I believe that cloud-integrated networks will transform modern corporations so they can better compete in the digital economy - Saki Missaikos, Managing Director of Internet Solutions
The internet was created in the spirit of a profound ideal – that any person could share information with any other person, anywhere in the world. This grassroots concept led to what is arguably the most important technological revolution since electricity, given how fundamentally the internet has shaped human interaction, the sharing of information and the way we do business.
As exciting as it was to contemplate a digital society in the 1990s when the internet itself was not much older than Internet Solutions, the disruption of industries and business models still to come is truly thrilling.
That is because the internet revolution is not yet complete. The internet continues to shape human interaction, information sharing and commerce. Despite staggering increases in devices, bandwidth, and users, we are still imagining how we may use the internet, and what social and economic transformation will follow.
Our progression towards cloud-integrated networks means that Internet users of all kinds can look forward to realising the potential of the Internet of Everything, Everywhere.
First, a step back to consider how far we’ve come. It’s a long way in a short time.
We’re just twenty-odd years past unplugging our telephones to plug in dial-up modems that delivered download speed measured in kb/s. The mainframe is only 53 years old but PC computing is history. Today’s enterprises rely on the cloud. IP/MPLS networks have successfully lowered networking costs while increasing performance so that enterprises can talk to each other and their customers with relative ease. On our existing networks, latency and capacity are adequate.
Ironically, the internet today is largely a series of closed systems, it’s no longer an open landscape. In the enterprise, employees spend limited time browsing online compared to the bandwidth devoted to email, company VPNs and private clouds, VOIP and so on. The internet has become a way to transport data – and that’s a mindset that must change.
For that to happen, we must recognise that our ‘good enough’ networks are no longer enough if we’re serious about the transformative potential of a digitised humanity.
A third Internet era
Digital pioneer Steve Case says that the invention of the internet heralded the first internet era, and the move to the cloud enabled much of the second, consumer and services-focused internet era.
I believe that cloud-integrated networks are the foundation of the third internet era we’re entering now.
The third internet era is the time of a global digital economy, which hinges on intelligently automating commerce, manufacturing, communication, entertainment, finance, logistics, government services, healthcare, and so on.
By integrating the cloud – with its evolving global/local architecture – into the network, we will create a new network architecture that is nimble, dynamic, and infinitely able to meet the demand for data, automation of business processes, and expansive disruption of the industry that we anticipate.
Uncoupled from the economic and physical restrictions of hardware, the cloud-integrated network will depend on a software layer managed by a network operating system. This layer will encompass and so redefine core, metro and access networks by embedding edge computing into the system to intelligently optimise performance, while virtualising network functions and services.
Instead of linking the cloud to the network, and to applications or hardware, and devices, the cloud-integrated network will merge them, and in so doing deliver seemingly infinite capacity and zero latency, eliminating the network bottleneck that is inevitable as our need for bandwidth escalates.
The ‘modern’ corporate
Geography, governance, and perhaps unnecessary habit, encumber the modern corporate enterprise. Compared to us humans, who have accepted enthusiastically just about everything the internet has brought us, it is a less limber entity and so slow to adapt to and adopt technological advancements. Risk-adverse and attached to process, the enterprise is threatened by competitors, loss of market share and profit, and innovation.
It’s no surprise that digitally-led upstarts like Airbnb, Netflix and Spotify, for example, threaten still-analogue corporations as well as industries.
For most enterprises, digital strategy involves ensuring that the internet transports their data around their organisation smoothly, and that stored data is accessible and secure. A network expert and his team will manage the former, and a cloud expert is responsible for the latter. More likely, the CIO will manage one and outsource the other.
For as long as both network and cloud perform optimally, if separately, the digital strategy is sound – at least, that’s the current thinking.
The Industrial Revolution disrupted economies with the mass production of goods, and the telephone expanded geographic boundaries by enabling long-distance ‘real-time’ communication. The internet connected enterprises and consumers even more effectively and allowed data to get truly big.
Similarly, I believe that the third internet era will again significantly transform the corporation – this time into an entity that competes in a digital economy, serving a digitally-minded consumer.
The fact is that human behaviour is changing. Consumerism is not confined or defined by retail space, it is ‘on-demand’ and ‘do-it-myself’ but with no less emphasis on responsiveness, stability, and security.
eCommerce is coming into its own, and new digital services are coming online every day. We’re becoming increasingly comfortable online, driving more digital commerce, more interaction with digital brands, more network traffic, more data. The easier it becomes to buy, sell and consume wherever and whenever the more likely consumers are to spend their money with companies that enable this.
All that data is travelling in two directions because individuals and enterprises are already creating vast amounts of content. The definition of ‘content’ is broad, including everything from social posts and media, to volunteered health, financial and service usage data, to virtual products. There is value in sharing data, to the consumer and the enterprise, if it is harnessed to add value back to the owner of the data.
The intelligent network
All that data and all that sharing mean we will need cloud-integrated networks that enable enterprises with virtualised products, services and systems. These enterprises will compete in an always-on economy not contained by geography or time, but defined by connection with consumers and customer service.
A key differentiator of cloud-integrated network architecture is the intelligence built into the network and therefore into the enterprise. Whatever the physical or digital environment, the ideal is seamlessly connected employees, providers and consumers.
This will extend from instant deployment of virtual network functions in the case of additional sites or increased bandwidth needs to automating processes and extraction of useful data, to creation of intuitive products and services that are highly customised. It will enable sophisticated security systems that bring network intelligence closer to the user – the only network perimeter that really matters.
Needless to say, this level of network intelligence takes business intelligence to a new level, with positive implications for telecommunications service providers, cloud vendors, governments and enterprises.
Cloud services uncouple data storage from physical confines, software-defined networking does the same for the network. With the ability to integrate the cloud and the network, enterprises can adapt and expand, in response to market and customer needs, with more agility than ever before.
First steps to the future
You may read this as a sketch of a lofty, science fiction-tinged vision of the future. The internet was once accused of being the same. Ironically, the spirit of cloud-integrated networks is one of abundance and openness – abundant bandwidth, data, information sharing, access, customisation and choice – the same spirit that characterised the early internet.
It’s difficult to know when we’ll realise this vision of the future enterprise in the digital economy, but the journey has begun.
Internet Solutions, for example, recently launched CloudWAN, our first software-defined WAN solution that offers the virtual networking capability essential to the cloud-integrated network.
We’re challenging clients to have a software mindset and to consider the internet as a business catalyst, rather than just a data carrier system. We believe the enterprises that reimagine their business cases and product propositions with the Internet as an enabler of global distribution, communication and connection, are the ones who will have a competitive advantage.
There are many conversations still to be had regarding network security, privacy and data protection, necessary cloud and networking expertise, how ISPs may evolve in the third internet era, and how the future enterprise may innovate.
We’re here, having these conversations, learning, collaborating, and preparing to support the future enterprise. And we’re as excited as we were two decades ago when we contemplated the possibility of the internet for the first time.
“Liberating people starts by giving them a voice. By making the Internet pervasive, we are reducing inequality and making the world work better ”
Internet Solutions has some of the best minds in the business, and Saki Missaikos is no exception. He has strong technical and management credentials and an ICT career that spans some 20 years.
An Internet Solutions veteran, Saki joined us in 1995 and took on the role of Managing Director in 2012. He has held numerous directorships within IS as well as in the wider Dimension Data Group. He was Sales Director for Dimension Data Middle East and Africa for eight years, and was instrumental in the Group’s expansion into Africa and the Middle East. He was also active in the areas of strategy, sales, and business development in those regions.
[BSc (Hons) Electrical Engineering (University of the Witwatersrand); MBA (University of Edinburgh)