Adrian Comley, General Manager, Dynamic Network Services, BT, offers a practical guide on how to move forward with regards to the adoption of SD-WAN and network function virtualisation.
Enterprise networking is at a turning point. After 20 years of relative stability, we’re moving to a new way of networking, away from the static infrastructure of the past to a more agile and hybrid model that can better support the challenges of the digital future. The real question now for CISOs is not if, or even when, you should start to develop a more flexible, dynamic network. The real question is how. It’s not a time for quick fire answers or leaps of faith: enterprises need clear guidance and practical support as they evolve their networks.
Two thirds of CIOs report their infrastructure is struggling to support the rapid adoption of digital technologies. They’re under pressure to make the most of the cloud and give users faster access to data and applications. To satisfy the relentless demand for more bandwidth from the explosion in digital devices and services. To do all of this without compromising security.
Many businesses are already embracing SD-WAN and network function virtualisation. No-one wants to be left behind. But it’s important not to buy the vision without fully considering the consequences. While SD-WAN and NFV are part of the solution the truth is that networking is going to get more complicated than ever.
To move forward with confidence you need to answer three key questions:
- How do you decide when’s the right time to move your network forward?
- How do you manage the transformation?
- How do you create a secure platform as your network is constantly evolving?
The never-ending task
Accept that your network will never be finished. It will always be work in progress as your business moves forward and technology advances. As a first step, in the words of industry analysts Ovum ‘you have to pin down the problems you want SD-WAN to solve’. It might take some detective work but you’ll need to develop a clear picture of what’s actually happening on your network. What applications or devices are using bandwidth? Where do you have performance issues? What’s priority traffic and what can use local IP breakouts? Armed with real life insight into your network behaviour, you’ll be in a much better position to identify where SD-WAN and related solutions can help. Work with your network provider on a corresponding roadmap for its introduction and you’ll increase your chances of a successful transition.
Change is hard
The second challenge is to handle the transformation, to manage the complexity of your current environment while simultaneously bringing SD-WAN and other technology options on board. We must be honest: network change is hard. Small-scale trial deployments can be counter-productive, making it look deceptively simple. The reality is you’re going to make changes across hundreds of interdependent sites spanning multiple geographies, each with its own applications, varying service levels and user expectations. And the more changes you make, the more scope there is for things to go wrong and for vulnerabilities to be created. It’s a scary prospect, even for the most sophisticated and IT-savvy organisation. What’s more, the skills needed for network transformation and security are in short supply.
Don’t be a test bed
A prudent approach is to work with a global network provider with an established security practice and tap into their skills and know-how. For example, they can use their R&D facilities to labs to create a facsimile of your network so you can test new SD-WAN services in an authentic environment before you go live. They can offer pre-assembled core building blocks such as network gateways and SD-WAN controllers which will reduce your hand-off points (and security vulnerabilities) and eliminate the need for you to purchase and stitch together a raft of disparate products from separate vendors. You’ll be able to push the button on a change and know it will roll out securely and consistently across your global infrastructure rather than negotiating and managing separate providers on a location-by-location basis.
The make or break decision
Making continuous changes to your network will be the new normal. Consequently, your make or break decision is not about which SD-WAN solution to choose. It’s to pick a network provider who can support and protect you on what will be an endless journey. Ask them the hard questions. How, exactly, will they seamlessly deliver changes into your network management policies and processes? How will they maintain application performance? Prevent new vulnerabilities arising? In what way are they investing in their own infrastructure and security capabilities? How will they centrally manage, secure and automate a virtualised network? How are they going to monitor, prevent and self-heal incidents across the network? Will they share their cybersecurity experience and insight to keep you ahead of the threats?
As we move into the next generation of networking, responsible network providers recognise the challenges that their enterprise customers face and will respond with a new way of delivering and securing network services for the future. Tomorrow’s successful network providers will be those who bring down the boundaries between the traditional towers of LAN, WAN, data centre, cloud and security, and support enterprises to create individual fluid, malleable IT infrastructures that allow their business to thrive. Successful enterprises will recognise that the future of networking is evolutionary and choose a partner who will help them make the right choices and move ahead with confidence.