To paraphrase the three rules of mountaineering: It’s always further than it looks. It’s always higher than it looks. And it’s always harder than it looks. While navigating a path through today’s technological landscape may not seem as perilous as climbing a mountain, building a data centre network that supports the cloud-driven, digital economy is an undertaking that needs careful planning.
Not all networks are made equal and few organisations have a blank canvas on which to design their infrastructure but creaking under the strain of the tremendous workload demanded by today’s digital services, legacy infrastructure can simply end up holding back and hindering many businesses.
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Often built with overlapping generations of technology ‘sprawl’ and added complexity, traditional networks typically end up constraining businesses with their rigid design, cumbersome operations, misaligned cost structures and inadequate, outdated security capability.
In the vast and varied environment of the data centre, transforming the network environment often leaves I.T. with a mountain to climb.
Yet the biggest obstacle facing business is an I.T. mindset that maintains the status quo by simply doing the same thing over and over, even though a different and better outcome is needed. That ‘better outcome’ usually involves looking beyond standalone, proprietary technology and instead considering an open, vendor-neutral technical framework where best-of-breed products are developed more quickly, at lower cost and seamlessly integrate with similarly-built, adjacent technologies.
CHANGE IS THE NEW NORMAL
Set against a disruptive landscape that will move towards business models becoming friction-free and technology automatically adapting to human behaviour – an era we call Digital Cohesion – this will continue to impact and stretch many I.T. resources. Underlying architecture of traditional networks now has to support the heavily virtualised and scalable cloud environments needed for the digital economy and the Digital Cohesion era beyond. The network has to be able to scale, perform tasks faster and, just as importantly, anticipate and adapt to keep pace with ever-increasing bandwidth demands. While ‘going digital’ has many compelling advantages, such dynamic network challenges need to be carefully addressed.
Building an automated, open, agile and inherently secure data centre network requires a step-change in capabilities and performance. This is especially true where the infrastructure is spread across multiple, geographically distributed sites or cloud environments, and where the sheer volume and velocity of data needed to support cloud-based services inevitably impacts network resources.
By selecting the right architecture and vendor partner, it’s possible for even the smallest business to have a big I.T. solution; one that delivers tangible, impactful business results, especially when trying to rival the ‘born-in-the-cloud’ start-ups and OTT (over the top) content providers blazing a trail across many established markets.
Here are my four suggestions when setting off from base-camp and beginning that journey:
- Virtualise and automate your network: No longer just an operational backbone to any organisation, the ‘smart’ network has to contribute to the business like never before. The adoption of network functions virtualisation (NFV) is an approach that can provide the agility and elasticity needed for driving cloud platforms. Instead of running infrastructure that relies solely on managing a range of physical network devices, the virtualised environment can quickly build, adapt or evolve network services using generic, reprogrammable hardware. New network resources can be automatically and rapidly scaled up/scaled down, re-configured and re-deployed with services provisioned at the click of a mouse.
- Make the network open: As business resources evolve in line with market demand, no single network vendor will have a solution for it all. However, a multi-vendor, open standards strategy is an example of the I.T. community building flexibility and freedom of choice right into the heart of the network, without compromising manageability. Choosing a strategy with no dead ends or lock-ins allows the use and re-use of infrastructure, meaning that as the architecture evolves, any rip and replace of single-vendor, proprietary resources is avoided. An open infrastructure that supports vendor-agnostic technology not only provides best-in-class solutions but also mitigates risk, helps manages contingencies and remains flexible enough to scale with the business.
- Keep it simple: Although businesses can be complex, networks don’t have to be. But when looking at the proliferation of cloud-based streaming services, BYOD and IoT, networks will need to support millions1 of new connected devices. Software-defined networking (SDN) provides the means to simplify networking tasks by using software capabilities to automate and orchestrate key network functions, and minimise, or eliminate entirely, many labour-intensive tasks. Without manual intervention, the software-defined infrastructure can also rapidly adapt to the business by deploying new or modified services more efficiently, more quickly and with less risk.
- Aim for the cloud: Fuelled by the need for business agility, accelerated service delivery and simplified operations, many businesses have already made great strides in cloud migration. Whether public, private or hybrid, cloud platforms represents an effective strategy for achieving business goals by delivering next generation services incorporating built-in resilience, scalability and automated, on-demand provisioning. Cloud architecture also helps achieve greater levels of efficiency since virtualised environments can create (‘spin up’) new applications in minutes, rather than days or weeks, while evaluating new services becomes lower risk, and lower cost, as large-scale investment and no-turning-back commitment isn’t required.
The exponential growth in services-led platforms continues to re-define the I.T. landscape, challenging and disrupting the way businesses have traditionally differentiated themselves. The promise of improved agility and operational efficiency means many now view the cloud as a business enabler where the investment can be precisely aligned for meeting the next wave of business challenges head on.
With cloud architecture helping to overcome economic barriers, the network is increasingly viewed as a strategic asset; one that can can transform a commercial necessity into a powerful and cost-effective resource for driving value into the heart of the organisation. By planning the journey carefully, an open, multi-vendor network strategy can transform service delivery and provide the means to engage with customers and users like never before.
Featured image credit to lobster.media