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Networking: As the data flood hits, SDN and hybrid will take the lead

The business technology landscape continues to evolve at an incredible pace. New genres of device and application are introduced to the market on an almost daily basis, and as a result the possibilities open to businesses are ever wider - but new efficiencies and capabilities come at a cost to company networks. For every new component of the network, more speed and capacity is required - often at unpredictable times and volumes.  

At the heart of the change is the increase in data streams. With the introduction of more IP-enabled devices, from CCTV cameras to smart watches, and with data collection practices becoming ever wider as a result, some companies are now facing a daily stream made up of terabytes of new information - the sheer volume would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Networks must be optimised to handle the load. Transfer speeds must be increased to carry high-bandwidth applications. 

Data centre racks and cloud infrastructures must be optimised to handle big data movement and also to be compatible with both individual devices and company-wide environments.  

Robust IT infrastructures are a must

This is particularly the case as organisations must handle not only business-related traffic, but also more recreational activity. For example, when major sporting events or tech product launches take place, the company network must support its employees’ attempts to stream video or download updates. 

During the 2016 summer games, for example, the most watched events of the tournament drove a 30 per cent spike in network traffic - a heavy load for corporate systems to carry.    

Businesses today demand and rely on robust IT infrastructures to support business critical applications, while still having the flexibility to cater for operational growth. Despite this, many don’t want to invest internally in designing, buying, building, deploying and managing the complex and costly infrastructures that are needed to support new technologies. Cloud has become mainstream and enterprises expect to use it to level the playing field. However, with technology becoming more and more central to the running of an organisation, many businesses are hoping to regain control of their network infrastructures to best suit their needs and meet the demands of their changing organisations.   

Our recent research revealed that a third of businesses are battling escalating software and hardware costs, 21 per cent admitted that there is a lack of internal control over the network and 17 per cent said that their current IT infrastructure was unable to cope with growth. Clearly, the pressure is closing in for IT teams.   

To go private or remain public - that is the question  

One of the key technology developments that will help organisations overcome these challenges is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). IDC predicted that IaaS will be the fastest growing area of the market between 2014 and 2018, and this growth has certainly been borne out so far. But before companies can adopt IaaS and retain control over their networks, they need to consider how they plan to consume and use the many variations of cloud that exist in the market. Weighing up the pros and cons of the private, public and hybrid cloud options is about understanding your businesses needs and key priorities.    

The private cloud is the model that has evolved in most organisations. Many enterprises have built their own infrastructure and automation for development and testing or running internal web services, often using new and efficient methods to facilitate it. Yet, when compared to the public cloud, it doesn’t necessarily provide the same amount of flexibility and agility - which can be restrictive for businesses.   

In comparison, the public cloud is a service that has always been available to all. It appeals and is used by the mass market for backing-up files, streaming music, films and email services. Surprisingly, despite advocating a private solution, many global organisations adopt public cloud in one manner or another. This solution may be suitable for parts of the IT estate, but is certainly not secure enough to provide storage for the most important data and documents running over a network. 

What about the hybrid?

In contrast, a hybrid solution provides the flexibility and agility of a public cloud, whilst still providing the security a business needs and would receive with a private cloud. Increasingly, a hybrid model provides the foundations of the infrastructure for next generation technology. Instead of making an upfront capital investment in hardware or relying solely on existing architectures, enterprises can simply purchase more computing power or server space from their cloud provider as and when it’s needed. 

This could be anything from a highly-scalable, low cost architecture for a Big Data project to a high-capacity cloud network that can be scaled for peaks in web traffic. A hybrid cloud model provides just the sort of flexible environment needed to make that a possibility, whilst at the same time providing security measures resilient enough to free up business to focus on improving services and business insight.   

It is this combination of existing infrastructure and burstable cloud that will make it much easier and more useful for IT departments to utilise IaaS to maintain power over their networks and to innovate their business. For example, internal IT can adapt resources to individual business needs. Rather than being tied to a fixed functionality or restricted by security worries, they have the ability to provide the best tools for the business quickly and efficiently.      

Intelligent networks take the weight

A key method of optimising your IaaS to facilitate innovation is Software Defined Networking (SDN). SDN is being labelled as the future of networking for its ability to deliver greater efficiency and automation.    

SDN technologies prioritise the innovation goal - empowering the organisation to shift its onus away from users and a reliance on manual processes, towards an automated approach coordinated by a ‘central brain’. SDN effectively allows organisations to reconfigure network services on-demand. Enterprises are no longer subject to change controls, service tickets or related support and management fees. Instead they can adapt the services that network providers deliver, through a simple self-service interface.   

However, our research also revealed that 86 per cent of businesses do not understand SDN and 95 per cent do not know what benefits it could bring to their enterprise. Given the IT difficulties being faced by businesses, more organisations need to take advantage of SDN to eliminate the bottleneck of human intervention and provide a central system to manage the services required, and monitor the associated activity. 

Go for both flexibility and control

The bottom line is that no business should have to choose between the flexibility of their infrastructure or the control over their own internal networks. As businesses drive their agendas towards digital transformation, they will need to be equipped with the IT infrastructure to deliver the best services available.    

In the end, this will enable IT teams to complete their transition from backroom to boardroom. That move has been one of the over-arching IT stories of 2016, as businesses in all sectors realise that effective business transformation goes hand-in-hand with digital transformation. Powerful, flexible and secure networks are a key component of enabling IT leaders to spearhead that evolution. If networks cannot take the strain, then digital projects will fall at the first hurdle. As we move into 2017, it is essential that IT teams build a network infrastructure capable of adapting to their business needs, however large and fast-moving they may be. 

Andrew Chant, head of networks, Exponential-e (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/Toria

Andrew Chant is head of networks at Exponential-e. His role involves design and operation of the Core network and services team.