Digital transformation has increased the importance of the network, particularly the edge, where customers, employees, cloud applications and IoT devices connect to the enterprise. The legacy static and non-differentiated network edge of years past is no longer sufficient for many reasons, so as companies embark on digital-transformation plans, their networks must evolve.
Networking pros should be looking at, among other things, improving security and embracing software-defined networking (SDN) that supports propagating changes quickly across the network in order to accommodate the many challenges digital transformation creates.
Applications have been reengineered and are moving to public and private clouds, and at the same time applications now rely on services located across clouds. These cloud services are tied together by the network, which must be always available because any disruption of the network means applications won’t perform as expected.
The internet of things (IoT) has moved out of the operational-technology shadows and has become a core component of most businesses’ digital-transformation strategies. As IoT adoption increases, so will the number of connected endpoints.
Almost all of these devices connect at the network edge, so problems at the edge could significantly impair IoT applications. Historically, network value was considered highest in the data center and lowest at the edge because the data center is where applications and data resided. IoT changes that and evenly distributes the value of the network.
Wireless advances also have an impact. With Wi-Fi 6 access speeds at parity with wired connections, Wi-Fi is shifting from a convenience to an essential method of connecting to the network. In addition, many mobile and IoT devices are wireless-only – they have no wired interface. The combination of these trends has made Wi-Fi the primary access method, with the edge being where all these devices connect with the company network.
Mobile devices, IoT endpoints and cloud computing have created many new entry points and shifted them to the network edge, which creates new security issues. Legacy networks had a single ingress/egress point, which meant putting a massive firewall there and scanning all traffic coming and going. Now network security must shift to the network to maximize its effectiveness.
Here’s what to do.
Manual processes have been the norm as long as there have been networks, but they will be the death knell for companies if they aren’t replaced by faster, forward-looking automation. First, automation removes a time-consuming burden and enables network engineers to focus on more strategic initiatives. Also, automating repetitive tasks involved in running a network is the first step in evolving to an intent-based network where the network responds automatically to admins’ requests.
Many things could be automated, but a good first step would be to automate tasks that are most time consuming, including firmware updates, operating-system upgrades, applying patches and implementing policy changes.
Embrace SDN for agility
Today’s networks need to be highly agile so changes can be propagated across the network in near real-time, enabling it to keep up with the demands of the business. Network agility comes from having centralized control where configuration changes can be made once and propagated across the network instantly. Ideally, network changes could be coordinated with application changes so the lagging performance doesn’t slow the business down.
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