May 12, 2015
IT has changed significantly over the past decade. The rise of the cloud, mobile computing, and other trends like Internet of Things has shifted IT from being server centric to being network centric. This is why IT and business leaders should consider the network to be a strategic asset. Consequently, any problem that impact the network will directly impact the business, costing the organization money and / or time. It’s critical that businesses get a handle on the top issues impacting networks today. The below are my top five problems impacting the network today:
1) Troubleshooting network problems. This has always been difficult but has become increasingly so with the added complexity of wireless, split tunnel WAN connections, and BYOD. ZK Research shows that 73% of problems are actually discovered by the end users, so network operations are typically working from behind. Also, most network management tools focus on devices, not the service or application, so there’s no real way to correlate what the user is experiencing to the network. Software-defined networks provide better visibility into network flows so benchmarks can be set for applications. Anomalies from the network can then trigger actions to identify where the problem is and possibly solve the issue.
2) Enforcing appropriate use of the network. Ensuring the traffic on a network is predominantly business-related is certainly a challenge, particularly on WAN links. Consumer applications are getting smarter, and there’s more and more real-time and on-demand video traffic. This time of the year — with the Masters, Final Four, and other sporting events — is particularly taxing on the network. Businesses can use the dynamic features of an SDN to allow workers to use the network recreationally but limit the bandwidth consumed to something that isn’t business impacting.
3) Ensuring resources for key applications. Network operations is often a game of tradeoffs. Prioritize this application over that service. Deploy security in favor of performance. Spend more budget than is necessary to over-provision the network for peak utilization. All of these tradeoffs create a sub-optimal network no matter which choice is made. The use of a software-defined network means resources can be virtualized and allocated to whatever application or service requires it, when it needs it.
4) Reducing wide area network spend. Almost every CIO has been tasked with cutting the cost of running IT. Given the high cost of MPLS and other private network services, it makes sense to look at the WAN. Most organizations though are afraid of switching to lower cost Internet circuits because the switch will likely have a detrimental impact on application performance. Multiple Internet connections combined with multi-path technology can give performance that is as good or better than MPLS at a fraction of the cost.
5) Supporting critical IT projects. Business agility is critical for the very survival of many organizations. Those companies that have the ability to implement new services quickly will leap frog the competition. Unfortunately, legacy networks lack the flexibility required to support an agile business. SDNs bring a level of dynamism to the network that is in line with the rest of the IT. An SDN is required for any organization looking to become agile.
There are many reasons why network operations can’t do certain things. Too expensive, tasks take too long, the complexity is too high, and the list goes on and on. It’s time for the network to evolve, and SDNs can solve the big problems that face the network today.
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and with long term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to the following constituents: End user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers.