Legacy network technologies can no longer guarantee quick and reliable connections.
Consumers, clients and stakeholders no longer accept ‘the network is down’ as an explanation for service or business failure.
Just like manual exchanges were soon overrun by the demands of early telephone services, today’s networks are strained by the business demand for more bandwidth, more optimisation, more dynamism, more value.
Modern wide area networks are all about hardware and humans. Hubs, routers, switches, proxy servers and firewalls, network architects and engineers to install the hardware, then connect, configure and test it manually. Optimising an existing network with limited analytics and inaccurate performance benchmarking is difficult. Customising a network is impossible.
As data traffic and network complexity between business sites becomes more substantial, as devices are added to the enterprise WAN and as the likelihood of remote offices and branches in multiple markets increases, legacy network technologies can no longer guarantee quick and reliable connections.
The cloud brought instant adaptability and elasticity to data storage and management, and up until now, network transformation has lagged.
To quote Internet Solutions MD Saki Missaikos, our ‘good enough’ networks are no longer enough if we’re serious about the transformative potential of a digitised humanity.
Software is what defines tomorrow’s WANs and VPNs, and as we progress towards cloud-integrated networks, I anticipate that software-defined networking (SDN) will disrupt business ICT as dramatically as the cloud did.
You don’t need to know how your smartphone works to change its settings to your needs or download a new app. Just visit the relevant app store, download, install and use. It doesn’t matter which language the app was programmed in, or where the developer is located relative to your phone.
Now imagine your enterprise network delivering similar capability. Secure cloud-based, centralised network control and shaping, on-demand service provision, all in real-time, whether a site is in the next town or on another continent.
A network operating system (OS) will enable the end-to-end view of that network, no matter how complex, so the network can adapt to business demand almost instantly, creating seemingly endless capacity that is a far cry from today’s process to provision up or down a network.
This is the promise of SDN.
Of course, a network OS must communicate with all the equipment and devices connected to and benefitting from that network. It is interesting that in this era of closed, restricted networks, SDN is leading to open communication protocols and APIs that are device-agnostic but still offer the same security, reliability and resiliency of vendor-proprietary hardware. This alone could lead to significant cost-savings for enterprises as they scale their networks.
Thanks to the cloud, CIOs can virtualise data centres. Thanks to SDN, by linking clouds and bare metal infrastructure, they can now optimise and customise unified virtual networks in a way that was previously unimaginable.
Optimisation is critical in the coming Internet of Everything, Everywhere era, when the sheer demand for data within the enterprise, and both directions between individuals and enterprises, will overwhelm the physical capacity of existing networks.
By automating control of the network and enabling it to become a programmable entity for function deployment and upgrades, we give it cloud-like adaptability and elasticity. This means that at any time, whatever the bandwidth or geographic demand, each enterprise will have a network for its exact needs – perfectly customised.
Should the need change, with the adding of new sites (warehouse, branch, transport fleet or individual employee) for example or the completion of significant data processing, the control offered by the network OS will adjust the network – perfectly customised again.
Creating cloud-integrated networks
Software-defined networks are the building blocks of cloud-integrated networks, where cloud service and network is merged rather than linked together. The goal is to eliminate the network bottleneck that is inevitable as our need for bandwidth escalates.
A shift is happening away from infrastructure and hardware, to cloud services for both data centre and network. A whole new market could be created for network apps, where new functionality is designed and provided to anyone managing a network, for instant deployment.
The ISPs, cloud vendors, governments and enterprises of the future will be in the business of virtualised products, services and systems in a global digital economy where demand for consumer service is not determined by geography or time.
It’s early days for software-defined networking but already the technology is maturing. Internet Solutions recently launched CloudWAN, our first SD-WAN solution, designed to our open standards approach to SDN.
We’re having conversations with South African companies in the financial, manufacturing, retail, FMCG and public sectors, who stand to benefit from SDN’s consolidation of inefficient networks, enhanced security, scalability and network automation.
As we take our first steps towards cloud-integrated networks, we’re looking forward to helping our clients use the internet as an intelligent business catalyst, rather than just a data carrier system.