By Jeff Gray, Vice-President, Americas, Xalient
If businesses want to win in the 21st century, then harnessing the power of the network across the entire organisation is essential because digital is the new front door for every enterprise. Customer and workforce demands on the network are evolving faster than the pace of traditional businesses and the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this change. The digital winners of tomorrow don’t think in terms of building solutions that merely solve today’s challenges. Their eyes are set on being ready for challenges that are yet to materialise. They build for change.
To thrive, companies need a different level of adaptability and creativity to handle competition, manage new threats and embrace new technologies. Yet the network is often overlooked. Like the forgotten but essential plumbing in a vast mansion which is being renovated for the future, the renovation will include modern new features and facilities to enhance the experience of living there for years to come. However, unless the owners also upgrade the plumbing to create more capacity and resilience, most of these new features won’t function effectively.
Digital innovation drives business growth
Today’s successful businesses need to have a strong innovation culture running through the organisation. The phrase ‘digital transformation’ is not just an aspirational goal, it is critical to business success. That’s because essential business processes and interactions with customers, partners, and employees, increasingly depend on tailored innovative digital solutions.
The path to achieving digitisation and business growth begins with the cloud, helping organisations connect teams, people, data, and processes, in new ways to embrace the possibilities enabled by modern technologies. The cloud has changed more than the way IT is implemented and managed; it is changing the very fabric of business.
To enable this, businesses need robust network access from the edge to the core, using software-defined networking, security, and communications technologies to ensure reliable and secure access to core business applications from wherever employees or customers are located.
2020/2021 were turbulent years, resulting in a shift to remote and flexible working to accommodate challenges posed by the pandemic. Changing working environments shone a spotlight on enterprise-grade networks, and the importance of embedding intuitive, AI-driven network infrastructure into their operations.
Connecting the secure, cloud-orientated enterprise
The impact of COVID-19, along with a change in thinking over the last few years about how the internet can perform as the new corporate backbone, is influencing how businesses deploy and manage their enterprise-grade networks, as well as the tools required to do so.
In the past, traditional Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks were a popular way to ensure reliable connections for real-time applications. MPLS was designed for organisations that had multiple remote branch offices, geographically dispersed across the country or across the world, where most of the traffic was on-network to enterprise data centres. Security was managed from a traditional “castle and moat” perspective, where assets were all protected inside the enterprise perimeter, but the way enterprise applications and ecosystems are being built now is making this approach increasingly obsolete. Today’s businesses have shifted much of their traffic to and from cloud providers instead, rendering MPLS suboptimal.
It is more efficient to send traffic directly to the cloud. Also, the use of cloud services, video and mobile apps has driven up bandwidth requirements, and MPLS services can be difficult to scale on demand. They are also expensive, so enterprises are now looking at Software Defined-Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) as a way to accommodate 21st century demand for network performance and cost-efficiency.
Building the network of the future
Enabling high performance, secure network access from anywhere really requires thinking about SD-WAN in more detail. While this technology has been around for about a decade now, there are still a lot of enterprises that have yet to adopt it. However, as companies increasingly connect to private or public cloud infrastructure and harness SaaS applications like Microsoft 365 and Salesforce, they need to be thinking about how they adapt SD-WAN into the network. Having a network which is capable of learning and adapting to the type of application traffic that is flowing across the enterprise helps to avoid problems such as bottlenecks and latency.
There are other benefits with SD-WAN, in terms of decreasing costs and being able to access applications which can perform much better than they were previously able to when using the internet as a corporate backbone. Everything is managed through the cloud using innovative, self-learning AI tools which are able to adapt to degraded performance issues and can move traffic around the issue without intervention. Additional internal IT gains include added visibility and insights into their network that was unattainable before through self-service portals.
That said SD-WAN and MPLS are not mutually exclusive and here at Xalient we understand that some customers are not ready to commit to an Internet only traffic medium and we can work with them to develop a hybrid solution. This is about really understanding what an organisation needs from their network and helping them to build for their current and future needs.
Harnessing agility and innovation
When the computer age took hold in companies some 20-25 years ago, it was obvious that a lot of tasks could be done in a much smarter way with the tools of this new universe. Fax moved to email; documents could be saved, and shared, in digital files rather than steel cabinets; and, eventually, clunky hardware servers could be replaced by the cloud. Some big-name System Integration companies were born in this digitisation — delivering new, useful, one-size-fits-all solutions to the B2B market. And some of these vendors grew enormously during this outsourcing era, but over time, particularly with the advent of cloud technology, this model has started to wane as customers look for more agile partners who can help them truly innovate.
Now CIOs and CTOs are starting to question the role and validity of the traditional systems integrators who are often tied to a particular vendor. Likewise, as these Tier 1 SIs have mushroomed, so they are now burdened by legacy, age, and customs. Here at Xalient we work with customers to really understand their business drivers and their technology roadmaps so we can put together a tailored solution to future-proof their networks. Customers whom we have done this for include Kellogg’s, Hamley’s, WPP and Keurig Dr Pepper to name but a few.
The world is changing before our eyes and while digital transformation plans continue to accelerate it is hard for senior IT leaders to keep pace with the shift to cloud. This has created high demand for flexible, cost-effective global connectivity and protection against increasingly complex cyber threats. IT leaders are challenged with looking at how they achieve scale, security, access, and performance so that they can build the network of the future. But build it they must in this highly competitive landscape, otherwise they may find that their business starts to become irrelevant.