IT managers to rethink their networks.

In order to approach agility, businesses firstly need to change the way they have traditionally thought about their networks. Businesses should see new technology, like IoT as a new part of a bigger single network instead of a collection of different parts. For example, a manufacturer should see connected robotic equipment on the factory floor as an extension of the VPN they use for managing other communication functions. If not done, this could place the manufacturer at risk of cyberthreats, performance issues, management complexity, and higher total costs of ownership.

If you think of the network as an organism, you need to be able to identify and prevent vulnerabilities in the whole system. That means you need to be able to see the end-to-end network. This must be all the way to all those connected endpoints and devices. In turn, this will help to allow businesses and IT managers to identify possible issues and prevent them from affecting other connected devices within the system.

Using software rather than hardware

The best way to prepare a network for the future is to use virtualised and software-defined networks (SDN). Using software rather than hardware is the best way to provide for the enormous amount of increasing data which will hit networks. It is no longer practical for companies to be restricted to purpose-built hardware appliances. SDN allows for an integrated approach to network management by abstracting the higher-level functionality. These networks also allow providers to create and deploy a wide variety of applications and new technology solutions.

Here at AT&T, we are taking this to heart. We have, so far in 2016, already virtualised 30 per cent of our network and are aiming to virtualise up to 75 per cent of our network by 2020.

As demands on companies’ networks continue to grow, they will need not only new network technology to support them. They will also need to rethink how they are going to build and manage networks. A holistic approach, using SDN and virtualisation will go a long way in helping businesses prepare for the large influx in data over the next few years.

John Vladimir Slamecka, Regional President, AT&T Europe, Middle East & Africa

Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens