A business is a bit like a car: for all the design and research that goes into the development of an automobile to make it look as visually appealing as possible, the test of its innovation and capabilities comes from its engine. What’s underneath the hood of the car delivers the levels of performance, reliability and efficiency that enables the user to go from A to B – at the required speed they need it to. For businesses, their network is their engine. But continuing with this analogy, is a 1971 Morris Minor’s engine going to power a 2018 Audi TT? No, and today’s hardware-based networks are not going to power today’s digital business.
The engine of the business
To paraphrase Henry Ford, if we were to keep designing faster hardware, we would be stuck with a network that has reached its physical limitations – it’s time we looked at something that can revolutionise a business’s ability to deliver better customer experiences. The network that got you to today is not the one that’s going to bring you forward. Powerful new applications have become the lifeblood of companies across all industries. Already, some global manufacturers can generate up to four petabytes of data a month through their day-to-day operations; intelligent vehicles produce two gigabytes of data for every 100 kilometres.
Imagine if you’re a manufacturer looking for ways to be more efficient, or a logistics company with 1500 lorries, each averaging 500 kilometres a day; if you used your existing hardware infrastructure, you would be overwhelmed by the amount of data your operations generate, unable to identify, analyse or secure it, and missing the opportunity to use that data to innovate and grow. The key here is that data has little value. What organisations need is contextual information, the understanding of data.
It’s a challenge many are facing - 90 per cent of organisations feel they are disadvantaged by the complexities of their network, and 82 per cent experience network downtime (disruption) caused by manual errors, according to a report from Dynamic Markets.
The problem is, it’s only going to grow. With a burgeoning mobile culture compounded by the emergence of IoT and edge computing, applications and data now reside everywhere – in the data centre, in the cloud, at the branch and even in a sensor at the edge of the network. Currently, around 10 per cent of enterprise-generated data is created and processed outside a traditional centralised data centre or cloud. By 2022, Gartner predicts this figure will reach 50 per cent. More than this, how much of that data will remain human-generated?
From data centres to ‘centres of data’
It is the need to turn data into information which will be the foundation on which differentiated customer experiences, brand reputation and new business models are built. As such, the key imperative for any network must then be to provide business users with information at the point of demand. It must be delivered fast, securely and irrespective of the cloud it might have crossed, or the type of application. Even more critical it must be seamless to the device the person chose to be using. Today’s business is about consumer simple and human choice. How do we create this “enterprise secure productivity.”
The move from data centres to ‘centres’ of information is putting masses of pressure on the traditional network – largely because typical security solutions, which aren’t built into the infrastructure itself. By design this legacy doesn’t allow free, secure movement of data or enable the interpretation of it.
Today, security has to be so inherent that when breaches occur— and they always will — they can be automatically detected and compartmentalised, so any potential impact can be minimised. Imagine if a car manufacturer didn’t secure the data its intelligent vehicles transmitted – if someone could hack the vehicle, they would be putting the lives of not only the passengers and drivers, but those in vehicles around them, in grave danger, in real-time.
Yet the answer is not ’do not connect that car’, it is ‘connect that car in the appropriate way’. Which immediately becomes a security question. However, leveraging a virtual cloud network where the scale of security, compute and storage is infinite means we can now enable the secure handling of data in real-time, with near-zero failure.
Simplifying, improving and strengthening
This new approach, the virtual cloud network, focuses on creating end-to-end connectivity and security to deliver business technology to the hands of the user, over any cloud, for any application type, any service and any transport; whether that’s a smart vehicle, a remote worker, a sensor in a wind farm in the North Sea – the applications are infinite.
It essentially overlays cyber-hygiene over the traditional hardware layer by moving the intelligence that traditionally lived in hardware into software. This provides infinite scale and storage potential. At the same time, it allows organisations to quickly aggregate, automate and draw insight from their applications and data – so businesses can mine the most value out of their existing processes while maximising future business opportunities.
That means a global manufacturer might automate the way it processes its data to identify ways to make its processes more efficient, or a logistics company can identify how its vehicles are performing, for example scheduling maintenance when it’s required, as opposed to by a calendar-based approach.
This may seem like another vision of what technology might be able to do, but it’s more than that. Technology can do it today. The virtual cloud network is not just a vision but the platform for the future of networks. The only way businesses can operate in a digital world is by being able to respond to market conditions faster than the competition, provide employees with the tools for maximum productivity, all while maintaining the integrity of their operations – and ultimately brand. A software-based approach provides this, offering application safety, an antidote to companies afraid to innovate, and the most impressive sand box for developers. Hardware cannot deliver that anymore – software can.
An engine for innovation
Disruption due to brittle infrastructures and bolted-on security like those we have seen over the past decade cannot continue anymore, and businesses will need to embrace change to survive the “information economy”. By embracing the network for the future, and by taking what we do in the data centre to the branch and the edge with intrinsic security built-in, businesses have the digital infrastructure needed to innovate, choose their next move, at speed, and focus on what they do best.
The answer is always software. What was the question?
Richard Bennett, Head of Advisory Services Business Solutions, VMware
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